6 Lessons On Work Ethic I Learned In One Year Of Professional Career

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Time flies. Recently I had completed one year as a full-time employee at my current employer Squad. A year has passed, and I decided it was time to revisit instances, memories, and experiences and to recollect what I had learned as a professional in this past year.

It was also a wake-up call to reassess and redirect the ship named professional career to make sure it doesn’t get stuck in a whirlpool.

After all, our career is our responsibility and we all should make efforts to “Own our story!”.

This is going to be a list of 6 important lessons in professionalism and work ethic that I learned working as a Product Engineer at one of the most innovative startups in India.

1. Know your field

Do you know what a facade pattern is? Do you know what sprint and story points are? Do you know how to work your way with the debugger your IDE provides?

A wealth of ideas, disciplines, techniques, tools, and terminologies have decorated the last fifty years of our field. And if we want to be a professional we want to know a sizeable chunk of it.

The motto that I believe in is, “If you want to see far, stand on the shoulder of the giants”.

 

2. Continuous Learning

The frenetic range with which the industry is changing, it means that we as engineers also need to learn colossal amount just to keep up.

Read books, read articles, watch talks. Keep adding deltas to your learning daily.

 

3. Practice

This stuck me around 2 months back. Tennis is my favorite sport, and players believe that playing in the tournaments continuously actually makes their game less polished.

It’s the deliberate practice of doing things right, which makes it gleamy again.

Is it true about our jobs also? Cutting corners to meet deadlines, working on the outdated stack at the company, working with legacy code, can all this make us less sharp.

At least I find it to be true, and practice to deliberately improve your craft is a vital component of one’s work ethic.

 

4. Know your domain

It is the duty of every software developer to understand the domain of the solutions that they are programming. If you are writing software for healthcare, get at least a basic understanding of healthcare, if you are writing for sales, know about sales.

Read a book or two on the domain, ask the domain experts.

We should be able to know enough about the domain to question the product direction and feature requests that we get.

 

5. Collaboration and mentoring

We all must make special efforts to collaborate, mentor and get mentored by other developers.

Whatever I have learned in this course of one year, a major portion of it due to learning from others.

 

6. Humility

Programming is an act of creation. It feels like magic when we can write code that can do things that can produce tremendous value.

We all should take pride in our work, but never be arrogant about it. We should be confident in our abilities and take risks.

But we must know that we will fail. Things that we create will break, risks will be proven wrong and we will be called upon for these mistakes.

And when all this will happen, all we can do is be humble and take Howard’s advice, laugh and move on.

 

That’s all, folks!

 

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Tracking Metrics to Surface and Solve Problems: Metric Tracking Practices I’ve Learned So Far

It is a nice pleasant evening, you are sipping coffee and reviewing your code one final time, just so that you can gather enough confidence to hit the deploy button.

But a fact of life as a software engineer is that things can go wrong. Small changes may result in unexpected outcomes, including outages, errors or negatively impacting customers.

And when problems occur, either we can do random checks and validations that may or may not solve the problem or we can have a disciplined problem-solving approach that relies on data rather than intuitions.

Metrics and Telemetry

To enable a disciplined problem-solving method, we need our software to track the right metrics and the right places. We need to design our systems so that they are continually creating telemetry.

What is Telemetry?

The DevOps handbook defines telemetry as,

An automated communication process by which metrics are collected at remote points and are sent over to receiving equipments.

When designing systems, it is a high leverage activity to include creating telemetry as a first-class citizen to enable and ease tracking metrics at all the levels needed, right from business level metrics to deployment pipeline level.

Levels Of Metrics Tracking

As engineers, the software we write impacts the organization at multiple levels, from infrastructure to the product, to business. Thus, to resolve problems quickly, we need to track metrics all these levels.

Following levels of metrics have been really useful for me to keep a checklist for adding the right metrics in the software that I write.

1. Business Level Metrics:

These metrics directly affect the business. Thus are really imported to keep an eye on.

Examples include sales transactions, numbers of items clients sent, total successful items processed, hourly processing rates, etc.

2. Application Level Metrics:

These metrics track the functioning of the application.

Examples include latency of the APIs, response time of queries, number of errors etc.

3. Infrastructure Level Metrics:

These metrics track the infrastructure that runs our application.

Examples include CPU usage, available memory, IOPS spikes etc.

4. Product Level Metrics:

These metrics track the product progress and results. As product engineers, it’s a high leverage task to track product-related metrics too.

