James Crisp

Coding, calisthenics, book reviews, mind hacks and the occasional personal bit.

Category: ThoughtWorks

iAwards Win for CommunityRun / ControlShift!

Very pleased to announce that CommunityRun and the ControlShift platform have won the NSW iAwards in the Community Category.

Many thanks to everyone from GetUp, ThoughtWorks and ControlShift labs for all the hard work and perseverance. I’m proud to have been part of the team to build a tool that lets anyone start and run their own campaign to improve things in their community.

Slides from REST Talk at St George Bank

Thanks very much to Nigel for inviting me to present on REST at St George Bank in Kogarah, and to ThoughtWorks for the time in the middle of the day to give the talk. It was a fun session and the people attending asked quite a number of good questions. Here are the slides. Please note that they are about 10mb (thanks to all the images). There’s some extra information in the “Notes” pane as well.

Green & Red Local Builds (adding colour to the local build process)

build.JPGWell, who doesn’t write tests and do continuous integration (CI) these days? Whether you use one of the many Cruise Control variants, or Team City or some other tool, you most likely get a handy colour coding of builds as either green or red (ie, good, or bad). But, you can take this a step further!

redbuild.JPGOften on .NET projects, we have a little batch file that we run before checking in (often with a pause at the end so it can be run from a shortcut), to confirm that no tests are broken locally. Well, it’s not much fun peering at the ugly Nant output (or whatever build system you use). Instead, it is quite easy to add a couple of lines to your batch file and change the colour of the console to bright Red or bright Green depending on the success of the local build. It is great for telling what the result was at a glance. I can’t claim credit the idea – it was something we used at EDI for our custom build system, but here’s some batch file code I whipped up which I can claim is all mine, every last GOTO of it! Enjoy 🙂

The following code uses NAnt, but you can replace it with MsBuild or any other build tool that returns a status code.

@echo off

color 07

tools\\nant\\NAnt.exe -buildfile:mybuild.build %*

IF ERRORLEVEL 1 goto RedBuild
IF ERRORLEVEL 0 goto GreenBuild

:RedBuild
color 4F
goto TheEnd

:GreenBuild
color 2F

:TheEnd
pause

Sydney ALT.NET Launched & Ruby Slides

This evening we had the first Sydney Alt.Net meeting. It went really well. Our venue at the ThoughtWorks offices was pretty packed with about 35 interested people coming along. We started with a discussion of news in the .NET space, and then broke for food. After that we had my presentation on Ruby & Rails from a .NET perspective, followed by Richard’s presentation on Rhino Mocks. We ended with a retrospective to gather feedback and thoughts for future meetings. Thanks to everyone for coming along and making it such a great night! And also a big thank you to ThoughtWorks for the venue, food and drink.

Here’s the slides from “Ruby and Rails from a .NET perspective”. It’s a bit hard to give you a transcript of the demos but here is a taste of some of the ruby commands we looked at today.

Basic IronRuby Console demo

4+4
"hello".class
$friends = ["James", "Richard", "Bill"]
$friends.find_all { |f| f.include? "a" }
$friends.collect { |f| f.length }
"-" * 100
$person_type = Struct.new(:name, :age, :sex)
$j = person_type.new("James", 27, "m") 

Iron Ruby Calling WinForms

require 'System.Windows.Forms, Version=2.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089' 
Form = System::Windows::Forms::Form  
MessageBox = System::Windows::Forms::MessageBox  
Button = System::Windows::Forms::Button 

$b = Button.new
$b.text = "Hello Button"
$f = Form.new
$f.controls << $b
$f.show_dialog 

Simple Rails App Demo

rails myapp
ruby script/generate scaffold Person name:string age:integer
rake db:migrate
ruby script/server

First Sydney ALT.NET Meeting on 30 Sept

Exciting news! We now have an ALT.NET group in Sydney! Our first meeting is Tuesday 30 September. Meetings will be the last Tuesday of the month.

Rough agenda for the first meeting is:

6:00pm   Meet & Greet time and then Kick Off!
6:30pm   “Ruby, Rails and IronRuby from a .NET perspective” (me).
7:00pm   Break with food and drink
7:30pm   “Mocking with Rhino Mocks 3.5” (Richard Banks).
8:00pm   Wrap up & go home.

