Boys Don't Dance

by Ivy Whitaker

There are so many expectations bound up in this book.

From a plot standpoint, our author heroine (Lyra, a name I absolutely love) flees sunny California for the rundown mid-Atlantic foothills of Pennsylvania when her sister falls victim to a stroke. Lyra tries to meet the expectations of being a devoted sister as best she can, while also trying to stave off what's expected of a multiple-time best-selling author after a flop (namely: Write more, better).

This, of course, is complicated when she runs into her childhood best friend/love, Alex. Alex has not only felt the weight of the expectations of others, she has flat-out surrendered to them. Her mother expected her to marry a man and live the life of a stay-at-home mom, and only upon reacquainting herself with the force that is Lyra does she start to realize the crushing burdens of those expectations.

This book felt challenging - In a good way, mind you! But by no means an easy or breezy read.

Part of that, I think, lay in the expectations on my part. Expectations affect everything we do, from consuming media to consuming food to how we relate to other people. If we have an expectation, even if we don't realize it ourselves, failing to have that expectation met can leave you feeling off-kilter, or disappointed.

To put it bluntly, I expected a simple sapphic romance. It's more than that! Better in many ways, with lyrical prose and extremely vivid depictions of emotions and connection. And certainly much deeper in terms of the difficult subject matter it deals with.

But in its (successful, in my eyes) aspirations to literary fiction, the novel's insistence on hitting some of the simplistic romance tropes felt forced. I think the book would have worked much better had it simply shed its romance-constrained plot points and just kept exploring and exposing its beating heart, which was otherwise mesmerizing.

Expectations are a double-edged sword. I've no doubt "sapphic romance" has some advantages for marketing purposes, and with that designation comes certain expectations. I just think this book is better than that, and I'm only sorry it seems to try shape itself to a form it has clearly outgrown.

All that said, this book is a lovely, wonderful piece of work. And I truly can't wait to see what the author will do next.

I bet you didn't expect a book review. Well, count us both slightly disappointed but eager to see what comes next (I hope)

An image promoting my improv for developers workshop at Beer City CodeI'm headed back to the Midwest to do some speakerizing again in August 2024.

Beer City Code 24 is in Grand Rapids, MI, on Aug 2-3. I'm super excited to present a workshop, Improv for Developers, which is where we'll do actual improv training and then talk about how those skills translate to software development. It's 6 hours (!!), but it should be a lot of fun!

I'll also talk about greenfield development: specifically, that it doesn't really exist anymore. There are always preexisting considerations you're going to have to take into account, so I'll give some hard-won tips on sussing them out.

DevUp will be held in St. Louis on Aug. 14-16. I'll be talking about greenfields again, as well as reasons scrum-based development tends to fail, and how we can measure developer productivity.

Hope to see you this summer!

YES, AND you also have to write documentation or no one will know what the hell you were thinking when you wrote it.

Though I am no great fan of AI or its massively over-hyped potential, I also do not think it's useless. As Molly White put it:

When I boil it down, I find my feelings about AI are actually pretty similar to my feelings about blockchains: they do a poor job of much of what people try to do with them, they can't do the things their creators claim they one day might, and many of the things they are well suited to do may not be altogether that beneficial.

I wholeheartedly agree with those claims, and don't want to get into the specifics of them too much. Instead, I wanted to think out loud/write about why there's such a wide range of expectations and opinions on the current and future states of AI.

To get the easy one out of the way: Many of the most effusive AI hype people are in fit for the money. They're raising venture capital by saying AI, they're trying to get brought in as consultants on AI, or they're trying to sell their AI product to businesses and consumers. I don't think that's a particularly new phenomenon when it comes to new technology, though perhaps there is some novelty in how many different ways people are attempting to get their slice of the cake (companies cooking up AI models, apps trying to sell AI generation to consumers, hardware and cloud providers selling the compute necessary to do all of the above, etc.).

