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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Coding for Georgiana…


A number of years ago, in my first job in IT, I worked for a local health care cooperative automating the data gathering of an outbound call center.

That sounds nice and sophisticated.  What really happened was that I worked in a group with a bunch of little old ladies –meant in the dearest sense you could mean it – they were little, and old, and ladies.  Imagine working with your mom or grandma to get the picture.  They made calls to new members in the various regions to inform them of the possibilities they could expect with their new membership.  My job was to automate the data gathering of the department.  Each telephone call was logged, categorized, and eventually summarized so the region could be billed for the work done on their behalf.

How this was done was simple: Paper, pencil, and a bunch of little hash marks: IIIII IIIII IIIII,

My job – summarize it so those hash marks could be turned into money at the end of the quarter.

I sat there with a solar powered calculator adding hash marks for weeks every quarter while a $2000.00 computer sitting on my desk burned electrons.  So automation became necessary, but automating it so a bunch of little old ladies could use it – correction – would use it – was key.

I’d been told that for this data gathering project, I would not be allowed to use a database, I would have to use Microsoft’s Excel.  And so, technically, I had to make Excel look and act like a database, but more importantly, I had to get these little old ladies (who can be mighty stubborn, I might add) to go from things they could see and feel (pencil and paper) to things they couldn’t (electrons).

One of the little old ladies was named Georgiana.  She had been diagnosed with ADD, and was quite aware of it, so she worked hard, with stacks of post-it notes all over to help keep herself on track.  She also was an absolute delight to work with, and would tell me any time some code I wrote didn’t make sense.  Conversely, if it did make sense, and she understood it, she would let me know – and then I knew everyone else would understand it as well.

So Georgiana became my canary in the coal mine.  She would not only tell me when she didn’t understand how some functionality was supposed to work, she would also tell me when the others had trouble.

And as a result, that trouble, whatever it was, would get fixed.  In human terms, they’d understand it better.  In business terms, their productivity would go up.  In human terms, they’d have less frustration.  In business terms, there’d be fewer impediments to them doing their jobs.

All because the code was written with the customer in mind.

I wrote thousands of lines of code for that project.  It eventually became a distributed data repository, on two separate, totally incompatible networks, that could quite literally only communicate via email, so the calculations happened via Excel macros, daily reporting happened via distributed Excel, Outlook macros and Novell Groupwise automation, and summarization and reporting at the end of the quarter was done in Excel and Word.  This took the generation of the report down from weeks to two hours, a major accomplishment – but it became very clear to me that no matter how wonderful, how exciting, how shiny, sparkly or technically brilliant the code was, if I didn’t listen to my customers – if my code didn’t solve the problems they were facing on a daily basis, then they wouldn’t use it.  If it didn’t do what the customer wanted, then all the effort I put into it was a complete waste of time.

And over time, I realized that more and more, the code I wrote was written with a little old lady in mind.  It’s been 15 years now, but in every line of code I write now is a little bit written for my friend Georgiana.

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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Speaking at DBTechCon today –


if you have thoughts/questions about the sessions – please comment on this post here – the contact thing isn’t working quite right…

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Databases and Frat Houses…


I had to explain to a colleague why database autogrow and autoshrink were a bad idea, so I did, he laughed, but got it, and so I went back to my desk and hammered this out – no editing, just hammering…

DATABASES AND FRAT HOUSES

Okay folks, so here’s a basic example of why you want to have your database the right size to start with, and why setting things to “autogrow” and “autoshrink” is a bad idea.

Ready?

Let’s say you go to – oh, say, the Local University, and you live in a frat house with 39 of your closest friends and associates.

Let’s also say that this frat house has parties on a rather regular basis, like, every Friday and Saturday night, and about 100 people show up.

Now if the house is big enough, you set up tables, snacks, “beverages”, and music, and people have a good time, in addition to getting plastered, puking on the lawn and so on – (but that’s outside the house, so we’ll deal with puking on the lawn in another issue.)

So far so good, right?  People have places to congregate, dance, chat, do all that other stuff that happens at frat parties, and so on.  No problem… The house is big enough, might be a little crowded sometimes, might be full of hot, sweaty bodies during the party, but basically, it’s a party, everyone’s having a good time, and no one will remember much of it on Saturday morning.

Except for those guys lying on the front lawn, but again, that’s another story.

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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