The Maintenance Monkey Print E-mail
Written by Joel Dehlin   
Thursday, 12 April 2007

Maintenance. Call it bug fixing. Call it “keeping the wheels on.” Call it warranty. Call it whatever you want.

Maintenance is a necessary evil. You’re never going to get the product perfect. So you’ll always be called upon to fix bugs. Typical large I.T. shops spend an extraordinary amount of effort on “maintenance.” Estimates range from 10% of labor budget to 70%. In the past our maintenance budgets have been in the 50% range. That seemed obscene to me so we checked into the actual work being done and learned a lot as we’ve struggled to reduce the amount of time and money we spend on maintenance. When thinking through how to reduce maintenance expenditure, I recommend consideration of the following:

Use great prototypes to narrow the “gap of misunderstanding” between you and your customer regarding scope before you start development. The practice we’re trying hard to implement is having Interaction Designers 6-8 weeks ahead of development before ever entering a Cycle/Milestone/Sprint/Release (or whatever you want to call it). So our “agility” comes from working back and forth with the customer on high fidelity prototypes. This substantially reduces the number of times a customer comes back after you’re already done, asking for some new feature they thought “was going to be included from the very beginning.”

Test, test, test! Don’t under-invest in your QA team or in automation. We made the mistake of under-investing for a long time and felt the pain. We’ve staffed a high quality QA team with many engineers who could easily be developers in our shop. We find many, many bugs before our customers do. We can do much better, but the improvements in QA have materially decreased the amount we spend on maintenance.

Pleasing the Customer(s) Print E-mail
Written by Joel Dehlin   
Monday, 14 May 2007
When I worked in the mobile devices division at Microsoft we had an ongoing discussion about who our customer was for our mobile device offerings:
  • The carrier (e.g. Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) upon whose network the device would run.
  • The OEM who would make the hardware (Dell, HP, Motorola, etc.).
  • The kid who would use it.
  • The parent who would buy it for the kid.
  • The department(s) within Microsoft which might profit from services sold through the device.
  • The random executive or product manager who had an opinion of what features should be on the device.
  • And of course: ourselves!

So which are the customers? Answer: All.

The Myth of Youth Print E-mail
Written by Joel Dehlin   
Wednesday, 06 June 2007

Who uses instant messaging? Reads blogs? Publishes blogs? Uses MySpace? Who buys stuff online or downloads videos?

Kids, right? 

Piper Jaffray recently executed a survey of a sample of the 232 million Internet users in North America. By extrapolating the data, they estimate that over 100 million use instant messaging, over 100 million read blogs and almost 100 million participate in one or more social networking sites.

15 Simple Suggestions for Application DBAs Print E-mail
Written by Merrill Spendlove   
Friday, 27 July 2007

Over the years working as a DBA, I've come up with some simple suggestions that make life as a DBA easier.

  1. "Right" and "wrong" choices apply only to moral issues. In database administration, remember that “your way” and “my way” are just different ways, and neither may be right or wrong. 

  2. Normalization is a must. Avoid having data stored in more than one place. A database that is properly constrained and indexed will seldom have performance problems due to normalization.

  3. Integrity should be independent from the applications using the database. Data corruption is a database administrator’s worst nightmare and can ruin an application. Properly constrained data cannot become corrupted. It’s that simple.
Digital Media Peril Print E-mail
Written by Joel Dehlin   
Saturday, 18 August 2007

In one of our wards in Seattle, a family’s house burned down. Of all the needs that family had, the one that I remember was a request for people to come up with pictures of the family members.

This prompted many discussions in the ward and community about how to protect pictures, journals and keepsakes in the event of a fire.

We’re faced each day with a growing, and increasingly more dangerous, threat to our personal memories: digital media. Digital media isn’t just for techno-hobbyists anymore. Billions of pictures are being amassed on the hard drives of people all over the globe. The only trouble is that too many people aren’t being careful.

How Do You Measure Your Success? Print E-mail
Written by Blaine Scott   
Monday, 27 August 2007

Are any of you using metrics on a daily basis to determine the success of your day and the work that you perform? I certainly am.

I guess the root cause of my sickness began as a youngster in a small Idaho farming community. It seemed that metrics were used to determine the success or failure of almost everything we did. How many bales of hay could be rolled in the field in one hour, how many sprinkler pipes could you move before you were eaten alive by mosquitoes, how many aluminum cans could be collected per quarter mile, how many fish could be caught with just one worm? I doesn't seem like an interesting way to spend your childhood, but it did help to establish a strong foundation for my future, and perhaps punishment, for the IT support staff who feel the results of my childhood learning.

