Lately, I’ve spent lunch reading up on the industry in which in work:
Tap the photo to see it at full size.
Before you say “Wait a minute — don’t you work in the software/mobile app/IT industry?”, let me make it clear. I work in the beverage alcohol industry; I just happen to do that work with software.
While flipping through the pages, looking for the Using Narrative to Win on Menus article, I stumbled across this full-page ad:
Tap the photo to see it at full size.
It’s a full-page ad for Lilypad, which is the name of both the company I work for and the beverage alcohol software suite it produces, which includes the mobile app, which I work on. I’ve worked on all sorts of software before, but never for something that has its own full-page ad in an industry magazine.
This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.
Here’s my personal challenge for this year: I will try to complete at least 20 small software projects in 2020 and document them here on Global Nerdy. The number of projects I’ve chosen to attempt this year comes straight from the way the year is commonly pronounced: twenty-twenty.
Why am I doing this? Because now that I’m back to writing code for a living — after a good long period of time as a product manager or owner, a developer evangelist, or a marketer — and I want to up my game. Yes, I’ll get lots of practice at work, but as those of you who code for a living know, the projects you do at work tend to focus on a narrow segment of what’s possible with code, and largely about solving a business problem instead of learning a new technology, language, or skill.
There’s also another reason: quantity leads to quality.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Quantity always trumps quality. That’s why the one bit of advice I always give aspiring bloggers is to pick a schedule and stick with it. It’s the only advice that matters, because until you’ve mentally committed to doing it over and over, you will not improve. You can’t.
When it comes to software, the same rule applies. If you aren’t building, you aren’t learning. Rather than agonizing over whether you’re building the right thing, just build it. And if that one doesn’t work, keep building until you get one that does.
In short, it boils down to the old adage “Practice makes perfect,” or more accurately, “Practice makes progress.”
Most of these projects will be built for “toy” systems: mobile devices, wearables, the Raspberry Pi and set-top boxes. I’ve made this choice for a number of reasons:
I got an Apple Watch for Christmas! Sure, it does neat things like track my exercise and tell the time, but the real reason I got it was to write apps for it.
“Toy” projects allow me to constrain them so that they don’t take an excessive amount of time to build, which is key when you aim to put together 20 projects in a year.
My day-to-day work is mobile development. Anything that makes me better at it is a good thing.
I need topics for my meetup, Tampa iOS Meetup. Yup, that’s making a grand comeback shortly.
I’ve already got an interesting side project that involves the Apple Watch.
I also got a mini-screen for my Raspberry Pi, which has been neglected as of late.
One of the amazing things about the internet economy is how different the list of top internet properties today looks from the list ten years ago. It wasn’t as if those former top companies were complacent – most of them acquired and built products like crazy to avoid being displaced.
The reason big new things sneak by incumbents is that the next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” This is one of the main insights of Clay Christensen’s “disruptive technology” theory. This theory starts with the observation that technologies tend to get better at a faster rate than users’ needs increase. From this simple insight follows all kinds of interesting conclusions about how markets and products change over time.
Disruptive technologies are dismissed as toys because when they are first launched they “undershoot” user needs. The first telephone could only carry voices a mile or two. The leading telco of the time, Western Union, passed on acquiring the phone because they didn’t see how it could possibly be useful to businesses and railroads – their primary customers. What they failed to anticipate was how rapidly telephone technology and infrastructure would improve (technology adoption is usually non-linear due to so-called complementary network effects). The same was true of how mainframe companies viewed the PC (microcomputer), and how modern telecom companies viewed Skype. (Christensen has many more examples in hisbooks).
He also points out that something being toy-like doesn’t necessarily mean that it will become the next big thing. He’s saying that initially they seem like toys, but due to external forces, they become useful in ways that seem obvious in hindsight but invisible at the time. It’s yet another example of William Gibson’s cyberpunk maxim: “The street finds its own uses for things.”
