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A look at the past and a thought for the future

This year it has personally been a roller-coaster. I have started with a new position that resulted in many new challenges. I have been defining the company “standards”, working hard to please has many people around the company, while still defining something that was strong and easy to pick up, and finally  I have managed to get outside of my conference zone by having an article published on net magazine and speaking at DDDnorth.

If anyone in December 2016 would have told me that I was going to accomplish all the points above in just one year, I would have laughed. When I look back at each individual point above, and remember the effort needed to achieve them, I am amazed to realise that all fit in just 12 months, and today I want to share some of the lesson that I have learned, plus thank some of the people that have really supported me in this amazing year.

New position =  new challenges

great responsibility quote

With great power comes great responsibilityPeter Parker

You do not need to know the future, to realise that a new position will bring new challenges ahead. Sometime, the challenges can actually be unexpected and may require a swift in the way you are used to work to adapt to it.

I am part of a Tech company, and as many company in the same industry, moving up the ladder, actually means detaching from the “development” environment, to be more involved in the “Delivery/Process” day to day activities.

Many developers usually do this move too early without actually being aware of the consequences of it to the day to day activities. I have personally thought really hard before accepting the position and I have listed the main question that you should ask yourself before moving away from your beloved developer position.

  • Do you have the right skillset
    • Sometimes people are promoted because of their technical skills, but when moving up you may require other abilities (communication, managerial, coaching). It is very common to see amazing developer fail in managerial role.
  • Do you want to use your “social” skills
    • It is a fact, Developer are not the most social individual, and in many cases, having a promotion, will mean having to attend more meeting and having to deal with more people that are not developer.. are you ready for the challenge.
  • Are you ready to stop coding
    • Being a developer is very hard. The industry is so quick to change that even just an year away from the keyboard would be hard to regain. Make sure that if you make this step you are actually ready to leave Visual studio behind until retirement, otherwise moving up the ladder may not be the right decision for you.
  • Are you sure taht you will be as happy as you are in your current position?
    • The one think I learned from developers is that we do our job because we LOVE it. So before you make any decision, try to think about your happiness and not just about the pay-rise.

I have gone through the above questions many times before feeling ready. It is very important that you do not take decision just driven by money and think about your happiness. Remember that we spend more time in work that with out loved one, so choosing the right position is like finding a wife ( don’t tell my wife).

There is no right way to make changes

Change is never easy. It is very rare to make some big change and make everyone happy, and I found myself in the deep end before I realised it.

As stated above, I have decided to create some standards to be used across the company with the aim of improving the actual code quality (coding standard, eslint implementation and Unit tests).

It was a genuine thought and I would have never thought that it would bring so many discussion and create such a storm within the teams ( I could see why no one tried).

If I would go back, I would probably change the approach used to tackle the situation, and I am going to list below a couple of suggestion that could help you achieving your goals.

  • Create a “contract” in advance
    • Make sure everyone involved is aware of the way things will be decided in advance (For example, if 51% of developers want this we go ahead), defining this too late could create more trouble.
  • Make allies
    • It is very important to have some allies, when you want to make changes that could take time and energy. You need to be able to have someone on your side, be prepared.
  • Use Facts not words
    • This may not always be possible, but it is very useful to have ability to reference other source and not just give personal opinion. This will help to make the discussions less personal.
  • Solutions, not problems
    • It is extremely common to have people against that disagree on the proposed change. This is accepted as long as people bring a solution to the problem, and do not just complain for the sake of it.
  • Accept defeat
    • This is probably the hardest one, but sometime you need to be ready to accept defeat. And as with the “contract” mentioned above, this need to be defined at the start (give yourself a deadline or a tangible end).

It has not been easy to learn the points above, and I would have loved for someone to share them with me earlier, but I now try to use them in my day to day routine and they result are incredible.