I have been employed at the Church for almost twenty years now and have focused primarily on the support side of the business and the last six years as the Director of Support. I eat, sleep, and breathe customer support concepts and ideas every day. Exciting? Absolutely; because I get to meet often with customers and help them do their job faster and more efficiently. ICS is focused on being fast and on-time in our services to our customers. That statement alone tells me that measurement is critical to our success. In order to improve our speed to delivery we need to have metrics in place that make a significant difference, and that help us identify the potholes in our information superhighway.

The Online Scriptures, a Powerful Tool Print E-mail
Written by Tom Welch   
Thursday, 30 August 2007

The online scriptures are a very powerful tool. When you first visit the scriptures Web site, you may think it looks very simple with not much functionality. However, if you dig a bit deeper, you will find an extremely powerful tool to help you in your gospel study and research. I thought that I would share with you some interesting features that you may find useful.

One of my favorite features is the "topic search." To try this feature, click on the search link at the top of the screen and then select the "topic search" link. Type in "testimony" as the topic. Once you do so, you will find a list of related topics followed by a list of scripture references relating to the topic you are searching for.  This topic search does not do a string match but actually cross-references the Topical Guide.  So, you will notice a reference to Job 19:25-26, which is a great scripture on testimony but does not even use the word "testimony." This powerful feature is a great tool in your gospel study and preparation for talks and lessons.

Information at the Edge Print E-mail
Written by Tom Welch   
Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004, killed an estimated 230,000 individuals from all around the landmasses that border the Indian Ocean. Even though there was a lag of up to several hours between when the earthquake happened and the impact of the tsunami, people were not prepared for what would happen. Individuals as far away as South Africa died as a result of the flood waters.

The total energy released by the earthquake was estimated to be as much as about 250 megatons of TNT, or approximately the same amount of energy used by the United States in 11 days. The seismic oscillation of the earth's surface was estimated to be between 8 and 12 inches, equivalent to the effect of the tidal forces caused by the sun and the moon. Shock waves of the earthquake were recorded as far away as Oklahoma, where vertical movements of the earth up to 3 mm were recorded. The sea bed is estimated to have risen by several meters, displacing massive volumes of water, which triggered the devastating tsunami waves. This raising of the sea bed has significantly reduced the capacity of the Indian Ocean, where some have estimated a rise of 0.1 mm in the global sea level.

The Diseconomies of Scale Print E-mail
Written by Tom Welch   
Wednesday, 03 October 2007

Many of you remember the "miracle of the gulls," in which seagulls saved the early pioneers' first harvest of 1848 by gorging themselves on a swarming infestation of crickets. My own experience with these "Mormon crickets" dates back to 2004 on a family vacation to central Utah.

Each year my family heads down to the small town of Hinckley, Utah, where my in-laws have a small ancestral family home. We meet there around the 24th of July and celebrate Pioneer Day with cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. The home is not big enough for the whole family, so people bring down tents and camping equipment to camp in the large, shady lot. We have a lot of fun swimming in the local irrigation ditches, hunting for fossils in the nearby trilobite quarry, and panning for gold in the mountains. However, one of our favorite activities is riding ATVs and motorcycles in the hills. Several times each trip we will load up all of the vehicles and drive to a nearby trail, where we spend the day picnicking and exploring the countryside.

While on our trip in 2004 we loaded up the vehicles and headed north from Hinckley to a spot we had not visited for a few years—a place where we might find an enjoyable place to ride. As we got within a few miles of our destination, we started noticing a lot of insects along the sides of the road. These insects had large bodies, were dark brown or black, and were everywhere. Some areas were so thick with insects that they covered the road. The road became very slippery from the dead bodies of those that had been squashed by previous vehicles. These insects were, of course, Mormon crickets. The crickets seemed to cover every inch of ground. The sagebrush and cedar trees were so full of crickets that they seemed to drip from the sky. It was quite an unsettling sight.

What Is a PM? Print E-mail
Written by Rich Farr   
Monday, 08 October 2007

The job title of project manager (PM) may be one of the most vague titles in the industry. I realize that certifications have become available for project management as organizations have attempted to standardize project management as a discipline, but from my experience the expectations and responsibilities of a project manager vary widely from organization to organization. A few of my thoughts on the subject follow.

Not long ago, we instituted the role of “technical program manager”. With this role, we set expectations of what it takes to manage complex IT projects and programs at the Church. One of our lead program managers succinctly described the characteristics required to succeed in this role.  I’ll elaborate on his exact terms:

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