Dixon closes his article about the next big thing being a toy with this paragraph, which mentions the new decade:
But startups with sustaining technologies are very unlikely to be the new ones we see on top lists in 2020. Those will be disruptive technologies – the ones that sneak by because people dismiss them as toys.
Watch this space as I post about these projects throughout 2020! The first — a simple Apple Watch app that’s also a “How to write an Apple Watch app” article in disguise — will be here on Global Nerdy soon.
How I got started in the industry and where I am now. I started as a developer, then a developer evangelist, then marketing, then product owner, and now I’m a developer again!
My new job at Lilypad, which I like to describe as “a CRM for the alcohol industry”, and how much fun I’m having being a developer again.
My tech strategy: “Always bet on the toy.” The technology that people dismiss as a toy today often becomes tomorrow’s indispensable tool.
Working on the 8th edition of iOS Apprentice for raywenderlich.com. It was an adventure, what with having to cover the new SwiftUI framework in a beginner-friendly way. I also talk about being honored to work on this edition of the book, as I learned iOS programming from an earlier edition written by the original author, Matthijs Hollemans.
Cross-platform vs. native mobile development and the challenges with each approach. When do you use each approach?
Taking an active role in the Tampa Bay tech scene. I explain that it’s a habit I picked up from the Toronto tech scene in the early 2000s, during the era of DemoCamp Toronto. This work helped turn Toronto into one of the top 5 tech powerhouses in North America, and I think Tampa Bay can borrow a few of those tricks.
Don’t forget that two Tampa Bay authors have iOS books! It’s not just me, but Craig Clayton as well.
John Callaway: An International Speaker, Author, and Microsoft MVP, John has been a professional developer since 1999. He has focused primarily on web technologies and currently focuses on C# and .NET Core in Azure. Clean code and professionalism are particularly important to him, as well as mentoring and teaching others what he has learned along the way.
At the end of the video, they wanted to use the image of a more “everyman” developer to represent you, their customer. Guessed who they picked:
My photographer friend Adam P. W. Smith (my old business partner; together, we were datapanik software systems and we worked on some pretty interesting projects back in the late ‘90s) took the picture back in August when I was visiting him in Vancouver. I’d arrived a day early for the HackVAN hackathon and was sitting in his kitchen getting some work done when he decided to get a couple of shots. He poured me a glass of scotch, set it on my accordion, which I’d set down on the chair beside me, and staring taking pictures.
In case you were wondering, you can find out more about my new gig in the article titled — appropriately enough — The new gig.
Fintech created the first EFT (electronic funds transfer) payment system for the alcoholic beverages industry in 1991, and in the 18 years that followed, their system gained approval in all 50 states. Since then, they’ve built systems to improve the way alcohol is managed, priced, promoted, ordered, and sold. They’re a “work hard, play hard” place with a reputation for treating their employees well, based on what I’ve seen at their company gatherings.
Lilypad is a scrappy startup that was founded in 2013. Their original application was a tool to help alcohol sales teams in the field, and has since grown to become a system that helps the industry manage the entire sales process. Lilypad’s customers run the gamut from the smallest kitchen-table craft breweries to global conglomerates whose products are everywhere — perhaps even on your shelves at home. The company was acquired by Fintech earlier this year.
Back in September, I posted a cryptic announcement with the “New gig Monday” image shown above. That marked the start of a trial period during which time I worked at Lilypad on a contract basis. They were incredibly cool about accommodating the vacation plans I’d made months before. I worked for the month of September, went to the Philippines for three weeks in October, and then returned to work through to the end of November.
My job was to dive into their mobile app code for both Android and iOS — comprising hundreds of thousands of lines of code written over the past six years by an untold number of coders who came before me, none of whom left behind any notes — and start fixing, maintaining, and improving it from the moment I set foot in the office. This would be a challenge.
