The next time you give a tech talk or presentation at work, show up early and start a conversation. It’s a great way to get things moving in the right direction.
In addition to the productivity benefits of using the right tool for the right job, it’s good for your personal development to learn new programming languages. The Pragmatic Programmer recommends learning a new one each year. Learning new languages improves your thinking and makes you better at your primary development stack.
“There’s gold in them servers.”
Data is money. Large companies are using the data you generate as a goldmine. Uses range from using data to optimize advertising to using it to make even more addictive products. In addition to user generated data, we also have the mountains of data generated by IOT devices. Sometimes we can use it for small gains, like using a Nest Thermostat to optimize your heating and cooling, but sensor networks can have a much greater impact. We have access to more data than in all of human history. If you can figure out how to mine insights from that data, you will be rewarded handsomely.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
With plenty of data comes plenty of people using that data to manipulate you. Every political cause has a stable of statistics behind it. Even if they fall apart under scrutiny, people believe them because numbers sound fancy. People trying to sell you something use numbers to appear more credible. If you want to thrive in our data soaked economy, it’s essential to become data literate, so you can spot these manipulations.
R has several features that make it a great tool for learning about data analysis. First, it’s really easy to learn. R is a simple language that you can pick up in a few hours. Additionally, R has an easy to use built in help system. If you need info on any command or method, it’s a few keystrokes away. R also has a lot of built in data sets to play with statistical techniques. This includes lots of popular demo statistical data sets that are well known in the statistics community.
As data analysis becomes more prevalent in the enterprise, you’re probably going to wind up working with data analysts and data scientists. Learning about some of the tools and techniques they use gives you common ground. It’s the same reason software developers should develop business and industry knowledge. Being able to connect with your team members on their terms makes you more than a run of the mill software developer.
If you’re an enterprise developer, R is worth a look. You can use R to learn valuable new skills using familiar tools. With a little effort, you’ll be able to slice and dice data for fun and profit.
To learn more, check out my post on R Resources
In an effort to improve my data analysis skills, I’ve been learning and speaking about the R programming language. Even if you don’t want to be a data scientist, (whatever the hell that means this week) learning some analysis skills can pay dividends. Data literacy is an essential skill in our data soaked economy and R is a good learning tool for analysis skills.
One of the harder things to do when starting in a new area is finding useful resources. It’s tough to find the digital needle in the web powered haystack. To make your life a little easier, here’s a list of the R resources I found to be useful.
There are three paths to getting R setup on your machine. If you’re a Visual Studio 2017 user, the easiest way to get R is to install the Data Science workload in Visual Studio. This will get you the Microsoft flavor of R and R Tools for Visual Studio.
If you’re not into Visual Studio, you can also install an R interpreter and R Studio. R Studio is a free R IDE. For interpreters, you can go with either the Microsoft flavor or the standard CRAN flavor of R.
If neither of those options work for you, you can also run R in a Jupyter Notebook. Jupyter is a web-based environment that makes it really easy to mix text and code. It’s used in many contexts including scientific research and virtual textbooks. To setup a local copy, start off by installing Anaconda. Anaconda is a data science environment that includes a plethora of handy analysis tools. After you install Anaconda, you’ll need to install R using the conda package manager. Then you can run Jupyter using the “jupyter notebook” command.
conda install -c r r-essentials jupyter notebook
R Studio Cheat Sheets
A collection of useful R related guides in PDF format.
R Tutor Tutorials
This site came in handy a few times while trying to find specific R issues.
Flowing data has a variety of useful articles on R and other data topics.
Don’t forget about the built-in R help system. Prefix any command with a question mark and it’ll search the R documentation for you. (Example: “?kmeans”)
I skimmed through a bunch of books on R, but the one I really liked was R: Recipes for Analysis, Visualization and Machine Learning. The writing was clear and the content was pragmatic. The task based format was easy to follow and implement. Another book that I used was R for Data Science.
R: Recipes for Analysis, Visualization and Machine Learning
R for Data Science
This list of resources is enough to help you get started in learning R. Go forth and learn how to slice and dice your data.
I’m really enjoying using R Tools for Visual Studio. It’s nice to learn something new (R) with something familiar (Visual Studio). I did, however, hit a snag when trying out the new IDE.