But once we take pure profit motive out of the way, there are I think two key areas of difference in people who believe in AI wholeheartedly and those who are neutral to critical.

The first is software development experience. Those who understand what it actually means when people say "AI is thinking" tend to have an overall more pessimistic view of the pinnacle of current AI generation strategies. In a nutshell, all of the current generative models try to ingest as much content of whatever thing they're going to be asked to output. Then, they are given a "prompt," and they are (in simplistic terms) trying to piece together an image/string of words/video that looks most likely based on what came for.

This is why these models "hallucinate" - they don't "know" anything specifically in the way you know that Washington, DC is the capital of the United States. It just knows that when a sentence starts "The capital of the United States is" it usually ends with the words "Washington, DC."

And that can be useful in some instances! This is why AI does very well on low-level coding tasks - a lot of the basics of programming is pretty repetitive and pattern-based, so an expert pattern-matcher can do fairly well at guessing the most likely outcome. But it's also why AI developer assistants produce stupid mistakes, because it doesn't "understand" the syntax or the language or even the problem statement as a fundamental unit of knowledge. It simply reads a string of text and tries to figure out what would most likely come next.

The other thing you learn from experience are edge cases, and specifically what doesn't work. This type of knowledge tends to accumulate only through having worked on a product before, and understanding how different pieces come together (or don't). AI lacks this awareness of context, focusing only what immediately surrounds the section it's working on.

But the other primary differentiator is for the layperson, who can best be understood as a consumer and it can be condensed to a single word: Taste.

I'm reminded of a quote from Ira Glass I heard on some podcast:

... all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you ...

I think this is true, and I think it's the biggest differentiator between people who think what AI is capable of right now is perfectly fine and those that think it'll all wind up being a waste of time. People who can't or are unwilling create text/images/videos on their own think that AI is a great shortcut. This is either because the quality of what the AI can produce is better than what they can do unassisted, or they don't have the taste to see the difference in the first place.

I don't know that I think there's a way to bridge that gap any more than there is to explain to people who think that criticism of any artform is "unfair" or that "well, could you do any better?" is a valid counterpoint to cultural criticism. There are simply those people whose taste is better than that what can be created only through an amalgamation of data used to train a model, and those who think that a simulacrum of art is indistinguishable (or better) than the real thing.

It's amazing how short my attention span for new fads is anymore. I don't want to blame Trump for this one, but my eagerness to ignore any news story he was involved in definitely accelerated the decline of my willingness to cognitively engage with the topic du jour significantly.


Data regulations for developers

Hopefully your organization has excellent legal representation. Also hopefully, those lawyers are not spending their days watching you code. That's not going to be fun for them or you. You should absolutely use lawyers as a resource when you have questions or aren't sure if something would be covered under a specific law. But you have to know when to ask those questions, and possess enough knowledge when your application could be running afoul of some rule or another.

It's also worthwhile to your career to know these things! Lots of developers don't, and your ability to point them out and know about them will make you seem more knowledgeable (because you are!). It will also make you seem more competent and capable than another developer who does not – again, because you are! This stuff is a skillset just like knowing Django.

Let's dive in

That's not "real" scrum: Measuring and managing productivity for development teams

By far, the biggest reason I see scrum failing to deliver is when the ceremonies or ideas or data generated by scrum gets used for something other than delivering value to the end users.

It’s completely understandable! Management broadly wants predictability, the ability to schedule a release months out so that marketing and sales can create content and be ready to go.

But that’s not how scrum works. Organizations are used to being able to dictate schedules for large releases of software all at once (via waterfall), and making dev deliver on those schedules. If you’re scheduling a featureset six months out, it’s almost guaranteed you’re not delivering in an agile manner.

So how do we fix scrum?

That's not REAL waterfall, it's just a babbling brook on a hill.

The Game is a mind game in which the objective is to avoid thinking about The Game itself. Thinking about The Game constitutes a loss, which must be announced each time it occurs.

The programming version of The Game has the same rules, but you lose if you think about David Heinemeier Hansson (aka DHH).