Examples include A/B test results, feature toggling results, product progress, product extensibility, and configurability etc

By having telemetry coverage in all these areas, we will be to see the health of everything that our software relies on or things that rely on our software.

Conclusion

With the limited time that I’ve spent in the software industry, I’ve come to realize the importance of metrics. Even the parts that don’t involve any software must be tracked and measured. The key idea here is that you can not improve what you don’t measure.

With right telemetry built into the software that we write, we’ll be able to not only solve the problems they arise but also surface the latent ones before they catch fire.

That’s all, folks!

 

Devops and The Principle Of Flow

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In the technology value stream, work typically flows from Development to Operations, steps consisting of functional areas between our business and our customers.

As stated in the lean principles developed by Toyota, we should optimize to get a single-piece fast and smooth flow for our releases.

We increase flow by:

  1. Making work visible,
  2. Reducing batch sizes and intervals of work
  3. Building in the quality, preventing defects from being passed to downstream work centers.

Why a fast flow is needed?

By speeding up the flow through the technology value stream, we reduce the lead time required to fulfill internal and external customer requests, further increasing the quality of the work while making us more agile.

Our goal is to decrease the amount of time required to deploy the changes into production and increase the reliability of those services.

Make our work visible

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A significant difference between manufacturing and technology value streams is that our work is invisible.

It’s so easy for work to keep bouncing off between teams and yet have no visual control over it.

To prevent this and make out work more visible, we can use something like a Kanban board. (I prefer Trello for this).

Ideally, our Kanban board will span the entire value stream, defining work as completed only when it reaches the right side of the board.

Work is not done when development completes, but only when our application is running successfully in production.

Limit Work In Progress (WIP)

In technology, our work is far more dynamic than manufacturing. Teams have to satisfy demands of multiple stakeholders. As a result daily work gets dominated by urgent requests for work coming through every communication channel possible.

We can limit multi-tasking by using Kanban board, such as by codifying and enforcing WIP limits for each column on the board.

For example, we may set a WIP limit of three cards of testing. When there are already three cards in the testing column, no new cards can be added.

Using Kanban ensures that work is visible and WIP doesn’t get piled up.

Reduce Batch Sizes

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Another key component to creating smooth and fast-flow is performing work in small batch sizes. Prior to the lean manufacturing revolution, it was common practice to manufacture work in large batches.

However, large batch sizes result in skyrocketing levels of WIP. According to lean principles, the ideal is a single piece flow, where each batch size is of just one.

Let’s take an example:

Suppose we have ten brochures to mail and mailing each one of them requires 4 steps:

  1. fold the paper
  2. insert the paper into the envelope
  3. seal the envelope
  4. stamp the envelope

Now in the traditional batch processing flow, we will perform each step sequentially for all ten envelopes.

In the lean one-piece flow, only one envelope can be at any given step. In other words, we fold the paper, insert it into the envelope, seal the envelope and stamp it before starting the next one.

How is one-piece flow dramatically better?

In the above example, suppose each step takes 10 seconds. In batch processing, we get our first complete envelope after 310 seconds, but with the one-piece flow we get it just after 40 seconds.

Worst, what if we find that the way we have folded the paper, doesn’t allow the envelope to be sealed. In which case we’ll be in a bigger trouble?

Eliminating hardships and wastes in the value stream

According to the Toyota Production System pioneer Shiego Shingo, a waste is:

The use of any material or resource beyond what the customer required or is willing to pay for

In software development value stream, a waste is anything that causes a delay for the customer, such as activities that can be bypassed without affecting the result.

The following are some common categories of waste that we encounter when implementing lean in software value stream.

  1. Partially done work
  2. Extra processes
  3. Extra features
  4. Task switching
  5. Waiting on QA or testing or acceptance testing
  6. Defects and bugs
  7. Non-standard or manual work

Explaining each of the above point deserves a post of its own. Will do that soon.

Conclusion

Improving flow through the technology value stream is essential to achieving DevOps outcomes. We do this by making work visible, limiting WIP, reducing batch sizes and eliminating wastes from our processes.

All of this will allow us to become more agile and will help in reducing lead times dramatically, and at the same time increasing the quality of releases.

That’s all, folks!

 

7 Tips On Making Your Engineering Workflow Faster

One of the most important thing that I like about pair programming with other awesome engineers is you get to see their workflows. How they get things done? How they get find and make their way around tools, terminal, and editors?