ThoughtWorks is sponsoring the event with a nice office location in the CBD, and also pizza and beer. So if you’re planning to come, please comment or send me or Richard Banks a mail to help us get enough food and drinks for everyone.

Address is:
Level 8, 51 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
[Map]

ALT.NET is about designing and building the best solutions possible. This means continuous improvement, retrospection and often reaching outside the mainstream, considering Open Source frameworks and tools, Agile methodologies and ideas from other language communities such as Ruby, Java and Haskell.

For more info about ALT.NET, check out our Sydney ALT.NET Blog, and the main ALT.NET wiki.

See you on the 30th!

Thoughts from Process Consulting

Just finished reading “Process Consulting” by Alan Weiss, lent to me by my talented colleague, Darren Smith. The book is concerned more with general consulting, not IT consulting or IT methodologies. I found the bigger picture view in Weiss’s book enlightening and helpful in evaluating and questioning my own consulting practices. Here’s a few thoughts from the book:

  • Remember that you are not the change agent. The client personnel are the change agents. You are the catalyst, but they are accountable for enduring change. Don’t be a hero…
  • Cute phrases and pithy slogans don’t change behaviour. Aligning people’s objectives behind corporate objectives and supporting that behaviour with metrics and rewards will usually gain their attention. Rapidly.
  • Is it really progress if we teach a cannibal to use a knife and fork? (from Stanislaw Lem, quoted by Weiss)
  • At the outset of any change process, immediately after agreement with the buyer, identify and “recruit” these key positions [hierarchical leaders, front line management, respected leaders and experts]. Use the buyer’s clout if you must. The most crucial factor in organizational change occurs prior to implementation: It’s the conceptual agreement and acknowledged self-interest among the few people who actually have their hands on the controls.
  • [Regarding change,] neutral is as bad as negative, since the default position for everyone else will always be the old behaviour.
  • Don’t be anxious to “make change”. If you have a six month window, for example, invest at least the first month or more aligning your support and key sponsors and establishing their accountabilities. The more time you take with critical sponsors, the faster you will ultimately create change.
  • When you find someone micromanaging, it is almost always because of a lack of trust. If you don’t do the job the way he or she would do it, you must be doing it incorrectly. If the leader has trust in subordinates, simply providing the goals should be sufficient.

“JRuby: Enterprise 2.0” Presentations

Josh Price and I will be co-presenting at the Melbourne Sun Tech Day and the Sydney ACS Web Technologies SIG. Here’s the low down:

JRuby: Enterprise 2.0
There’s a lot of buzz around JRuby in both the Java and Ruby communities, for good reason. This talk will give you a whirlwind introduction to JRuby. We’ll show you why JRuby is regarded as such a powerful and dynamic development platform. We’ll also suggest where to use JRuby in product development and the enterprise and how to leverage your existing Java investments.
There will be sample applications, live demos and not many slides.

Sun Tech Day Melbourne
4 March 2008, 2:30pm
More info on Sun site…

ACS Web Technologies SIG Sydney
5 March 2008, 6:15pm
More info on ACS site…

Hope to see you there!

Starting at ThoughtWorks: First Five Weeks

Well, I’ve been with ThoughtWorks for just over 5 weeks now, and I thought I’d write down some thoughts before the hiring and joining process got lost in the misty swamp of my memory.

Hiring process
To cut a long story short, I did a phone screen with HR, a coding test and then some fairly quick aptitude and personality tests and finally 3 interviews. You have something like a week to do the coding test and then submit your code for review. I had the other tests and interviews on a single day. Although this sounds pretty horrendous, it actually wasn’t too bad. Tests were pretty quick and the interviewers were astoundingly friendly. I finished by something like 3pm in the afternoon, including a lunch break, and surprisingly didn’t feel too bad or stressed afterwards.