Don’t fear the unknown

Publishing an article on a international newspaper and speaking at a conference is probably what made 2017 so special. The idea of getting into this “unknown world” was so scary. I was not aware of the amount of time that goes behind a simple 400 words article, or the hours of rehearse necessary to feel “ready” to speak at a conference.

If you are wondering if it was easier that it look, unfortunately you will be disappointed to actually learn that it was way harder that I would have anticipated. Getting ready for the conference and writing the article was like a never ending cycle. I was creating something, making it work, sharing it to friends and family, and then do it again, over and over again.

But there is a good part in the story. In fact, even if it drained me for every single resource of energy I had, it was completely worth it! The feeling of seeing your face on the newspaper or waking up in the morning and checking twitter to find people referencing your article from the other side of the globe, or receiving great feedback after a speaking session cannot be explained in words.

I was amazed to see the great effect that the above experiences had on my day to day job and career. It is not easy, but I really suggest you all to try something that is way outside your conference zone. You will be amazed and it could actually have unexpected consequences.

2018…

 

I do not know if 2018 could actually be more exciting that the one that just passed. But I am sure to be ready for any challenge, and will surely be looking up to find some more that will push me outside my conference zone.

I always had a very good attitude in work, but the one think that experience is teaching me, is that it is really important to always push your limits. It is perfectly fine to fail sometimes, and not trying is a failure on its own. I am always amazed to see the effect of a simple accomplishment on myself and also on my colleagues.

Before waving goodbye to this fantastic year, I need to write some thanks to my amazing colleagues that have supported me all the way, to my blog readers that are growing everyday, the fantastic coding blocks podcast and slack community and of course to my fantastic wife that is always so supportive and knows how to cheer me up when things do not go to plan.

Buon Natale to everyone! See you next year!

 

 

Conference presentations – behind the scene

A few months ago, I was delighted to be part of the amazing DDDnorth conference that took place in Bradford. This time, I was actually facing the attendees as I was taking the role of speaker for the first time.

It was a truly amazing experience, and I want to share my afterthought with you all, in the hope that I will be able to convince some of you to take this extra step in your career.

The hidden Iceberg – The preparation

Many website accept your talk from the abstract ( a few hundred words to explain the content of your talk), and many speaker actually do not prepare the actual talk until their talk has been submitted. I thought that was just my mistake, but it seem to be a big mistake from newbie that I am not going to repeat again.

The actual preparation that goes behind a conference session is immense. I have spent almost 25 hours changing and adapting the Powerpoint and another 20+ repeating it over and over until I got it just right. It would have been fine if you share this over an extensive period of time, but do it between being approved and the actual talk ( less than a month) was not a great idea, and I really suggest you all to learn from my mistake!

I have been lucky to keep an initial copy of my presentation, and I have been able to compare it with the final one. It is admirable how much it changed. I am not just talking at the actual design of the slide or the odd pictures, but the overall content and message that the presentation broadcast to the audience.

This is probably one of the main reason why sometimes the abstract can be quite different from the actual presentation.

A journey to self discovery

Writing an abstract to submit a Call for paper (CFP), is quite easy. We all have our “special” topic that we like to discuss, or a personal experience that we want to share, and this is usually good enough to draft down the bare bones of a presentation. But the real work needed to actually create enough content to present a whole session is a different story.

Spending time, trying to put your thought on paper is not easy, I actually felt the pain of all writers, that have something beautiful stuck in their head, and do no know the best way to share it with others. Luckily I was surrounded by great people, I would ask you all to ask and get people involved, because there is nothing better to actually share your thoughts to give you the energy and the power to continue and make a great presentation.

When I applied to be a speaker, I actually thought to know enough on the topic, and did not think that I needed to do any research, but I was completely wrong. You can never know too much! I have learned so much on my specific topic, and the feedback from other speaker was completely the same! Some people have even confessed, that the main reason why they speak at conference or write blog post is to “force” themselves to actually research and study specific topics in details.

