Looking Back

Things always go wrong. Those of us that build or operate software know that we will have failures at times. These could be while applying a patch, deploying a new system, during a spike in traffic, or perhaps just a mechanical failure somewhere. Most of us fix things and move on, as there’s always plenty of other work.

In a few organizations in which I’ve worked, whenever we had a large issue, we had a retrospective. I think we defined large issue as a VP or CTO become involved, but in any case, we sometimes had to have a retrospective meeting on why things went wrong. Usually these weren’t blameless, or psychologically safe. They didn’t end up being good meetings, nor did they serve to prevent future problems.

In today’s software world where we want to adopt DevOps and build better software, we need retrospectives, both when problems occur, but also periodically as we finish major portions of work. We want to learn and become better at building software, so it pays to spend some time actually assessing how we work as a team. I ran across a post from Thoughtworks that talks a bit about how to make these better.

I don’t completely agree with the post, and I certainly think that a retrospective won’t solve all the issues we’ve had. Nor should it. I really see the growth and adaptation of a software team as taking time. When we find lots of problems, the key to making the software development process better is to decide on something to change and try it.

I’m all for an evolutionary approach for a couple reasons. The first is that change is hard and disruptive. If we can change just one or two things, then most of our work continues forward. I don’t want a new set of coding techniques and a new build process at once. The second thing is that any change we make might have other consequences. We see this constantly in the world. We try to alter one thing and other parts of our process change. If we change too much at once, we might introduce lots of other problems.

Let’s grow and change in small ways, but do so on a regular basis. This is both for the way we work as a team and get our software to customers, as well as the techniques we use to write code. Let’s code better, refactor older code when we can, and learn to improve our skills and techniques each month. We’ll have a healthier code base over the long term and a healthier team as well.

Steve Jones

Listen to the podcast at Libsyn, Stitcher or iTunes.

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Daily Coping 30 Mar 2020

I’ve started to add a daily coping tip to the SQLServerCentral newsletter, which is helping me deal with the issues in the world. I’m adding my responses for each day here.

In the newsletter today, I wrote this: Share what you are feeling and be willing to ask for help.

This is a tough one for me. I’m fiercely independent and hate asking for help if I can do something. I should be able to handle this myself. I’m not sick, my family isn’t sick. No one I know is that sick, and only a few are a little sick. I only personally know of two people that have lost their jobs.

However, this pandemic has affected me. It’s all over the news, it’s heartbreaking and maddening.

I am sad for those that have lost someone or are suffering.

have sympathy for those losing their jobs, especially low income workers.

I’m maddened by those that haven’t taken this seriously.

I’m sharing here, and I’ve shared some of this with my wife and kids. We commiserate a bit and get things off our chests. I also have learned to ask my wife for help, to listen, to hold me, to just be there. It’s helpful, though this is still hard.

I’m working to close off from news, but not from people, which is a challenge. I’m working to keep my temper and emotions in check. I’m asking you to help me do that. If I’m upset, I’d appreciate a gentle reminder that things will be OK.

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Going Dark in SSMS

I haven’t been a big fan of dark mode in many tools, but I’ve been giving it a try in some applications as my eyes age. I decided to try it in SSMS, which wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped.

I had heard this was coming, then found some notes it wasn’t coming, and eventually landed on Pinal Dave’s blog that shows how to enable it. I followed the instructions, but had this issue in Sublime Text.

2020-03-19 11_09_26-Sublime Text

That’s easy to fix. In my case, I didn’t want to restart Sublime in administrator mode, nor did I want to mess with permissions. I decided to use VS Code, since that’s the other default program that appears with many files. I started it in admin mode:

2020-03-19 11_09_48-SQLQuery1.sql - Plato_SQL2017.sandbox (PLATO_Steve (65))_ - Microsoft SQL Server

I accepted the UAC dialog and then clicked File | Open. From there, I pasted in this path: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio 18\Common7\IDE

I picked ssms.pkgundef and opened it. Uncommented the last line for the dark theme and saved the file. Then I restarted SSMS and:

2020-03-19 11_11_39-SQLQuery1.sql - Plato_SQL2017.sandbox (PLATO_Steve (65))_ - Microsoft SQL Server

Voila!

ish. Not everything is dark.

2020-03-19 11_12_01-SQLQuery1.sql - Plato_SQL2017.sandbox (PLATO_Steve (65))_ - Microsoft SQL Server

This one is particularly annoying to me.

2020-03-19 11_12_12-SQLQuery1.sql - Plato_SQL2017.sandbox (PLATO_Steve (65))_ - Microsoft SQL Server

I did try to alter some items, such as my grid results:

2020-03-19 11_19_34-Options

This somewhat works:

2020-03-19 11_20_54-SQLQuery1.sql - Plato_SQL2017.sandbox (PLATO_Steve (64))_ - Microsoft SQL Server

I’ll stick with it for a bit, but I’ll have to see how much the white sections bother me, especially with the Object Explorer.

I don’t know why this is so hard, or why it’s a low priority. When I look at some of the feedback and posts, this is upsetting to plenty of people and it would seem like something that shouldn’t be hard to fix. However, I know this is a thick, old client, and perhaps no one wants to touch the code? I’ve certainly seen that before in other orgs. Perhaps Microsoft isn’t so different.

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Taking Stock of Your Career

We’re almost a quarter into the new year. Think about these statements: “Imagine you lose your job tomorrow.  What would you like your next job to look like?  Start acquiring the skills for your desired next job today!”

That’s a quote from Jan 2, when I saw someone talking about their struggles. It was a statement that resonated with me, and it’s one that I think everyone should be thinking about on a regular basis. Not worried or concerned about losing your job, though maybe that’s not so far fetched right now, but more, are you moving your career forward in some way that’s a) valuable to your company, and b) valuable to someone else.

Both of those are important. Certainly you want to deliver value to your current employer. That’s why they pay you and keep you around. Being skilled in your position is good, and improving that skill matters. This could keep you employed, and perhaps until you retire. That’s my plan, and I continue to work on skills that will help me make this job the last full-time job I’ll have have.

I feel confident in this plan, and I think I do a good job for Redgate. Some of the skills I work regularly on might help me with work elsewhere, but many are likely specific to this role. I don’t know that I could find this same type of job again at another company, but if I did need or decide to change jobs, I’d need other skills.

That is one of those things that keeps me learning and moving forward. I dig into various technologies, trying to better understand how they work, and thinking about where I might use them. I might not need them in my current role, and they may not be useful at Redgate, but they do ensure that I am building some skills that someone else might find valuable.

I see lots of people that feel stuck in their jobs, and without support to grow and learn from their company. They struggle to find time and energy to learn about the cloud or AI or containers or anything else. I get that. Life is busy and hard, and (hopefully) you have plenty outside of work to occupy yourself.

Take a minute and read that quote above. Now imagine you need a new job. Do you want to try and update your resume tomorrow and hope you have some current, modern skills that lots of companies need? Or do you want to hope someone values your experience already? Those aren’t bad plans, but maybe having a few new tricks you can talk about, things you’ve started to learn about, is a plan worth considering.

Steve Jones

Listen to the podcast at Libsyn, Stitcher or iTunes.

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