Tuesday, November 27, 2012
John is an ASP.NET MVP. To quote from the Microsoft MVP web site:
"John has been developing software for 20 years. From 1995-2001, he was a Visual FoxPro MVP. Today, John is an ASP .NET MVP and a member of ASPInsiders. He is a developer/committer on the NerdDinner and nDBUnit Projects. John is a frequent speaker at code camps, user groups and conferences. John is also a frequent contributor to Code Magazine and has authored several books including the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Databases from Que Publishing. John earned an MBA from St. Joseph's University and a JD from the Rutgers University School of Law in Camden."
John is of course very involved in web development and ASP.NET, but his interests don't end there: He's also passionate about ALM with Visual Studio; Windows Azure; and Windows 8.
As part of our practice leadership team, John's back-end web expertise complements well our other MVPs and subject matter experts who provide practice-wide guidance and support. Neudesic combines multiple disciplines to create Modern Apps that span from the hand-held device to the cloud.
John's blog is at codebetter.com/johnvpetersen and he can be followed on Twitter at @johnvpetersen.
Friday, November 23, 2012
If you’re a consultant, you’re not only going to be writing code you’re also going to be authoring or co-authoring documents. There are many kinds of documents a consultant may need to write, such as estimates, statements of work, user stories, specifications, findings and recommendations, plans, trip reports, and hand-off documents.
• being succinct rather than being verbose
• having an orderly sequence rather than a jumble of non-sequiturs
• holding interest rather than droning on monotonously like a pedagogue
• conveying a singular interpretation rather than being ambiguous
• avoid needless repetition (but do emphasize key take-aways)
It takes work to make your content clear, succinct, orderly, interesting, and unambiguous. You won’t nail these qualities on your first draft so iterative refinement of your composition is essential to arriving at the shorter version that communicates your intent. More simply put, refine your document until it sings.
You should also be neutral and respectful when mentioning direct competitors or competitors to your preferred vendors, partners, or platforms. There's a graceful way to show superiority over the competition that doesn't require going into the gutter--which will turn off many clients. In fact, you can compliment your competitors and still show reason why you're the better choice. For example, "Amazon is a respected cloud provider, but for your particular needs there are several compelling benefits only Windows Azure provides".
This peer review is not just about your writing quality: it also serves to double-check your claims, citations, reasoning, and conclusions. Embarrassing mistakes or content that should not be shared might be caught by a peer review.
There's no easy answer here, and I suggest involving your management chain when such issues arise. The more you follow the aforementioned advice on neutrality of tone, citing authoritative sources, and professionalism the harder it will be for your work to be attacked. Don't be surprised, though, if at some point in your career you are directed to spin things a certain way because that's what the client want to see in their deliverables. If and when this happens, you'll have to decide if that's a big deal or not and whether you need to make a moral stand or not.
Next: Part 5: Verbal Communication Skills
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Air travel sure isn’t what is used to be (in many ways), which makes today’s minimal amenities and uncomfortable seating all the harder on those of us who remember better times. It’s simply not fun to fly commercially, and if you feel otherwise you probably haven’t flown much. The allure of flying is a temporary illness, cured by taking a sufficient number of flights. While you may be excited about the destination you’re heading toward, the flight itself and the airport processing are nothing to get excited about: it’s merely something you have to endure.
If you decide you've made a mistake and your have too much carry-on baggage, ask the gate agent if you can gate check some of your bags. They'll tag your bag and take it from you on the jetway as you are about to board; on the other end, it may be picked up in the some way or sometimes it goes to baggage claim. There's no fee for gate checking. If you find out you're on a tiny plane definitely consider it. It's not wise to gate check anything valuable or vulnerable like a laptop.
I've found traveling light makes a big difference in ease of flying. I used to carry a monster of a laptop in a large case with everything I might need, and it weighed a ton. It was also causing me a lot of shoulder and neck pain because it was an over-the-shoulder strap bag. Not these days: I go for thin, small, and light every time and my bags are always wheeled. Personally, I like the rolling laptop cases from Kensington and the Samsonite Spinner suitcase (which can pivot in any direction). Think carefully about the size you get and whether you'll be using it primarily as a carry-on or not. If you're going on a long enough trip where you need a garment bag, I recommend the simple but study and reliable Wally Bag.