After witnessing and getting awestruck by many such experiences I realized that having an effective workflow can increase your day to productivity many folds.

The next step was to take action, and while doing so, I have compiled few tips to make your engineering flow faster too.

1. Identify waste:

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According to the Toyota Principles:

A waste is any hardship and drudgery that doesn’t align itself with what customer requires and is willing to pay for.

The First step towards developing a ninja workflow is to do an audit and identify waste.

Identifying waste is the first step towards eliminating it.

Ex. My workflow had many wastes like not automating enough, not harnessing the power of IDEs, waiting for the large codebase to reload etc.

2. Get proficient with your IDE:

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Today, IDEs are super power packed. To develop an awesome workflow, we must learn how to harness the power of our IDEs.

I use PyCharm for my day to day work and have witnessed very considerable efficiency increase once I took steps to become proficient with it.

Features like:

  • Custom live templates
  • Smarter code navigation
  • Custom keyboard shortcuts
  • Debugger
  • Distraction free mode
  • Plugins

All make you a power user. It’s worth investing time given the return on investment.

3. Get familiar with Unix shell commands:

Getting familiar with Unix shell commands is a game changer. First, it makes you look smart and second it helps you automate stuff.

I noticed that I used to do a set of repeated tasks every day when I started working.

  1. Login to office WiFi network
  2. Open browser
  3. Open Slack in tab
  4. Open mail in a tab
  5. Start the IDE
  6. Activate virtual environment
  7. Checkout VCS repository etc.

And now all it looks like is:

~$ startwork

You get the idea. Invest some time and become a Unix power user.

4. Automate your manual workflows:

Developing skills to automate takes time. Whether they are using shell scripts, browser extensions or little code snippets.

Investing time in automating workflows is a high leverage activity.

Ex. You don’t need to manually follow a certain flow of the app to test out something every time, which takes 2-3 mins.

Can we automate this and do this in 2-3 seconds.

How much time will it save if suppose we do this 25-30 times on average?

Ex. Or automating generating search tags for blog posts 😛

5. Prefer keyboard over mouse:

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We all will agree. Using mouse is slow. Using keyboard over mouse helps decrease the time it takes to perform actions by many folds.

The action that was buried under 3 sub-menus can now be performed just by pressing a key combination.

Personally, for this, I would highly recommend a plugin for JetBrains IDEs called key promoter. It’ll help big time in getting over our mouse addiction.

6. Learn at least one productive high-level language:

Getting things done in a language like Python is way faster than something like say,  Scala.

Learning at least one high-level language allows us to quickly test out ideas and implement them.

No more resistance of writing a 20 line class just to test out an API call to a service.

Move fast and test out ideas on an interactive interpreter instead of compiling code files.

7. Make it easy and fast to run the unit tests associated with just your current changes:

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Running the entire test suite or even the test suite of the module you touched can be time-consuming. Life is too short for that.

To quickly validate things, make it super easy and fast to run the unit tests of just your current changes.

Personally for this, I use the copy reference feature of PyCharm a lot, and obviously, I use the keyboard shortcuts to do so.

Conclusion

With this post, I wanted to share some ways that I’ve been consciously working on to making my engineering workflow as efficient as possible. Still, there is a big room for improvement, but hopefully, this article would’ve been of a little help at least.

That’s all, folks!

 

IIMBx: EP101x DO Your Venture : Course Experience on edX

The best way to win is to show grit and bid on your strengths and intuitions. I have been trying to start my own company now for quite a some time. This course came into my mail box by edX, title looked captivating and thus I decided to take it.

It was a light course. Not much effort needed other that just watching the videos and doing some assignments.

The course was focused on making people get off with their venture from the idea phase to execution phase.

Throughout the course I was evaluating  my ideas and operations using the learnings given by the course and it has been of some help at least.

The course was divided into 5 weeks :

Week 1 : The “Do” Philosophy 

DO philosophy is based on “do or do not. There is no try”. There is a gap between intent and action and thus best bid is to don’t wait for halcyons days and just DO IT.

It proposed a term equifinality which means that every entrepreneur and his path is different and there are many ways to entrepreneurship.

It then provided interviews with various startups like Bums On Saddle, Hobby in a Box etc founders sharing their journey so far.

Week 2 : Opportunities, Idea Creation & Generation!

This week was focused on how entrepreneurs come up with ideas. Few of them are  :

  • Hobby driven ideas
  • Painstorming
  • Change in some rules and regulations

Each of these points can provide you with a nice venture idea. I already had my idea prior to the course and thus just thought about it again from these view points.