And no, I'm not linking to why I lost today.

Broke a four-month winning streak, dangit.

Turning Back

by Katia Rose

It took me a long time to read this book. Not because of the quality (it was softly mesmerizing, to no surprise), but because it's the second in what I assume is to be a trilogy. I kept seeing it in my TBR pile and would go to read it, before remembering that, once I finished it, there would only be one more chance to enter this world for the first time. So I put it off.

It was worth the wait.

Katia Rose's remote Vancouver (BC) campground – where these stories take place – even makes me, an avowed inside-only kitty, want to drive out and pitch a tent in the wilderness. Though perhaps there was a touch too much romanticism in the wild's seduction of the main character city girl, it's described with such loving detail that it's impossible not to get swept away.

The characters, as is always the case with Rose, are painstakingly crafted with realistic backstories, baggage, fears and doubts. But even grounded in realism, the sparks between the two main characters (Kennedy and Trish) are more than enough to convince of the romance catching hold, sweeping them away.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and wait with some trepidation for the last entry. It can't come soon enough and yet, I know, I'll have to wait to read it.

Almost enough to make me want to visit Canada. Almost. (j/k I love British Columbia, and no other provinces.)

NAIA approves transgender policy limiting women's sports to some athletes | AP News

NAIA approves transgender policy limiting women's sports to some athletes | AP News

I can't explain how this feels.

Athletics bans don't affect me, personally, in terms of preventing me from playing sports - I'm well beyond the age or ability for it to matter.

But that fact doesn't make it feel any less like another punch to the head, another hit to the gut, another in a long line of kicks when I already feel so beaten down.

I can't explain this feeling.

It's yet another way of being told that we're different, separate from, less than. Trans women are women except. Trans men are men but.

It's especially disheartening when so many struggle to have even the basic aspects of their dignity respected (names, pronouns, getting an education, not getting fired for existing while trans). Time and again, the only concrete actions taken are to strip more from us.

I can't feel.

It's a systematic desecration of our humanity, a systemic approach to telling us not only do we not belong, but that we shouldn't exist.

A cistem built on our destruction.

I can't.

I desperately want to avoid talking about the (junk) science of it all. I'm putting the finishing touches on a conference talk about properly being data-driven - so many people take whatever (bad) available data they have and try to map it to outcomes that are only loosely correlated. This is a prime example.

If the concern is the effects of testosterone on performance, then organize your damn divisions among testosterone blood counts. Period.

Find it streaming

A little living room music

Beyond “clean” code: Focusing on practical (vs. aesthetic) aspects

I grew up on Clean Code, both the book and the concept. I strove for my code to be “clean,” and it was the standard against which I measured myself.

And I don’t think I was alone! Many of the programmers I’ve gotten to know over the years took a similar trajectory, venerating CC along with Code Complete and Pragmatic Programmer as the books everyone should read.

But along the way, “clean” started to take on a new meaning. It’s not just from the context of code, either; whether in interior design or architecture or print design, “clean” started to arise as a synonym for “minimalism.”

I wanted to find an approach, a rubric, that allowed for more specificity. When I get feedback, I much prefer hearing the specific aspects that are being praised or need work on - someone telling me “that code’s clean” or not isn’t particularly actionable.

We call it CPM now

It is definitely TL, but if I had to W it, you have to R it. Or just come to one of my talks!

When I gave my talk, "That's not real scrum: Measuring and managing productivity for development teams" at MiTechCon 2024 in Pontiac, MI, there were a number of great questions, both in-person and from the app. I collected them here, as a supplement to the accessible version of the talk.

Q: What are best practices on implementing agile concepts for enterprise technology teams that are not app dev (e.g., DevOps, Cloud, DBA, etc.)?