Upon installing the data science workload in Visual Studio (which is how you install R Tools), I couldn’t open up or create a project. File -> New Project just hung indefinitely. Usually, you expect these things to actually work, so I dropped a bug onto the R Tools for Visual Studio Github page. To my surprise, within about thirty minutes (on a Sunday night), someone asked me about my issue. While they didn’t give me an exact answer, they gave me the hint I needed to fix my issue. I was impressed by the speed and helpfulness of their response.
As some of you already know, our good friends at Microsoft maintain their own version of R. This version is faster, but it’s a point release behind the latest one. It’s a basic trade off between shiny and speedy. Turns out R Tools for Visual Studio doesn’t yet support the latest version. I had previously installed the non-Microsoft R, which was at v3.4 and Visual Studio defaulted to that version.
There are two ways to solve the issue. The easiest way is to just uninstall R 3.4 and use the Microsoft versions of R. If you are using R Studio as well, Microsoft’s R works fine. The second way is to go to R-Tools -> Windows -> Workspaces. From there, you can pick the version of R that’s being used by Visual Studio.
Regardless of which solution you go with, this issue, while vexing, is easy enough to fix.
Happy data hunting.
Angular is a fantastic platform for building rich client side apps, but let’s not forget about the back end. My choice for the back end is ASP.NET Core. If you’re not shy about spending a bunch of time setting up Webpack, Angular and ASP.NET Core is a fantastic combination.
As for Andy, he spent that break hunkered in the shade, a strange little smile on his face, he’d got Webpack to work. pic.twitter.com/3CHrD4ORTn
— I Am Devloper (@iamdevloper) October 29, 2016
However, I prefer to spend my time building applications, not configuring build tools. Angular CLI takes a lot of the pain out of using Angular, but it’s a self contained command line tool. Fortunately, Angular CLI and ASP.NET Core can happily co-exist. In this post, we’re going to build an application using these two technologies together. By the end, you’ll be ready to have all the goodness of Angular and ASP.NET Core without spending a week setting up Webpack.
Make sure you have .NET Core, Node.js and Angular CLI installed.
npm install -g @angular/cli
Fire up Visual Studio (I’m using VS 2017) and create a new ASP.NET Core Web Application. Select the Web API Starter. This doesn’t bring in any web stuff, which is ideal. We’re going to use Angular CLI to generate the client files.
Then go ahead and disable automatic Typescript compilation. We want CLI to compile our Typescript, not Visual Studio. Do this by adding the “TypeScriptCompilerBlocked” line to your csproj file.
Head on over to the Startup.cs and add in the static files middleware. You’ll have to install the “Microsoft.AspNetCore.StaticFiles” NuGet package. After that, add app.UseDefaultFiles() and app.UseStaticFiles() to your Configure() method.
After you get those setup, you’ll want to add some middleware to redirect those pesky 404s to the root file. This will allow you to navigate the application without having to start at the root each time you hit refresh. For this app, api routes are prefixed with “api”, so we’re excluding those routes from the check. We’re also excluding routes with a file extension since those are likely static assets.
To prevent the app from loading up the api/values endpoint by default, go to properties/launchSettings.json and change the “launchUrl” keys from “api/values” to “”.
At this point, our .NET Core app should be ready to go. Let’s move on to the Angular code.
We’re going generate our Angular app on top of our ASP.NET core app. To do this, go to the command line and navigate to the directory of your solution file. Then run “ng new <your app name>”.
You want the <app name> part to be the same as your .NET Core source folder. This will drop all of the CLI files into your ASP.NET Core root folder. It should look like this:
Angular has a default file structure, but it’s not ideal for the existing ASP.NET Core application. Fortunately, Angular CLI has some options that will allow us to change this structure. We want the client side code to be in a folder called “client-src” and the client side build artifacts to go to the wwwroot folder. To do this, rename the “src” folder to “client-src”. Then go to go to .angular-cli.json. This is the primary configuration file for Angular CLI. First, change “src” to “client-src”. Then change the “outDir” attribute from “dist” to “wwwroot”. This will drop all of the compiled assets into the wwwroot folder.
At this point, we can build the Angular application using Angular CLI. Navigate a command prompt into the main application folder and run “ng build”. This command will build the client side part of the application, dropping the build artifacts into wwwroot. The wwwroot folder should look like this:
At this point we should be able to run the app by hitting the Run button in Visual Studio. Unfortunately, we still have a two stage build pipeline. The first step being “ng build” to generate the client side files and then running the .NET Core app. To fix this, we can drop in a post build script: “ng build — aot”. This will compile the client side files (with ahead of time compiling) after the app builds.