Induction
As a fairly impressive start, I had 2 days of induction in Melbourne (I live in Sydney). ThoughtWorks arranged drivers, hotel and flight so it was all very smooth. This was lucky as I was pretty jet lagged and confused – I’d just flown back from an overseas holiday not long before. Induction was largely getting a company provided laptop, meeting people and getting an introduction to various internal systems and procedures. As an aside, I’ve heard that there is now an “immersion” process where you get sent to India for a week or two for induction but can’t comment on that.

A few weeks on the beach
When you’re not assigned to a client project, you are “on the beach”. This means you go into your local office with your laptop. It’s really great – there’s no particular tasks assigned to you, but the opportunity is there to get involved in a lot of interesting stuff. To give you some examples, here’s some of the stuff I’ve had the chance to do:

  • Write an open source plug-in for Mephisto for ThoughtWorks Studios
  • Be involved in scoping out and estimating for a RFI from a new client
  • Pair with another developer to do code reviews of potential new recruits
  • Help out briefly with a fun project to develop a driver for a USB build light for continuous integration servers (red for broken build, green for good build, etc)
  • Help out on client projects – I was asked to whip up a little proof of concept for JRuby and Java integration and learnt a bit getting this set up
  • Do a little bit of Google Maps integration
  • Meet colleagues and learn more about procedures etc
  • Get invited to lunch with the managing director – this is something that happens for all new hires and I think it’s really great
  • Almost go out on a pre-sales call (I’ve got to go back to Melbourne and will miss this unfortunately)
  • Catch up on tech reading such as blogs, books etc
  • Go to a swanky talk given by Martin Fowler and Kristan Vingrys
  • Eat lots of free lunches (usually twice a week) and attend various talks at the office given by other consultants
  • Drink lots of free coffee (ThoughtWorks has a coffee tab with a local cafe)

First project
Much fun as it is on the beach, after a few weeks, I was itching to join the big boys and go on a project. Getting assigned to a project is the purview of your professional services manager, and can be pretty changeable. The saying is that “you don’t really know what project you’re on till you walk in the door of the client site” and I’ve even heard “you don’t really know what project you’re on till you’re on the plane home”. There’s a grain of truth in these – it can look like you are going to go on a project and then it doesn’t come through, or some other project becomes more important or whatever. I almost went on several different projects before finally ending up on quite a cool Ruby / Rails project with a startup in Melbourne. So, I got to join the jet set and have been flying down to Melbourne during the week, and back for the weekends. This is a bit tiring, but ThoughtWorks does its best to make things comfortable. I’m staying in a really nice corporate apartment in Melbourne, flights are arranged and paid for and drivers are scheduled for pickup and drop off to the airport. There’s also a generous per diem allowance for food. The project is really cool, and I’m enjoying it, but can’t say more as it is under a NDA.

Back on the beach.. but only for two days!
My first project was two weeks, so after that I returned to the beach. Today is my second day on the beach. However, it turns out that the client was very happy with our first two weeks work and they’ve invited us back again until Easter. This means I need to fly back to Melbourne tomorrow. This won’t continue indefinitely though – when I was discussing the project with my professional services manager, we agreed that I would not need to stay on a Melbourne project for more than 6 weeks. And clearly this is in ThoughtWorks interest as well – it costs a lot more to fly somebody in from Sydney every week and provide accommodation etc. I’m going to be transitioning off the project by Easter and a Melbourne based consultant is going to take over from me if the project continues further. It’ll be good to be on a Sydney based project again but I feel it would be unfair not to say that ThoughtWorks has done a really good job in making working in another city as convenient and pleasant as possible.

Various benefits
ThoughtWorks is pretty generous in the expenses department. They cover your mobile phone, home internet, per diem when away, give an allowance for training courses and books, etc. There’s also lots of free lunches, food, coffee and catered events.

Transparency and knowing what’s going on
I’ve been quite impressed to get a monthly update email that talks about ThoughtWorks plans, goals and financials, headcount etc in significant detail. There’s also various update meeting where you get to hear how projects are going and what’s happening with various clients. Personally I’m really glad to see this type of thing, as at previous jobs, this has been privileged information, and most of the time, I have not really had any idea how well the company is doing financially as a whole, or what the future plans and directions are.