A brief summary: 1) Define your client (often not the software's end-user; could be another internal group), and 2) find the way to release iteratively to provide them value. This often requires overcoming entrenched models of request/delivery — similar to how development tends to be viewed as a "service provider" who gets handed a list of features to develop, I would imagine a lot of teams trying to make that transition are viewed as providers and expected to just do what they're told. Working back the request cycle with the appropriate "client" to figure out how to deliver incremental/iterative value is how you can deliver successfully with agile!

Q: How do I convince a client who wants stuff at a certain time to trust the agile process?

There's no inherent conflict between a fixed-cost SOW and scrum process. The tension that tends to exist in these situations is not the cost structure, but rather what is promised to be delivered and when. Problems ensue when you're delivering a fixed set of requirements by a certain date - you can certainly do that work in a somewhat agile fashion and gain some of the benefits, but you're ultimately setting yourself up to experience tension as you get feedback through iterations that might ultimately diverge from the original requirements.

This is the "change order hell" that often comes with client work — agile is by definition flexible in its results, so if we try to prescribe them ahead of time, we're setting ourselves up for headaches. That's not to say it's not worth doing (the process may be beneficial to the people doing the work if the waterfall outcome is prescribed), but note (to yourself and the client) that a waterfall outcome (fixed set of features at a fixed date) brings with it waterfall risk, even if you do the work in an agile fashion.

It is unfortunately very often difficult, but this is part of the "organizational shift" I spoke about. If the sales team does not sell based on agile output, it's very difficult to perform proper agile development in order the reap all its benefits.

Q: We're using Agile well; How do we dissuade skip-level leadership from demanding waterfall delivery dates using agile processes?

This is very similar to the previous answer, with the caveat that it's not on you to convince a level of leadership beyond your own manager of anything. You can and should be providing your manager with the information and advice mentioned in the above answer, but ultimately that convincing has to come from the people they manage, not levels removed. Scrum (and agile, generally) requires buy-in up and down the corporate stack.

Q: What are best practices for ownership of the product backlog?

Best practices are contextual! Ownership of the product backlog is such a tricky question.

In general, I think product backlogs tend to have too many items. I am very much a fan of expiring backlog items — if they haven't been worked on in 30 days (two-ish sprints), they go away (system-enforced!) until the problem they address comes up again.

The product owner is accountable for the priority and what's included or removed from the product backlog.

I kind of think teams should have two separate stores of stories: One is the backlog, specific ideas or stories that are going to be worked on (as above) in the next sprint or two), which is the product owner's responsibility. The second is a brainstorming pool — preferably not even in the same system (because it is NOT the case that you should be just be plucking from the pool and plopping on the backlog). Rather, these are just broad ideas or needs we want to capture so we don't lose sight of them, but from them, specific problems are identified and stories written. This should be curated by the product owner, but allow for easier/broader access to add to it.

Q: Is it ever recommended to have the Scrum Master also be Product Manager?

(I am assuming for the sake of this question that Product Manager = Product Owner. If I am mistaken, apologies!)

I would generally not recommend the product owner and the scrum master be the same person, though I am aware by necessity it sometimes happens. It takes a lot of varied skills to do both of those jobs, and in most cases if it happens successfully it's because there's a separate system in place to compensate in one or both areas. (e.g., there's a separate engineering manager who's picking up a lot of what would generally be SM work, or the product owner is in name only because someone else/external is doing the requirements- gathering/customer interaction). Both positions require a TON of work to perform properly - direct customer interaction, focus groups, metrics analysis and stakeholder interaction are just some of a PM's duties, while the SM should be devoted to the dev team to make sure any blocks get cleared and work continues apace.

But even more than time, there's a philosophical divide that would be difficult to resolve in one person. The SM should be looking at things from a perspective of what's possible now, whereas the PM should have a longer-term view of what should be happening soon. Rare is the individual who can hold both of those things in their head with equal weight; usually one is going to be prioritized over the other, to the detriment of the process overall.

Q: What is the best (highest paying) Scrum certification?

If your pay is directly correlated with the specific certification you have, you are very likely working for the company that provides it. Specific certifications may be more favored in certain industries or verticals, but that's no more than generally indicative of pay than the difference between any two different companies.