The TSA will screen you and your baggage. They are not the joking types, and using words like “bomb” or “weapon” out loud is extremely unwise. Indeed, it’s best not to say anything at all unless spoken to. Policies change over time, but at the time of this writing computers (but not tablets or phones) and a few other classes of equipment need to go in separate bins; the rest of your electronics can usually stay in your carry-on bag. For your carry-on baggage, liquids are frowned upon except in extremely small quantities and are to be put in a bin in a plastic bag. You’ll have to remove shoes, belts, and coats/jackets and put them in bins; you’ll see experienced travelers undressing while they’re in the security line and move through the whole process very efficiently.
Lots of people like to use their electronics. Increasingly, airports are making arrays of outlets and even work areas available for this purpose. If that’s not the case at your airport, there is an art to hunting down available outlets. There have to be occasional outlets for things like custodial vacuuming, so skilled travelers get good at seeking them out when they survey an airport waiting area. if you've ever seen a traveler slowly canvassing the waiting area, eyes downcast toward floors and pillars, they're probably on the hunt for an outlet.
Flying may give you time to do things you often can't find enough time for normally, such as reading or doing some serious thinking. Though many travelers don't utter a word to the person sitting next to them, if you're the talkative type you may find striking up a conversation with your neighbor to be a good way to pass the time.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Find out how your company expects you to track and log your travel time and expenses, and what you can be reimbursed for. If you are required to turn in receipts with your expenses, get disciplined about remembering to always get receipts and keep them in a standard place. Regardless of how you are traveling, if you find yourself in a situation where you must be on-site at your client week after week, you may want to inquire about a 4-days on-site / 1-day off-site arrangement, or perhaps working 4 x 10-hour days instead of 5 x 8-hour days each week. Creative scheduling like this can reduce your travel and give you more time at home.
When driving, invest in a GPS. They don’t cost much and are invaluable—especially for getting to new addresses in areas you aren’t very familiar with. If you’re driving to the same place on a regular basis, you can usually find a route and time that works best and settle into a routine. But if you’re driving to a different place every day, that’s another matter entirely. I remember well a job I held in the 1980’s that required me to visit several locations a day in New York City each day to perform on-site computer repair. The repair part of the job was by far the easier aspect: it was making your way through that enormous city to new destinations that was the real challenge. One wrong turn and you’re in Jersey. We didn’t have GPS back then, but we do now--and you should have one.
If you're contemplating a long train ride (say, as an alternative to flying) think that through carefully. Although I've met a few people who habitually take long train rides on their vacations, a lot of people find long train rides uncomfortable if not intolerable.
If you're traveling in the UK or Europe, be very aware that the trains stay on schedule! Let me illustrate this with a personal experience: on a trip to England, I and a colleague (who had brought his wife along) put her and our bags on the train, then he and I went off to quickly use a restroom. When we returned to the track, the train was gone!--it had left already, and we had all the tickets. She was not happy about this, and I don't think she has forgiven him yet.
Now there’s the very important topic of which auto rental company to go with. I’m not going to try to tell you who to rent from, but it is important to find one that you like which gives you consistently good service. I find people have very different opinions about car companies based on their past experiences, and I’ll share some of mine to illustrate. For example, I’ve personally had poor experience with Enterprise car rentals (including the indignity of a microscopic scan of the entire car before and after the rental, hunting for the tiniest scratches); yet, a J.D. Power customer satisfaction study ranked them #1. Or take Hertz, who is self-proclaimed as #1 in the car rental space and it appears many travelers view them that way, as the obvious choice. Personally, I have never once had a good experience with Hertz. That caused me to look at Avis, which I love. After enough of this, you will lock onto your preferred auto rental company and stick to them like glue. For me, that means I always, always rent from Avis. They give me good service, every single time. And when it comes to travel, consistency is worth its weight in gold.
Driving internationally? Automatic transmissions are rarely used in Europe so you'll need to be able to drive a manual transmission. Although the basics (steering wheel, accelerator, brake pedal, etc) are standardized and familiar, there can be small details about cars in other countries that can throw you. On one trip to the Netherlands I could not figure out how to put my rental car in reverse--it took me a good hour to find the special button I had to push. Not unreasonable in hindsight, but completely non-obvious to an American.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
But first, we need to get some things straight.
Did you know there’s a big difference between being a developer vs. being a consultant who develops? There are similarities of course: both need technical ability and experience, and need to keep up with the fast rate of change in the technology space. Both need to write good code, care about quality and craftsmanship, and work well with others. But for the consultant, there are additional parts to the job and they’re equally important. Perhaps more important.
