"The Real World"
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In a post on their blog, 37signals asked for readers to comment in ten words or less, what the phrase “real world” means. They mention how frequently this phrase is used in IT; in fact overused. The question is, if it’s used that much, does everyone mean the same thing when they use it? Do they even know what they mean by it?

I think that certainly many people who use it have a definition of it deep inside their minds. They may not have vocalized it, and really thought it through, but they are aware of a principle which they refer to when they use the phrase. However, I think there is more than one definition or principle behind it. I think it all comes down to your perspectives and goals.

Some will look at the development principles of Ruby on Rails and think that in “the real world”, Rails can’t cut it. Others believe that Rails is a real world solution, whereas Java is a solution for bloated IT departments. Is either belief correct?

Once again, it depends on the goal. I have been focusing on learning Internet Marketing for the past three years. It’s been great to learn some skills that relate to the Internet world, but from a different perspective than web development. Once you get into the Internet Marketing mindset, much of your thinking begins to change. For one, every minute spent designing, developing, testing, and all the project management, team meetings and team management that goes into a typical IT department, is now seen as costly. When an Internet Marketing entrepreneur sees an opportunity in a target niche, they want their online product delivered immediately, because every day not online is lost money and possibly a lost opportunity. These entrepreneurs talk in terms of days to get some software written and online, as opposed to the months that larger enterprises consider for their project timelines.

It would be amusing to them, not to mention completely unacceptable, to be told that something was going to go through a kickoff meeting, team assignments, UML design documents, development, unit testing, weeks of QA and integration testing before going live. Ten developers, a project manager, three QA testers, a DBA, a system administrator, department managers, tech writers, graphic designers, etc. To these entrepreneurs, this much bloat is not “real world”. It may be considered necessary for a large corporation to be as “safe” as possible, but it’s not agile enough to respond to online opportunities. I’ve seen opportunities to make $250,000 that literally lasted only a month.

On the other hand, if you went to the Java enterprise development team and said, we need to have a web site that manages the following eight sets of data, with user registration (including email verification, lost passwords, etc), functionality for regular email notifications to subscribers, and a nicely designed front end, and we need it in five days, they would respond, “that isn’t the real world!” They probably couldn’t even find time to schedule the kick off meeting that quickly.

In my 12 years of web development experience, I have heard more times than I can count, the marketing department give a timeline from their expectations which the IT department countered was unrealistic and impossible. The marketing department is frustrated with the time it takes to get to market, and the IT department is frustrated with the tight deadlines and long hours it takes to meet expectations. This is the real world. A constant battle between business leaders and developers to get to market fast.

Only you can decide for yourself which real world you want to belong to. Myself, I used to belong to the IT department real world of all the steps needed to get to market, but as I studied Internet Marketing I began to see every minute of my time as cost and delay toward making money. Now I look for short cuts, not in quality, but in process and development time. Streamlining; cutting the bloat that has crept in over the years, particularly, from my point of view, in the Java Enterprise. I prefer a short development life-cycle, keeping the requirements for each cycle short and to the point. The smaller the feature set, the shorter every sub-cycle is (design, testing, etc). I prefer online task management eliminating the project status meeting, where 15 people take turns telling the PM the same information they could have entered into some software in five minutes. I prefer streamlined communications and small teams. Get the product out there, and immediately start working on an update. This provides for more flexibility within the market, and allows businesses to respond to perceived online opportunities quickly. It will also reduce developer stress and burnout. But, it also requires less development technology bloat, that I believe is now a large part of Java web development. Java doesn’t have to be bloated, and neither does the development life-cycle. But it has become that way, and it will take some outside the box thinking, and a different perspective to make the process more efficient, less stressful, more financially lucrative, and ultimately, a whole lot more fun.

Firefox Plugin to assist in switching between development and production domains
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If you frequently want to switch between your local development instance of your web application, and the production version, or perhaps another version like an integration or QA installation, the Server Switcher Firefox plugin may be useful to you. With this plugin, you simply assign both URLs to each other in the Options tabe for the plugin and an icon will appear in the URL field of your browser. Clicking it will toggle you between the two URLs.