More broadly, I view certifications as proof of knowledge that should be useful and transferable regardless of specific situation. Much like Agile, delivering value (and a track record of doing same) is the best route to long-term career success (and hence more money).

Q: Can you use an agile scrum approach without a central staffing resource database?

Yes, with a but! You do not need a formal method of tracking your resourcing, but the scrum master (at the team level) needs to know their resourcing (in terms of how many developers are going to be available to work that sprint) in order to properly plan the sprint. If someone is taking a vacation, you need to either a) pull in fewer stories, b) increase your sprint length, or c) pull in additional resources (if availble to you).

Even at the story level, this matters. If you have a backend ticket and your one BE developer is out, you're not gonna want to put that in the sprint. But it doesn't need to be a formal, centralized database. It could be as simple as everyone noting their PTO during sprint planning.

What's always both heartening and a little bit sad to me is how much the scrum teams want to produce good products, provide value, and it's over-management that holds them back from doing so.

I keep seeing the iPhone’s popularity and sales numbers thrown around as proto-defenses against allegations of flexing monopolistic power in one category to dominate others.

“Popularity” is an argument IN FAVOR of the the government, not a defense. The argument is that the iPhone is very popular and sold a lot, and Apple is using that position of strength to stifle innovation and hamper the growth of competitors in related categories (payments, apps, music services, etc.).

You can disagree with the suit all you want, just know what you’re arguing for and against.

I think this ultimately traces back to a weird implicit belief I’ve been noticing lately, which is like a Constitutional (or god-given) right to a certain business model. If you listen in the news, you can hear it being implied all the time.

Intersectiona11y: AI, accessibility and the future of work

Solutions come in all sizes. The problem in tech (and many other industries, I presume) is that our processes and workflows are structured in such a way that the solutions for a given problem tend to be clustered around the smaller side of the scale.

Small issues have small solutions. The problem is when you don’t step back and take a bigger-picture view of the situation - do all of these disparate problems actually stem from a particular source? Very often, developers are not only encouraged but actually mandated to stick to whatever story they’re on, for fear of going out of scope.

While that might make sense from a top-down control perspective, that style of thinking tends to permeate a lot of the other work that gets done, even up to larger-scale issues. Diversity is left to HR, or to a diversity committee, to take care of. In many cases, how and where to include AI in an application is left up to individual departments or teams. Remote work, a topic extremely divisive of late, is being eliminated or limited left up to “manager discretion” rather than actually looking at the benefits and harms that are associated with it. A cause extremely close to my heart, accessibility, is frequently treated as an add-on or left up to a handful of specialists to implement (or, worse, a third-party plugin).

These things not only don’t have to, they shouldn’t be left up to small groups to implement or reason through. They should be baked-in to how your organization makes decisions, builds software and interacts with its people.

Learn about the holistic approach

I will begrudgingly admit that a 5,000+ word essay is not the most accessible form of this content for everyone. Guess you should just come to one of my talks!

OK, we need to talk about OREOs ... and how they impacted my view of product iteration.

(Sometimes I hate being a software developer.)

A package of Space Dunk oreos

I'm sure you've seen the Cambrian explosion of Oreo flavors, the outer limits of which were brought home to me with Space Dunks - combining Oreos with Pop Rocks. (And yes, your mouth does fizz after eating them.)

Putting aside the wisdom or sanity of whoever dreamt up the idea in the first place, it's clear that Oreo is innovating on its tried-and-true concept – but doing so without killing off its premier product. There is certainly some cannibalization of sales going on, but ultimately it doesn't matter to Nabisco because a) regular Oreos are popular enough that you'll never kill them off completely, and b) halo effect (your mom might really love PB oreos but your kid hates them, so you now you buy two bags instead of one!)

In software, we're taught that the innovator's dilemma tends to occur when you're unwilling to sacrifice your big moneymaker in favor of something new, and someone else without that baggage comes along eats your cookies/lunch.