How will you dress? Where will you work? It depends on the client's wishes. At one time, nearly all consulting work was done on-site at the client. Today, it's often possible for much of the team to work remotely from the office or at home--but some projects will require you to work with your team and client in the same location. You most likely won't have to wear a suit and tie, but business casual is a good minimum quality of dress for a consultant, even if the client's own standard of dress is more casual.
- You are making a difference. You are helping an organization further their business objectives and making a real difference to their users (customers or employees); and, you will get to see that firsthand.
- Your knowledge domain will soar. You are learning a great deal more than mere technology; you’re learning important things about specific industries and business in general.
- There’s variety. I can’t guarantee every project you work on will be fun, but you’ll certainly get to do work on many different kinds of projects.
- You’ll become a trusted advisor. As you become more senior, you will become a Consultant with a capital “C”. Meaning, stakeholders will genuinely value your experience and trust your advice. Successful consultants and consulting companies are viewed as valued partners by their clients.
Next: Part 2: Travel - One if By Land...
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Although I'm only focusing on the Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8 family in this post, you should also be aware that Microsoft has SkyDrive apps for other device platforms including iOS and Android.
A number of these techniques can be used for any kind of file, but the most widespread SkyDrive support across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 appears to be for photos and documents. Since you can have Office on any of these Windows-family devices (your PC, your tablet, your phone), being able to have a central place for documents, worksheets, and presentations you can get at from whichever device you happen to be using is pretty awesome.
SkyDrive Windows 8 Application (Windows 8, Windows RT)
The most obvious way to take advantage of SkyDrive on Windows 8 or Windows RT is to notice the app named "SkyDrive" on the start screen. This will let you get to and work on your SkyDrive folders, but the app does not appear to have any features for moving content between your local device and SkyDrive folders as far as I can tell. Actions the app makes easy are browsing your folders, opening an image or document, or uploading files from your local device to a SkyDrive folder.
App Storage - Auto-Integration with File Save / Open Dialogs (Windows 8, Windows RT)
One very automatic integration with SkyDrive is that when a Windows Store App presents an open file or save file dialog, the areas you can navigate to (Documents, Pictures, etc.) include SkyDrive.
SkyDrive Folder on Your Windows 8 PC (Windows 8 only)
x86 devices that run Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro also have the classic desktop and can run Windows 7 type apps. A tip from Paul Thurrott's Windows site points out you can have a Windows Explorer-style experience on your classic desktop by downloading the SkyDrive Windows Desktop app from the SkyDrive site (note, this app is also included in Windows Essentials 2012). Here's what the SkyDrive Windows app looks like on my Dell Laptop running Windows 8 :
The previous tip is fine on x86 devices like a laptop or tablet PC, but it won't help you on a Windows RT ARM device (for example, on a Microsoft Surface RT). But there is still a way to get an Explorer-style view: you can map your SkyDrive root folder as a mapped network drive. Even though Windows RT can't run your classic PC apps, it does in fact still have a classic desktop (Windows + D will get you there) which includes Windows Explorer. You can map your SkyDrive folders to a drive letter by following the procedure described on Rashed Talukder's blog.
SkyDrive on Windows Phone 8
Microsoft has a SkyDrive app in the Windows Phone store, and it's free. With it, you can browse your SkyDrive folders and files and open them (for example, opening a worksheet in Excel). You can also upload photos from your phone to your SkyDrive storage. Here's what the experience looks like on my Lumia 920 Windows 8 phone:
SkyDrive: An Essential Companion for All Your Devices
We've looked at quite a few different ways to incorporate SkyDrive into your devices. Note that when you update your files in a SkyDrive folder, some of the methods above will auto-detect the new content while others have a Refresh button.
All of this makes for an extremely easy and versatile way to share data across devices that can access SkyDrive--with all these options, you can choose the approach that best fits what you need to do and the device/OS you are using. I particularly like the universal access this gives me to my Office documents.
Since I'm just starting to play with this, I'm sure there is plenty more you can do with SkyDrive on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. I'm also hoping to find a way to sync SkyDrive folders to local folders automatically, so I can get to my stuff even when offline.
As a Windows Azure guy, I haven't paid all that much attention to SkyDrive until recently--but as you can see, it's become quite capable and broadly accessible. I'll post more tips as I come across them, and please send comments if you have some to suggest.