Thursday, October 29, 2009

wave and interviews ... Too new or the wrong medium?

I'm trying to do an interview for my blog using wave, and so far it's not going very well.

When I first thought about it, using wave to interview a small group seemed pretty natural. The idea of a free flowing discussion with the ability to go back and massage the stream a bit felt more like sitting around a table and talking than sending emails back and forth.

I asked the team from The Compleat Rubyist if they'd be willing to try it out and they were willing, so we gave it a shot. Sadly, it's not going very well and I'm considering falling back to email to finish things off. (I really want to get the interview done and posted, because I think David, Gregory, and Jeremy have a good thing going on.)

I'm interested in finding out why this attempt isn't working out though. Wave is still pretty immature, and there are neither tools nor habits in place (yet) to make this kind of use easy enough. Maybe it's a function of the medium not being as good a fit as I thought.

What do you think, is it a question of maturity, overall fit, or something else altogether? What kinds of things are you finding wave a particularly good (or bad) fit for?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Leveraging the Net

Second up in my series of posts about leveraging communities is the topic of the Internet. I don't want to talk about mailing lists or sites like github yet, I'll cover those when I talk about User Groups and Free Software. I do want to touch on google, blogs, and aggregators.

There's a lot of information out there, but how you use it and how deeply you interact with it determine how much it will help you. Sticking to my three levels model, let's take a quick looks at passive, engaged, and committed involvement.

Passive involvement on the internet means not doing much more than hitting google when you hit a brick wall. This certainly provides some value in the instant, and has saved me from a couple of blown deadlines. I'm sure there are a lot of other folks with similar results.

Stepping up your involvement to an engaged level leads to things like following a blog or two. RSS aggregators and social networking sites are a huge boon to finding good stuff to read. You can get even more out of your internet time by sharing ideas and information back out to friends and co-workers by tweeting, tagging, emailing, or whatever links.

You can get the most bang for your time when you actually start blogging though. Whether you maintain your own blog, or write an article now and then for a user group blog, a friends blog, or maybe even a commercial blog/site somewhere you're going to end up explaining how and why to do things. As you start working with those ideas to write them out coherently, you'll find that you've learned more than you ever would have by just reading.

So, here's the big question . . .

What blogs are you reading or writing? Why do they matter? And, what are you learning from them?

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Leveraging Books

As I talk about leveraging community to be more effective at what you do, let's start out with books. I think this is a good theme to develop because it really shows how the three levels of passive, engaged, and committed involvement provide successively more benefit. Books are also an easy gateway into improving yourself because people are used to reading as a learning method — we did it in school, and we're used to picking up a book on a programming language and moving on from there.

Just picking up a book and reading it is a pretty passive approach. You're letting the author push information to you without doing anything to better assimilate it. Even at this level there are some things you can do though:

  • reading intentionally, as espoused in , The Passionate Programmer
  • working on exercises presented in the book, or that you come up with yourself
  • or just taking notes in the margins or in a lab book about how you plan on using the ideas presented.

You can do better by writing or talking about the book. If you run a blog or belong to a user group (discussed in later articles in this series), you can write or present a book review or a synopsis. You could send out a short 'what I learned' email to co-workers. You could even bring these ideas out in a code review or similar setting. By synthesizing the ideas from the book with your existing expertise, you're forced to work with them in a way that teaches you more than just reading.

To really get the most out of the book, it helps to work with other people. Join a reading group (or start one). You don't have to be super formal about it, just get together with some friends over lunch or on-line. Set up a reading schedule and talk about it. Joshua Kerievsky has put together a great guide to book study groups. Even if you're going for something less structured than he discusses, there are some great ideas to be mined there.
It takes more effort, and sometimes means stepping out of you comfort zone, to be committed rather than just passively involved. The rewards are tremendous though. I'd encourage everyone to use books to become better at whatever it is you do. What books are you reading/studying? What are you doing to wring more value out of them?

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Leveraging the Community to be a Better ...

I'm giving a presentation at work about leveraging communitites to become a better developer/tester/sys admin and I thought that I should really drink the kool-aid and make it a better presentation by involving the community. Over the next week, I'll be making a series of blog posts covering the material from my presentation. I'd really like to see two outcomes:

  1. hopefully people outside my workplace will find the ideas worthwhile and be able to use them.
  2. ideally, readers will be interested in sharing their ideas and experiences
Before I get to the specifics, let me share three themes that my presentation was built on.

First, a set of three books that helped guide many of my ideas: The Pragmatic Programmer, Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, The Passionate Programmer. These books have a lot of great ideas, and have each impacted the way I think about learning and acting on the things I've learned. I hope they're each high on your reading list as well.

I'd also like to develop an idea of inside out learning. For a developer, that means that you might start with your chosen language, then move on to learning about other programming languages (especially those unlike yours), next comes studying your industry, finally, the infrastructure you develop on and for (the OS, network, server hardware, etc.) Similar approaches might be sketched out for non-developers.

Finally, based on the idea of Sears' "Good, Better, and Best" model I'd like to talk about three levels of involvment in the community: Passive, Engaged, and Committed. Passive involvement yields the smallest results, but is still worthwhile. Because being engaged in the community causes you to spend more time working with the ideas and skills you're trying to gain, it provides more personal improvement. The greatest gains come when you are so involved in a community that you're helping teach others about the things you're trying to learn.

each of these ideas is probably worth a blog post or two. After I work through the five main ways to leverage the community in your own career, maybe I'll get back to these (if no one's beaten me to it.)

Here are the five topics I'll be talking about in more detail. As each post goes up, I'll link to it from this list:

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