If you’re using git, you’ll want to add the wwwroot folder to your .gitignore file. These files are generated, so you probably don’t want to check them in.
All of the demo code used in this post is available here:
This demo includes a full Angular application on top of ASP.NET core. Feel free to use this as a template or something to look at while building your own. You now have everything you need to get started building shiny applications using Angular CLI and ASP.NET Core.
Ever find yourself in high stakes situations where even the slightest miscommunication can bring everything crashing into the ground? If so, Crucial Conversations has you covered. Crucial Conversations is a book about how to better navigate high stakes conversations. Unlike most business books, Crucial Conversations is packed with actionable information.
Why is this an important skill for developers? People think software development as a process where people in a windowless basement turn pizza and caffeine into software. The reality is that software development is more about communication than technology. We build software in teams. We build software for people. We need to figure out what those people want. We need to be able to have honest conversations when things don’t go as planned (which is always). Creating a free flowing dialog is absolutely essential to creating valuable software.
Beyond building software. Developers who want a lucrative career find themselves in high stakes negotiations. These include, project scope discussions, salary negotiations, and job role discussions. Learning how navigate these situations can add thousands of dollars to your lifetime earnings. Not bad for a $10 book and a few hours of reading time.
Everyone has high stakes conversations. These include high pressure negotiations, impassioned arguments, and delicate interventions. Crucial conversations come in many different flavors. What links them together is that the results of these sorts of conversations have an out-sized impact on your life. Screw up one of these and you could be feeling the pain for years to come.
The key to navigating crucial conversations is to keep a free flowing dialog between the participants. To create free flowing dialog, maintain psychological safety. The primary goal of someone in a crucial conversation is to create and maintain a psychological safe space where both parties can express themselves without fear of anger or retribution. If everyone can get everything onto the table, you can usually figure out the correct path.
To cultivate psychological safety, you need to control your own emotions. Many people cast their own stories into “victim and villain” narratives. Playing the victim causes other people to get defensive. This defensiveness erodes psychological safety. Without psychological safety, people retreat to “silence or violence”. They either shut down or defend themselves with hostility. Usually emotional and verbal hostility, but sometimes physical hostility. Responding to a conversation with silence or aggression is “the fool’s choice”. Avoid the fool’s choice at all costs.
The book describes many techniques to maintain dialog. I’m not going to list them all out here, but a few include:
People generally have some shared goal in the conversation. Reminding people of that goal can inspire mutual cooperation.
Contrast and Clarification
Use contrast to clarify what you want. Prevent misinterpretation. Everyone has a plethora of cognitive biases. It’s easy to misinterpret wants and needs in high pressure situations. Contrast what you actually want with what people think you want.
“Start with Heart”
Figure out what you actually want from a situation and take your ego out of the equation.
Radical candor is where you are willing to challenge people directly, but with a high degree of empathy. It’s the useful alternative to being a wimp or an asshole.
Find out more about it here: https://www.radicalcandor.com/about-radical-candor/
People have a variety of intellectual distortions. These are also referred to as cognitive biases. Watch out for cognitive distortions in yourself or others. There are dozens of these, but Psychology Tools has put together handy chart detailing some of the major ones:
Ego is the Enemy
A big part of being a better negotiation is learning how to disarm your ego. Lots of people forget their mutual goal and try to “win” an argument. This is usually waste of time. Focus more on your goal and less on yourself. Ryan Holiday has a fantastic book about this.
Ego is the Enemy (Amazon)
Being able to successfully navigate tough conversations is an essential developer skill. Crucial Conversations has a variety of techniques to better navigate high stakes conversations. For the sake of yourself and everyone who has to work with you, work on your communication skills.
I recently went on a hunt for Angular (formerly known as Angular 2) profiling tools. Angular is a fantastic framework, but the component hierarchies can get a little crazy. Fortunately, there’s a way to tame the complexity. After some Google searching, I came across Augury. Augury is a debugging and profiling tool created by Google and Rangle.io.
Augury is simple to install. First, install the Augury Chrome Extension (Sorry Firefox lovers, no soup for you.) There is no step 2.