The main event

There are no nice words that I can share, or special powder that will save you from the “Speaking anxiety”. Some people are affected more than others, and luckily I coped very well with it.

If Anxiety does hit, I can only suggest to remember that it is too late to back now, so do you best, if thing goes wrong, just work hard and try again! We are all humans after all!!

In my case, I felt amazingly energetic after I started my session. For the first time I really felt like all the preparation, all the hard work and all the hours talking by myself were finally worth it! Having lots of people staring at you can be scary, but remember that people are not there to judge you, but they have joined your session because they think you and your topic are worth the time!

The actual talk and questions time will fly! You will not believe how quick it will be before someone will warn you of the time!

The after event will be the best part of the conference for you, it is the time to try and get as many feedback as possible, because do not forget that the aim is always getting better and improve, so even if you did something wrong, you just need to focus and see what you can do to improve and not focus too much on the actual mistake!

Conclusion

I have personally loved it, and I cannot wait to do it again. The amount of work that goes behind it is incredible, so make sure you are really ready for it, and give 150% of yourself, but do not let this get you down because the personal satisfaction is the feeling of accomplishment that you receive at the end cannot be explained!

 

 

Conference, why send your staff is actually is a good idea

It’s Monday morning, I am getting ready to leave the house, but this time something is different, instead than actually going to work, I am going to SwanseaCon an agile development and software craftsmanship conference based in Swansea. I have actually been very lucky, as this is the 3rd time that my company has allowed employers to attend this conference, and today I have decided to share my thoughts on, why sending your staff to a conference is actually a good idea.

The usual excuses

  • It is too expensive
  • We do not have time for this
  • I do not want my staff to leave (conference are always full off recruiters).
  • The topics are not specifically helpful for our workflow

You may have heard these sentences many times before. because these are the usual excuses used by employers to convince themselves that they have done the right thing. But the reality is different.

Extend your horizons

The main benefits in attending a conference, is that it extends your horizons, allows you to see outside the box, it connects you with the rest of the industry. All this can actually support a single individual growth, but also be very beneficial to the whole company.

Spending some time with people around the same industry, can be an eye opening moment. It can highlight point where the company is succeeding, for example in our case I have been able to find out that our current implementation of agile is actually in a better and more mature stage than I actually thought, or provide insight on your failures, highlighted by a single discussion with others attendees that have clarified our lack of microservices and continuous delivery that seems to be the norm around the room.

Support teams

Speaking with other attendees is fantastic, but the strength of conference could actually be closer than you think. You may be working in a company for many years, and had the same colleagues for years, but how many time have you stopped and had a technical conversation with your tech colleagues that did not involve work related issue?

Allowing your teams to attend conference could be very beneficial in supporting them. It could enforce the team bonding and help team members share information that would otherwise been kept from the rest of the team.

Giving them a chance to go around will actually make people happy, and happiness increase productivity that it will directly affect your business.

Having very well structured team that feel unified and can work well together is priceless and should be encouraged when possible.

Do not give them reason to leave

The harder conversation to have with your manager is about recruitment and possibility of your staff being approached from other recruiter, and I would be a liar not to admit it. But maybe we should actually approach this subject in a different way.

Would the fear of loosing people, actually help us to see what the company is doing wrong? Denying an employer to go to a conference, it is not the actual solution to the problem, because it will not prevent him leaving, but just delay the inevitable.

This events should actually be used to analyse your position in the industry and see why your staff would ever attempt to leave.. Is is about benefits? are you underpaying them? are you pushing them too much, without proper remuneration? maybe this are the real problem and not actually granting them the chance to attend a conference or a meet up.

Conclusion

I cannot thank my company enough for giving me this opportunity, it support me immensely and in return I try to pay the company back in return.

Conferences can be expensive, and I am not trying to convince you to actually send your staff to every single one around, because that would not be manageable. I am really of the opinion that being active in the community, supporting your staff and making them feel comfortable to go around and share their knowledge and “advertise” your company should actually be encouraged because it will support not only the personal individual but it will also support the whole company.