Week 3 : Idea validation and Evaluation

After the idea has been selected. We have got to validate and evaluate it.

Some if the methods for this are :

  • Personal feasibility
  • Market feasibility
  • Customer feedback

Best way to validate idea is to talk to customers. Real unknown customers. Not just people in your acquaintance. We here at Rainbow Shelf went out to talk to retail shop owners (around 10) and tried to explain them the idea. Response was not very encouraging but it was an experience that helped us.

Week 4 : Lean Canvas

This week was all about the lean methodology used in startups. I have read the book The Lean Startup  and thus this all made sense to me.

The 5 principles of lean startup are :

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere
  2. Entrepreneurship is management
  3. Entrepreneurship is validated learning
  4. Build, Measure, Learn
  5. Innovation Accounting

The course also provided a lean canvas that should be used by startup to assess their idea.

Week 5 : Effectuation

Effectuation, which is defined as a “logic of thinking, discovered through scientific research, used by expert entrepreneurs to build successful ventures“.

This week was about measuring the uncertainty in the entrepreneurship.

Effectuation has these 4 principles :

Bird in Hand Principle – Start with your means. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action, based on what you have readily available: who you are, what you know, and who you know.

Affordable Loss Principle – Set affordable loss. Evaluate opportunities based on whether the downside is acceptable, rather than on the attractiveness of the predicted upside.

Lemonade Principle – Leverage contingencies. Embrace surprises that arise from uncertain situations, remaining flexible rather than tethered to existing goals.

Crazy-Quilt Principle – Form partnerships. Form partnerships with people and organizations willing to make a real commitment to jointly creating the future–product, firm, market–with you. Don’t worry so much about competitive analyses and strategic planning.

 

Overall. I wasn’t expecting very complex and hard material in the course just normal guidelines stuff and this was exactly what the course provided. This course was offered by IIMB. And showed many startups that are incubated there are NSRCEL.

As of now I have taken many scattered courses on entrepreneurship from University of Maryland to MIT to IIMB. Now i have decided to just take the specialization offered by Coursera  and that should be enough for time being until my company scales.

I have now shifted my focus to learn more core technical and domain knowledge that will be required to build remarkable company that can stand out that bring value to its customers.

 

10 Things I want to do before I graduate.

I am almost half an engineer by this time. Two and a half year and I will be a graduate. Sounds like fun. So I guess this is the best time to reveal 10 things I want to do before I die . Oh! sorry, before I graduate.

 

1. Google Summer Of Code

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Okay. First one should not be a surprise for computer students. Gsoc is like a dream for almost every computer engineering student. There is nothing better then this you get as a student. I am working with python and will try to get through with it into the Gsocers list.

2. Go to Goa

Goa
Now this should be obvious to every college student. The beach parties and the girls ;). Seems like fun.
I just want to get there and then declare it “The World Party!”.

3. Try to crack Codevita

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If you are unfamiliar with this one. It is not your fault. It is a coding contest organized by TCS. I am not that much of a hardcore competitive coder but still this thing deserves a shot.

4. Go River rafting

River Rafting
Okay! I am really excited for this one. About half a year ago we planned this but few back logs ruined the plans :'(. . Let us see when the glory comes to me.

5. Complete the Dragon Ball series

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It nothing compared to watching your favorite anime Dragon Ball and try to follow the super saiyan way of living. I have grown up watching this and want to live this awesome way my whole life. (Those good old times . I want to relive them 🙂 ).

6. Go to Sunburn

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There is nothing more exciting and thrilling and electrifying and startling …( 😀 )then jumping with your hands flying in the air to the EDM of your favorite DJ.

7. Complete Data Science Specialization on Coursera

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Back to study stuff. Data science and Big Data are kind off booms in the IT industry now days. There are by now 11 courses provided by coursera on the topic and I wish to complete them all.

8. Plant a Start-Up

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As you guessed by the previous point, I am a techie person ( at least I consider myself as one ). It sounds thrilling and fun to start your own start-up. So just shut up and start-up.

9. Go to Bangalore for an Internship

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Tech internship and Bangalore. The perfect duo. Meet new and talented people and grow yourself as well. As far as I have heard it is a very fun experience.

10. Get a Girlfriend

This one is in because I was having no other thoughts in my mind and I didn’t wanted the title to look like 9 things to do…
So if you are a girl, ping me! 😉