Once installed, Augury shows up as a new tab in your Chrome Developer Tools. If you have an Angular app running in debug mode (it doesn’t work on prod mode), the tab will show several visualizations of your application. The first one is the component tree, which lays out the components for whatever page you are on. Click a component to see the properties and events for it. You can also manipulate the underlying models and trigger events. Additionally, each component is has a link to its source code. If you want to set a breakpoint, just click and you’ll be right there.
You can also get a visualization of injected services by clicking on the Injector Graph. It’ll help you figure out where your dependencies come from.
If your application is using routing, click on the routing tree tab to get a visualization of the routing structure.You can click into the routes to see what url triggers them, along with other route information. If you happen to use lazy loading, those routes are marked as “lazy loaded” until you access them.
If you want to see a breakdown of your application’s module structure, click the NgModules tab. This is a good way to get a high level overview of your application.
Overall, Augury makes it easier to reason about your Angular applications. By visualizing the component trees, routing, and module structures, you get a high level overview of your application’s structure. Additionally, the extra debugging features add a layer of easy to the already fantastic Chrome Developer tools. I’ve added this to my day-to-day Angular tool belt and urge you to do the same.
There are lots of different ways to learn new things. Many of these methods are easy to integrate into your life. We all have a limited amount of time, so I like to use learning methods that capitalize on otherwise wasted time. My primary target is the time I spend in the car. Additionally, there’s so many inexpensive ways to learn new skills. Here’s a few of the ways you can learn some new skills.
The easiest one is to read books. Books are cheap and accessible. If you don’t have a lot of time to read, get yourself an Audible subscription. Most books are also available in audio form.
College courses are nice, but there are better options. The Great Courses publishes classes taught by leading professors. I like to listen to them on my way to work. You can also access college level courses through moocs like EdX, Coursera, and iTunes U. Additionally, Udemy has a wide variety of inexpensive courses (wait for their $10 sales).
In order for your hard-won knowledge to be useful, you need to remember it. One method I use to learn better is to keep a commonplace book. A commonplace book is a collection of notes and quotations from the things you’ve read. This used be a common practice, but it’s coming back as people discover how useful it is. I record notes on anything interesting that I read. I also collect scraps of articles and interesting quotations. I keep these in a OneNote notebook that I can refer to. I also review things I’ve read before and add to my commonplace file. This cycle of note taking and review helps me get more out of what I read.
Organizations / Clubs
There’s a meetup for everything. Go find a group of people you can learn from. It’s often easier to talk to someone than to scour the Internet for resources. I’m looking into more agile groups to expand my business skills.
This is one of the best ways to pick up new skills. If it’s a “maker” skill, like design or programming, build something. Side projects are a great way to learn something new. If it’s not a “maker” skill, like psychology, make something with the knowledge. Write a blog post or a talk. I never feel like I’m proficient until I use my knowledge to make something.
If you want to be more successful, learn a new skill. Each new skill makes you a more useful person. If you want to be more creative, diversify yourself. Diverse knowledge gives you more resources to draw from. If you want to win at work, be a jack of all trades, master of one. There are lots of learning resources at your disposal. Put them to work for you.
If you want to improve it, you need to measure it. We use profiling tools to get the insight required to find and destroy application bottlenecks. I’m a big fan of local profiling tools that you can install and run from within your application. My favorites are Miniprofiler and Glimpse. Unfortunately, many of the tools that are available on regular ASP.NET are not available for ASP.NET Core. In this post, we’re going to explore our options for local profiling in ASP.NET Core. Currently, it’s slim pickings, but there are a few tools available.
For standard ASP.NET (non-core) Applications, there are a variety of profiling tools available. Some of those tools cost money and others are free. Unfortunately, most of them lack ASP.NET Core support. This is, in part, because ASP.NET Core is new. Additionally, our good friends at Microsoft have thrown the community a few curve-balls with the last few versions of the .NET Core. Most companies don’t want to waste their time building tools if the framework is going to have a ton of breaking changes. This is especially true for free tools.
Here’s the status of a few popular tools (as of January 2017):
The folks at Stack Overflow are waiting for a more stable version .NET Core to build their .NET core version of Miniprofiler. They said they will build a new version, but they only want to do it once.
JetBrains has not released a .NET Core version of dotTrace, though they claim some functionality with the current version. I’ve never tried this one, so I have no idea if it’s worth waiting for.