Puglia- A flight into the past

When I was in primary school, I was always asked to write an essay about my holiday on my return from the summer holidays. At that time this seemed but a stupid task, that had no real need, but now that I am a grown up, I can see the benefit of writing up your own adventures. It lets you realise, how lucky you are on having an holiday, and in my case, how lucky I was to live in a fantastic Mediterranean country (Italy), full of culture, food and a fantastic sea.

This year, I have decided to share this experience with you all, I have gathered pictures during my stay and I am going to share the particularity of Italian summers and more particular of Puglia. You have probably visited Italy before, but I am going to share the insight from a place where tourism is very low, internet and computer are still own by few, and growing your own food is a must.

The place

Puglia region
Puglia Region

Puglia is situated at the bottom of the Italian peninsula and is blessed with a very hot Mediterranean weather and touched by two different seas, the Ionian sea and the Adriatic sea. The main industry for this region is agriculture, followed up by National tourism.

I have spent my vacation in Latiano a very small little town with a population of no more than 15.000 people. Puglia is full of these kind of villages, where culture is very strong and where you can feel a strong bonds between all friends and family.

Puglia street 2The average earning in the region is very low and there is a very high level of unemployment, with youth unemployment (18-24) at an all time high 58%. Here the sign of the European crises can be felt wherever you go.

When talking around with locals, people moral is very low and unfortunately even if the region is full of great natural and historical beauty.

Grow your own

figs

I have lived in UK for the past 10 years now, and I have started to forget how things are done in the south of Europe. Many people grow their own fruit and vegetables and it is still very common to exchange goods between neighbours. On my arrival; to this heaven of nature, I have had immediate pleasure of taste by eating a freshly picked Figs, followed by a fresh pear both free from pesticide, and grown as nature commands. Of course there are farmers in UK too, but in here does not matter if you work in the council, as a lawyer or in the army, you will still have your own fruit and veg in the back garden.

The beauty is in the taste of this produce. There is no battle between something grown in your own back garden and the same product bought in a supermarket. The taste is so different, every fruit and every vegetable has its own strong fantastic taste, they are all so full of flavours that just one is enough to satisfy you. During my stay I had the pleasure to try melons, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, salad, figs, pears and peppers, all from the same garden.

Butternut SquashDuring this vacation, we stayed in my Wife’s parents house.My wife’s mum, during her last visit in UK , decided to bring some Butternut squash seeds with her, because she really enjoyed the taste of them. It felt like something silly to do, because what is the point of going though all this hassle for a butternut squash, but the end result was fantastic. The end product not only was huge, it also tasted amazing.

Eat when it is ready

When I discuss Italian culture with people in UK, we usually end up mentioning the Mediterranean Diet. We usually tend to associate the healthy eating to the fact that people live longer and better. This is probably correct, but one thing that is important to clarify is that in many parts of Italy, people still eat only products that they know to be “in season”. In UK is quite common to find strawberries all year around, or be able to eat oranges and tomatoes during winter. But this would be something unacceptable in Italy, Watermelon is just available from August to September, figs where starting to fade out of the market and Grapes are starting to be ready to be picked up for the wine.

It is very hard to deprive ourselves from fruits or vegetables just because it is not in season, but in reality, we should question how these products are on our shelves all year around. Of course globalisation helps, but it is still debatable that something that was probably picked weeks before osn the other side of the globe is the right choice for us.

sundried figsOne of the pictures shown here is of “sun dried Figs”. As mentioned above figs are almost gone, so people get their reserve up, by creating jams, or other methods of conservation, and it was very enlightening to see these figs under to sun and see them dry during my short stay. The same happens with many other products like tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and many others.

