Category Archives: CODING

Agile development vs Agile deployments: Do users really want their software to change so often?

Originally published December 29, 2016

Like most, I spent the recent year-end holidays reconnecting with family and friends over a tin of homemade Toll House® chocolate chip cookies and non-fat cappuccinos. We laughed. We cried. We debated the merits of Agile deployments and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) delivery.

It began as an innocuous statement: “Drive-thru windows at coffee shops. Call-ahead seating at chain restaurants. Online order pickup at big-box stores. Clearly we’re an impatient society. We know what we want. And even if we don’t, we want it now, anyway.”

This particular meet-up was between myself and a senior programmer with whom I worked fifteen years ago. He was always a better-trained and better-skilled programmer than me, a computer science major with a firm footing in C/C++ and Assembly, whereas my computer information systems degree shifted focus to higher-level programming languages and business classes like accounting, marketing, and economics.

We reminisced about our time as programmers together and jointly landed on a few takeaways:

  • It’s difficult to be a good programmer today; organizations want programmers focused on speed of delivery, not quality
  • The decline of quality programming became more prevalent with the introduction of managed code, particularly Microsoft .NET, as it allowed inexperienced programmers to deliver products to market
  • Availability of quality software further diminished with the introduction of smartphone applications
  • Somewhere between then and now, organizations began touting minimum viable product (MVP) and Agile deployment to mask what could be best described as impatience—usually on the part of the provider who holds the financial benefit
  • Enterprise cloud software developers have not embraced the plug-in model to better support an organization’s appetite for change—mainly because it requires more attention on early application architecture

As I progressed in my career as a programmer within ten-person startup companies during the dot-com era to thousand-employee enterprise organizations, I experienced the disheartening feeling that end-users don’t care about software systems as much as programmers think they do. Consider the origins of the RTFM meme, for example. Clearly people don’t and won’t read the…ahem…manual.

As a previous system administrator for two cloud hosted project portfolio management (PPM) systems, I came to learn that the average end-user learned just enough about the enterprise software to get by in their day-to-day role. And when an end-user did master a feature in the product, it usually changed in some minor way a few weeks later when the developers pushed a new feature or update to an existing feature.

So if end-users won’t read the manual and only make an effort to learn a fraction of the application’s capabilities in order to perform their job, do frequent Agile deployments of hosted software diminish value? In my opinion: yes.

Wearing my change management and system administration hats, I feel deployments of enterprise cloud software are best received and adopted by end-users when limited to once or twice yearly. This ensures the organization can take appropriate measures to evaluate, learn, and understand the new features as well as define and change management and training strategy that’s right for the organization based on the team or function’s current level of maturity in the particular application and/or application processes.

As new enterprise cloud software manufacturers enter the market I believe they can grab a competitive advantage from their peers by focusing early application architecture efforts on developing their software to utilize a plug-in architecture. From there the deployment cadence and new feature adoption can be managed by the customer to better maximize end-user value.

Learn basic coding and electronics using Adventure Kit: 30 Days Lost in Space

Six months ago I first began seeing advertisements on social media for Adventure Kit: 30 Days Lost in Space (InventrKits LLC). I was instantly intrigued by the cleverness of the kit and ingenuity of the young men who created it. To show my support and satisfy my curiosity, I ordered one.

The kit is reminiscent of the Radio Shack electronic project lab I once received from Santa Claus as a child. In retrospect, I believe I was probably a few years too young to grasp the enjoyment of the project lab. It sat unused for many years until being tossed out during my college years when my family moved to a new home.

Adventure Kit: 30 Days Lost in Space is a small box of basic electronic components, an Arduino Hero board, and online access to 30 video tutorial lessons (20-30 minute running time each) on basic programming and electronic components.

What I found most clever is how the team at InventrKits LLC crafted a video tutorial series based upon a science fiction scenario that finds our spaceship stranded beneath an ocean of a distant planet. Through the 30 video tutorials, we’re taught how to repair our spaceship by controlling basic electronic components like switches and light emitting diodes (LEDs).

I don’t want to spoil the entire story line, but for example, Day #2’s lesson finds us learning how to restore power to our ship’s lighting system (by controlling the power to a LED).

Once the kit is in-hand, all that remains is to download the free, open-source Arduino integrated development environment (IDE) to a PC, MAC, or LINUX computer. This is the software application where the Arduino firmware code is written, and then pushed from the computer across the included USB cable to the Arduino board.

The kit is proving to be great fun. If you are considering this for a young person, I recommend it is suitable for people age 11 years and up.

The Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is the software used to write code that controls the Arduino board once uploaded to the hardware using a USB cable. Day #3 finds us controlling the LED via a dip switch.
Arduino Hero board and an electronic prototype bread board mounted to a small piece of pine wood (not included) to help keep the pieces more steady on a work surface.

The 6-year inspiration that drove the creation of Series-V: A game of space of space exploration

I’m out of the professional coding world for over fifteen years, but it hasn’t stopped me from creating a multi-player online game inspired by 80s/90s computer bulletin board systems (BBSs) in the spirit of TradeWars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon.

To try the game yourself, visit https://series-v.com. Or, watch the short narrated demo walk-through below.

Watch a short demo of Series V: A game of space exploration

I still remember the specs of my first brand-new PC in the fall of 1993 that cost me $3,000: an Intel 486DX2 processor with 8MB RAM, 340MB hard drive, SoundBlaster Pro sound card, and a USRobotics 14.4K modem. With that PC came the joy of exploring local dial-up BBS systems, namely the Trenton NJ area It’s All Rock ‘N Roll and the text-based multi-player games the SysOp offered his members.

During the winter of 2016-17 I felt nostalgic for the bygone era of personal computing. To kill some time in the evenings I installed a DOS emulator on a second-hand netbook and loaded a copy of the WWIV BBS system to see if I could get it to run: and it did. While I knew there was no merit to keeping that setup, I turned my attention to creating a multi-player, text-based space exploration game playable in the browser on desktop, laptop, and tablet devices.

Initially, I had little expectations that I would fully finish the project, but I saw the challenge behind building a proof of concept. As a bonus, I would learn PHP and MySQL to experience new-to-me technologies.

Because the game is text-based, players are encouraged to use pencil and paper to draft maps and to note the location of objects and obstacles.

The objective is to win the game by having the highest score among all players when time expires. Players earn points by exploring space and mining asteroids, but should be cautioned that points are also deducted for mischief.

Designed with casual gamers in mind, the short-duration “pop up” nature will allow me to activate the game during long holiday weekends. I can then focus on building out minor enhancements and features as time permits throughout the year. Because the universe is reconfigured at the start of each game, it encourages players to skip rounds and jump back in at a later date to explore a newly-configured universe with different players and objectives.