I love Glimpse. It’s one of my favorite profiling tools. The folks behind Glimpse put out a Beta version of Glimpse about a year ago. It lacked full functionality and no longer works. They appear to be working on the new version now. Their GitHub repo has recent check ins, so I’m hoping a new version appears soon.
This is Microsoft’s default solution for application performance monitoring. It’s meant to be used in conjunction with Azure, but you can run it locally and use Visual Studio to look at the results. Once hooked up to Azure, you can use this as a general application performance monitoring (APM) tool. It’s installed by default in new ASP.NET Core Projects (look at the startup.cs), so Microsoft really wants you to use it. I kicked the tires a bit. Prefix is a competent option for ASP.NET Core.
Application Insights in action:
Stackify prefix is a free tool you can install on your PC that monitors your ASP.NET applications. You’ll need to also install it in your project, but once you do so, you get access to detailed information about your application’s requests. They have a paid version of the Prefix and a related APM product, so there’s some commercial backing here. I’ve tried out Prefix a few times and the tool is adequate for local profiling. It gives you the data you need, but I’m not a huge fan of the development experience. That being said, the tool gives you access to lots of data and works on .NET Core.
Stackify Prefix in action:
I’m still waiting for a new version of Glimpse (or Miniprofiler), but Stackify Prefix and Application Insights are good tools. I miss the easy to use inline monitoring of Glimpse, but Prefix and Application Insights have their advantages. Not only are they supported on .NET core, they also hook into more robust monitoring systems. You will be well served by either option. Go forth and monitor your apps, it’ll save you a lot of pain down the road.
Usefulness should be your primary criteria.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
Software is a tool. We use it to build things of value for people. Either our customers, our users, or ourselves. We build to provide valuable software for people. A lot of developers lose sight of this when they look into new technologies. They fall in love with a technology because it’s shiny, or interesting, or scratches an intellectual itch. It’s the old “golden hammer” antipattern. Find something shiny and use it to build everything, even if it’s not the best tool for the job or doesn’t really improve upon existing technologies. We can do better. By focusing on what’s useful, we can skip the majority of new technologies and keep our sanity.
To figure out what’s useful, we need to ask a few questions. Write down your own answers as you read through this exercise.
As developers, we serve one or more audiences. Each of these audiences has different needs. It’s your job to figure out which audiences you serve (or want to serve) and what they need. Perhaps you are spending most of your time in a full-time job, but want to start your own business. Perhaps you just work for the man. Figure out which audiences you serve and their relative priority. If you want to serve a new audience, think about what you will need to learn for them as well. Additionally, look for synergies. If you have more than one audience, find overlapping technologies.For example, if you want to build your own business on the side, use a similar tech stack to the one you use at your job.
Here’s a few audiences you can serve:
Public Code / OSS
Open source projects have different goals than enterprise shops. There’s some overlap, but OSS is built differently. If you do OSS, figure out which projects you want to contribute to and focus on their tech stacks. Also think about what value you can bring to the developer community.
If you run an app business or an ISV (independent software vendor), focus on technologies that create customer value. For example, while functional programming is cool, you’re better off mastering digital marketing or product design instead. Focus on technologies that help you get products in front of customers quickly. This doesn’t always mean new technology. There are a lot of Rails 2, jQuery, and ASP.NET Webforms apps out there still generating significant value for their customers.
It’s OK to learn something just for fun. Lots of people write code as a hobby, but make sure you understand that the time you spend building robots or smartwatch apps is hobby time, not professional development time.
I have three audiences. I work on a team that builds data driven applications using .NET Core, Angular 2, TypeScript, and Spark. I also serve the broader technical community by speaking at conferences and blogging. Eventually, I want to build a small software product and sell it. I achieve synergy by focusing my community efforts on things that I either use in my day-to-day work (like Angular 2) or things that will serve me in business (innovation).
Now that you know what’s useful for your situation, let’s use that knowledge to make your life easier. You likely have a list of technologies that you’re interested in or feel obligated to keep up with. I have a whole radar of them. Take that list and run it through the criteria you figured out. If the technology doesn’t help you add value to one of your audiences, cross it off the list. Rank everything else based on its relative value. Use your criteria to combat “shiny object” syndrome when you encounter a new technology. You’ll likely still have more things on your list than you can learn, but your list should be manageable.