A land of Olives and vineyard

olive farm 2It is impossible for you to pass through this region without encountering an extensive olive farm or a vineyard. Puglia thanks to its particular soil,it is perfect for growing these products. Olive trees are immense, most of them are century old, and the method used today follow the same tradition used thousands of years ago, to produce the very well known Italian extra vergin Olive Oil. Olive trees are planted in a perfect grid system, and it is beautiful to see such precision across vast fields.

Vineyard of course are not just popular in Puglia and can be found everywhere in the world, but it is still fantastic to see this tradition and people being so passionate about the way they keep culture and tradition.

Olive farmPeople may not be enthusiastic about work or the economic situation of the region, but you just need to hint in being interested in the “tradition” of the place to see a spark growing. It is fantastic how people continue to keep this tradition, to see young people still involved in family business and to admire that big shops (even if available across the nation), have not been able to move people away from their traditional way of growing and doing things.

Not only food

Italy is not only known for its food, but also for its fantastic historical monuments, and the Puglia regions is no different from the rest of the country. A walk in Brindisi will welcome you with a sign of two roman column. These are said to be the end of the “VIA APPIA”, a single road build by the Roman Empire, running all the way thought the italian peninsula.

A small car journey could bring you in Ostuni, also known as the “The White Town” for its particular white building. This town, built on top of a hill can be seen from miles away, and is home of lovely independents shops and a great tourism attraction with its old look.

You cannot visit Puglia without a day trip to Alberobello. This small town is home to very typical buildings called Trulli. Wikipedia describe them a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. Many people around the town allow people to get inside their houses to display the beauty of these traditional constructions.

 

Finally, I want to talk about the Sea. This region, due to its unique shape is blessed with miles and miles of amazing beaches. Locals have the ability to decide, depending from the Wind, which sea to go to (This allows people to always go where you can avoid waves). Beaches are still very rural and access to them can be quite tricky at times.

What I have just listed are just my personal experience of this amazing region, but I there is way more waiting to be discovered.Beach 1

Espresso, La pennichella and lots of Gossip

I could have not written a post about Italy, without spending a few words on the way Italians spend their day to day.

Every day starts with an espresso. There is no Italian, that can be called so, if he doesn’t drink espresso. Whoever wakes up first, will be on coffee duty and will make espresso for everyone in the household.

bar 1After getting ready, the first stop is of course the BAR (the italian equivalent of coffee shops). In here you will enjoy a cappuccino or an espresso ( yes another one) with a lovely patisserie, that could be a croissant or a Pasticcio brindisino. A funny note about the drink, is that in Italy cappuccino and latte are just sold before 11am, you can ask for one after this time, but the barista will not be happy.

The day goes on, and you will probably have another coffee before lunch (just because you did not have enough).

Lunch usually involves Pasta, some side such as mozzarella with buffalo tomatoes or grilled aubergine all accompanied by local wine and bread and finish off with a choice of fruit. It is common for the mother to peel the fruit to everyone, so there is usually a little queue.

After lunch, due to the heat you cannot avoid “la pennichella”, also known as “la siesta” in Spain.

The is the little nap taken by almost everyone during the afternoon. It may seem to be something very lazy to do, but it is a very old tradition. Initially this nap was used by the farmers that were used to go out and work very early ( even before sunrise) and would have a rest in the afternoon, not only due to being tired, but also because of very hot weather, under which plants and trees should be left alone ( it is not suggested to water or work on a plant under very hot weather).

If you have things to do, and no one invite himself over your house, you may have the chance to go out and pass over the BAR for a coffee and a quick chat over the counter. After this you may end up doing shopping, because people eat fresh product, the shelf life is quite short and therefore you are constantly shopping.

Street discussion 1Differently from the UK, people in Italy do not just stop to one big department store, but they go around many different specialised shops. Fish, meat, vegetables are all sold in different places, all scattered around town, so this simple task ends up being a very stressful operations.