Variety and Unpredictability
These are really two faces of the same coin, and depending on your character and experience, I think you might either love or hate this. You really don’t know what project you’re going to be working on, what your role will be, what industry the client is in, what type of development they need or for what platform or in what language. In fact, you don’t even know what city you’re going to be in during a given week. I’m enjoying this at this point as my last job was always in the same office, with the same technologies etc. However, I can see it may be trying in the long term, and it does make it difficult to do the shopping or organise things with friends during the week. On the other hand, I have heard that most of the work in Sydney is for big companies like banks and telcos in the city CBD within walking distance to the office, and the majority in Java. So perhaps my short experience so far is not the norm.

In conclusion…
So far, I can honestly say that it’s been really great working at ThoughtWorks. I’ve had a chance to do some of the stuff I’ve wanted to do for ages like work on a bit of open source and do some commercial Ruby on Rails work. My colleagues have been friendly and welcoming, and I’ve been wowed by the level of care that ThoughtWorks takes of its employees.

Contact / Feedback Form Plugin for Mephisto

Introduction
If you use Mephisto, a content management / blogging system written in Rails, you may well be interested in using this new plug-in. It provides a form that lets visitors to your site leave their contact details and send you messages or feedback via email.

UPDATE
Please check out information about using the contact form plugin with Mephisto Drax 0.8.

License
This plug-in was developed for the new ThoughtWorks Studios site. As I wrote it at and for work, it is copyright ThoughtWorks, 2007. However, ThoughtWorks, being generous souls, is happy for me to open source it under the Apache 2.0 licence, which pretty much means you have free reign to use it as you want.

Requirements

  • Mephisto Edge (the latest stable 0.7.3 release does not have support for Mephisto plugins)
  • Rails Edge (required by Mephisto edge)
  • ActionMailer (comes with Rails) correctly configured with SMTP server etc, so that emails can be delivered. See “Configuration” section here for more details.

Installation

ruby script/plugin install http://github.com/jcrisp/mephisto_contact_form/tree/master

or in your vendor/plugins directory for Mephisto:

git clone http://github.com/jcrisp/mephisto_contact_form/tree/master mephisto_contact_form

Make sure you restart your web server at this point so that the plugin is loaded.

Setup
1. Create a new template called ‘contact_us.liquid’ though the admin web interface (under the ‘Design’ tab).
Paste in the following code:

<H1>Contact Us</H1>
{% contactform %}
<p>{{ form.name }}<label for="author"><small>Your name</small></label></p>
<p>{{ form.email }}<label for="email"><small>Email address</small></label></p>
<p>{{ form.phone}}<label for="phone"><small>Phone number (optional)</small></label></p>
<p>{{ form.subject}}<label for="subject"><small>Subject</small></label></p>
<p>{{ form.body }}</p>
<p>{{ form.submit }}</p>
{% endcontactform %}

Feel free to modify labels, layout etc.

2. Edit

{MEPHISTO_ROOT}/vendor/plugins/mephisto_contact_form/lib/contact_notifier.rb

and put in the email address you want contact form submissions to go to.

3. Link to “/contact_form” from your site.

Any issues / questions / suggestions?
Best to post comments on this blog.

Technical Info
The contact form plugin is actually a combination of a rails plugin, a liquid block plugin and a Mephisto plugin. See this post about developing Mephisto plugins for more information.

Bye Bye EDI… Hello ThoughtWorks

Well, after almost four years at EDI (now called CargoWise edi) I am leaving. I finish in the middle of January next year. It has been an interesting time, and I have learnt a lot working with very talented people and from building the framework for a big solution suite (around 4 million lines of C# code). I’ve also had the opportunity to experience the very different joys and pitfalls of product management.

I will be starting at ThoughtWorks (of NUnit, Jim Webber and Martin Fowler fame) in the middle of February in the new year. I’m expecting that there will be a lot of new exciting stuff to learn, and a lot of variety in terms of clients and technologies. ThoughtWorks are strongly XP, do a lot of development on client sites and even have some Rails projects. The people I have met from ThoughtWorks have all been very friendly and I look forward to starting there soon 🙂

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