Why can't you do both?

There are a number of different strategies you could employ, from a backend-compatible but disparate frontend offering (maybe with fewer features at a cheaper cost, or radically new UX). What about a faux startup with a small team and resources who can iterate on new ideas until they find what the market wants?

But the basic idea remains the same: Keep working away at the product that's keeping you in the black, but don't exclude experimentation and trying new approaches from your toolkit. Worst-case scenario, you still have the old workhorse powering through. In most cases, you'll have some tepid-to-mild hits that diversify your revenue stream (and potentially eat at the profit margins of your competitors) and open new opportunities for growth.

And every once in a while you'll strike gold, with a brand-new product that people love and might even supplant your tried-and-true Ol' Faithful.

The trick then is to not stop the ride, and keep rolling that innovation payoff over into the next new idea.

Just maybe leave Pop Rocks out of it.

I had the Platonic ideal of peanut butter pies at my wife's graduate school graduation in Hershey, PA, like five years ago. (They were legit Reese's Peanut Butter Pies from Mr. Reese himself.) I've chased that high for years, but never found it again. The peanut butter pie Oreos were probably the closest I've gotten.

If you rush and don’t consider how it is deployed, and how it helps your engineers grow, you risk degrading your engineering talent over time

Angus Allan, senior product manager at xDesign

I don't disagree that overreliance on AI could stymie overall growth of devs, but we've had a form of this problem for years.

I met plenty of devs pre-AI who didn't understand anything other than how to do the basics in the JS framework of the week.

It's ultimately up to the individual dev to decide how deep they want their skills to go.

AI is not magic, part 1033: Accessibility

You know it's a good sign when the first thing I do after finishing an article is double-check whether the whole site is some sort of AI-generated spoof. The answer on this one was closer than you might like, but I do think it's genuine.

Jakob Nielsen, UX expert, has apparently gone and swallowed the AI hype by unhinging his jaw, if the overall subjects of his Substack are to be believed. And that's fine, people can have hobbies, but the man's opinions are now coming after one of my passions, accessibility, and that cannot stand.

Get mad with me

"I always love quoting myself." - Kait

We are also working directly with select AI companies as long as their plans align with what our community cares about: attribution, opt-outs, and control.

Automattic, trying to backpedal after triumphantly announcing they got someone to pay them for their users' content

Oh yeah, all those AI companies that definitely care about attribution.

Between this and the Tumblr moderation nonsense, really seems like Matty is doing the dickish tech CEO speedrun. A modern-day Jason Russell.

Your frontend is not your backend: Using data transfer objects to keep your code focused

Today I want to talk about data transfer objects, a software pattern you can use to keep your code better structured and metaphorically coherent. It’s a tool that can help you stay in the logical flow of your application, making it easier to puzzle through and communicate about the code you’re writing, both to yourself and others.

The DTO is one of my go-to patterns, and I regularly implement it for both internal and external use.
I’m also aware most people already know what pure data objects are. I’m not pretending we’re inventing the wheel here - the value comes in how they’re applied, systematically.

This is a long 'un, buckle in

Sexism in tech is alive and well

Honestly, I thought we were past this as an industry? But my experience at Developer Week 2024 showed me there's still a long way to go to overcoming sexism in tech.

And it came from the source I least expected; literally people who were at the conference trying to convince others to buy their product. People for whom connecting and educating is literally their job.

Time and again, both I (an engineer) and my nonbinary wife (a business analyst, at a different organization) found that the majority of the masculine-presenting folks at the booths on the expo floor were dismissive and disinterested, and usually patronizing.

Hear the tale as old as time

Also, the sheer number of static code analysis companies makes me thinks there's a consolidation incoming. Not a single one of three could differentiate their offerings on more than name and price.

“[Random AI] defines ...” has already started to replace “Webster’s defines ...” as the worst lede for stories and presentations.

I let the AI interview in the playbill slide because the play was about AI, but otherwise, no bueno.