For example, if I was running an application on my local machine at http://localhost:8080, and the live version was at www.brianburridgecom, I would enter each in the plugin’s options under Development Server and Live Server respectively. When I got to either web site, I get an icon. A construction hat when working locally, and a server when on the “live” server.

The plugin supports ports, subdirectories, local files (specified with file://). Ctrl-Shift-X can be used to toggle with the keyboard.

I have found this plugin very useful during web site development. I don’t always have the “live” server set for a true production install, but instead to switch between my local development instance, and an integrated development server to perform some QA on both and compare the differences between them.

The plugin can be found here.

Improve Your Career…Right Now
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The Simple Dollar has posted an article titled, “15 Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Your Career”. My favorites from the list are:

Make a list of all of the things you did today/this week/this month to help your organization, and file them away.
I started this several months ago, with a private WordPress blog. I keep a record of my work accomplishments for the week, which I can later use to update my resume. I also keep track of my personal daily accomplishments, which I update at the end of each day. It’s a great way to look back at the day, and be reminded of success, as opposed to looking at the unfinished items still on your task list, which tends to have the reverse effect.

Design some classy business cards
I planned to do this for a long time, and ironically, I just sent the design to the printer last night for my cards.

Send a thank-you note
I’ve done this before after interviews, but it’s an interesting idea for around the office thanks. The article suggests that the handwritten thank-you note implies you put more time and thought into it, than the pre-printed or emailed note.

Now that my business cards are at the printer, I plan to do a note card that matches the style, that I can use as a thank you card.

Work on your writing skills
Keeping a personal journal, as mentioned above, can also help you work on your writing skills. Since I started my personal journal a few months ago, I’ve written over 90 posts. They aren’t necessarily as well thought out as they would be if they were for public consumption, but a few of them have already gone from my personal journal to being posted on one of my blogs.

Send a quick contact email
I like the idea suggested here. It’s difficult to know what to say when contacting someone like this, but the suggestion is to simply update the recipient on what you have been up to since the last contact, and ask what they have been up to.

Note: 37 signals has just launched a new application, called Highrise which is designed to help you manage your contacts.

Clean your work area
I did this at work recently. I spent some time and money to decorate my cube (I’ll post some pictures soon), including some matted pictures, plants, etc. It looks cleaner, and more like I care, and is much more comfortable to work in.

Make yourself more presentable
I like the suggestion to wash your face again in the afternoon, and brush your teeth after lunch, if not only for hygiene, but just as important for that fresh feeling, which might help you get through a long, tiring afternoon.

Also, along with this is to dress nicely too. Even if you don’t have to dress up for work, but prefer tshirts and jeans. Ensure your jeans are good quality, ironed, and your shoes are new looking, etc. You can dress down and still look like you care.

The full article, and the other eight suggestions, can be found at the Simple Dollar.

Add Google Calendar Agenda to your GMail
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I love using Gmail and Google Calendar. The only problem I’ve had with Google Calendar, is that I forgot to check it, and then forget something I scheduled. Here is a greasemonkey script, and a tutorial for setting it up, that places your Google Calendar agenda on your GMail in the left hand side. Fantastic idea, and now makes it much more likely I’ll not forget my scheduled events, since I’ll see them all day long.

See the tutorial.

Trawlr: A RESTful, Rails-powered online feed reader
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Note: I haven’t touched on it much on my site, but I will in the coming weeks. I’ve become a huge fan of Ruby on Rails and have been doing a lot of coding in it during my spare time. It has brought back the fun I used to have developing Internet software from years ago.

Ruby Inside has posted an interview with the developer of Trawlr, Ben Smith. Some of my favorite highlights are:

Almost all the readers I looked at kept each feed separate and behaved like email where you had to keep marking items or feeds as read to prevent a huge, overwhelming backlog.

The way I use RSS is to subscribe to a large number of feeds (over 300) and then simply ‘dip in’ and read when I have time.

When I first discovered the REST features in Rails (via DHH’s “World of Resources” presentation) I didn’t really get it. Once I started to understand that REST is all about modeling ‘things’ and their relationships by creating rich associations it started to make sense.

The additional benefit of using the same code to respond according to the requesting user agent is a major bonus. Within trawlr I mainly use the REST features to keep the code DRY for different response types; rss and opml being two current examples. In the future I hope to add a mobile version.

Read the entire article at Ruby Inside.

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