Your nap will probably be interrupted by one of many visitors that you will receive throughout the day. People visit friends constantly, usually without any warning. Main topics of discussions are Football, politics, the weather ( that affect the harvest so very lively conversation), all this are usually discussed on a warm espresso! (probably your 5th).

Street discussion 3All afternoon and evening are usually spent gossip around, and dinner time is usually very late ( people prefer to eat after sunset when temperature ease down and this could usually be around 10pm.

Because not many people have gardens, big houses or air conditioning. If is very common to see people sit outside their houses on the pavements with wood chairs to avoid the heat in their houses. This is such an unique experience, sit outside is an invitation for anyone passing by to stop and chat. Truly simple and beautiful.

 

Conclusion

It is very unfortunate that the economy is in distress, but maybe this is the main reason why this region is so beautiful so see. I have tried to share my experience as best as I could, but there is nothing that can actually replace the taste of fresh products or the lively discussions that take place with people that you do not even know in the middle of the street.

I really hope that the new generation will get a spark of entrepreneurship and start to make this part of the world more accessible to people and this piece of heaven cherish with the success that it deserves ( it can be very hard to live my same experience without knowing the language or where to go).

 

why work from home, pros and cons

In the past decade work from home has increased steadily, becoming now one of the “must have” when seeking for a new job opportunity. This report from the Bureau of labor statistics, shows that in USA there was a 5% increase in people telecommuting from 2013 to 2015. Reaching a peak of 25% (Full report here)

This trend is powered by the fact that both the employer and the employee gain from the use of it.
Few years ago, it would have been very hard to convince your board members that working from home, would have increased productivity, because there was a layer of doubt across managers to accept that having an employee sit in his own home would have ever been beneficial for them.
But luckily, thanks to big companies such as google, amazon and Apple that have driven this trend, and tons of statistics and success stream produced by remote workers it is becoming steadily easier to convince your company to allow to work from home.

The good stuff

There are plenty of resources from around the internet to convince you or your employer to swift toward working from home.
For personal experience the main advantages for both employer and employees to offer work from home are:

Employer advantages

  • Save money on office spaces
  • Allow to employ people from all over the world
  • Increase people morale and productivity
  • It make the company more appealing to employee
  • Statistically proven that employee work longer and harder

Employee advantages

  • No need to commute
  • Save of travel expenses
  • More relaxed due to familiar environment
  • Allow to seek for job from all over the world

The bad stuff

Even if work from home is a fantastic trend, there are some part of it that can really affect you, either if you are the company owner of an employee.
I have personally experienced a small degree of work from home and I have noticed that not all grass is green.
work from home is very good on the tin, but it comes with its own disadvantages and these are:

Employer disadvantages

  • Extra set up/ software needed for work from home
  • Need good organisation with inventory, because scattered accross the globe
  • Employees could be on different timezone and this can affect the business
  • It is not easy to transition to remote working when you are using to deal face to face

Employee disadvantages

  • You may inadvertently work too much
  • Hard to switch off because work and life environment is the same
  • Different timezone may affect you (eg. company meeting)
  • Lack of socialisation
  • It is not easy to transition to remote working when you are using to deal face to face

Conclusion

I personally think that is not easy to transition to work remotely, and I also believe that is not something that may actually suit everyone’s needs. Telecommuting, surely has its own advantages and can be very useful in some circumstances (eg, for people working in very remote areas or very focused individuals), but I am very sceptical that working in your own house is actually going to be the norm across the industry.

A tangible example to show how difficult could actually be to adopt this trend, has recently been announced by IBM, that even if it was one of the early adopter to offer its employees the ability to work from home, has now started to move all its workforce back into offices, as shown by this report of the newsobserver. 

I had the ability to do remote working, but unfortunately, I really missed the face to face, the chat in the kitchen, hearing people conversation and start a office wide discussion.

Nowadays, software like Microsoft Teams and Slack are facilitating the transition offering great communication and visual features, but I personally think it is still not enough.