I landed the trial period based on a very particular set of skills that’s hard to find in the Tampa area: mobile app development (and let’s face it, my penchant for self-promotion). I sold those skills based on:
The oldest-model computer in my stable is a Lenovo ThinkPad T430 (pictured above). Released in 2012, it’s a business workhorse powered by a dual-core i5-3230M processor running at 2.6 GHz (suitable for writing TPS reports and even playing older 3D games) that’s still issued to worker bees at offices everywhere. I acquired mine in 2013 in lieu of payment owed to me from a deadbeat, and since then, it’s been performing yeoman service in its role as a backup machine for tasks that specially require Windows or Linux.
It came with a stock 4GB RAM, which has caused me to run into some limitations, especially with heavier-weight development tools such as Visual Studio and Android Studio, the video capture and recording tool Camtasia, and to a lesser extent, graphic design and audio tools. It was time for that most effective and universal of computer upgrades: more RAM!
The T430 takes two 1600 MHz PC3-12800 SO-DIMMs and supports up to 16GB memory. I ordered a pair on NewEgg for less than $100, which came with two-day free shipping. The DIMMs arrived via FedEx Friday morning, and like any geek with a new tech toy, I took out my set of teeny computer screwdrivers and got to work on installing them right after they arrived.
The first step was to remove the battery. ThinkPads from that era (I’m not certain about present-era ones) followed the old-school philosophy to batteries and kept them external and easily swapped out:
I remembered seeing a RAM upgrade on one of these computers years ago, so I knew that there was a RAM slot located on the bottom of the machine, just underneath the central panel…
…and only two screws stand between you and a RAM upgrade…
…and until you realize that there’s just one RAM slot there. Upon seeing this, I looked around, confirmed that there was only one RAM slot under that panel, and then checked the online specs for the T430. It says two SO-DIMM slots. Where’s the other one?
Here’s the interesting thing about adding RAM to the T430: its two RAM slots are in quite different places with different levels of difficulty to access.
The second RAM slot — where the factory-installed RAM goes — is under the keyboard, and getting to it takes a little more work. My guess is that Lenovo’s engineers expected most users to buy a single DIMM to expand their machine’s RAM, and that they’d install it into the easier-to-access slot at the bottom of the machine.
Even if you have no plans to add or remove RAM from the more easily accessed underside, you still need to open the central panel at the bottom of the machine to access the RAM under the keyboard. That’s because there are two screws inside the central panel that you have to remove in order to get under the keyboard:
These two screws anchor the keyboard, and if they’re in place, you won’t be able to access the RAM slot underneath it.
When you’ve removed those two screws, you can remove the keyboard. Pry it up gently, starting with the edge closest to the trackpad. I used a metal ruler to help me with the process, taking care not to scratch the casing:
Lift the keyboard. You’ll see that it’s connected to the motherboard by a short strip of ribbon cable. There’s a thin piece of dark, slightly translucent plastic to the left of where the ribbon cable meets the motherboard; the RAM slot is underneath it:
To make it easier to pop in the RAM, I disconnected the keyboard. You might not have to do it in order to insert the RAM, but it was pretty easy:
I flipped back the panel, where the factory-installed 4GB DIMM lived…
…and replaced it with the new 8GB DIMM.
With the RAM installed, I reversed my steps, fired up the ThinkPad, and checked my RAM the fun way: by asking Cortana using my voice. Here was her response:
Success! The ThinkPad is back in action, and ready for development work. In the short time with maxed-out RAM, I’ve found that Visual Studio, Android Studio, and Camtasia work wonderfully, and video performance is improved as well (my model has integrated graphics, which relies on system RAM).
If you prefer a video walk-through of the ThinkPad T430 RAM upgrade procedure, try this one:
Today — Monday, October 3rd, 2016 — marks the start of my new gig, Developer Evangelist at SMARTRAC, a leading manufacturer of high-security RFID inlays and tags, and the world’s largest supplier of RFID inlays for “e-passports”, according to Wikipedia.
SMARTRAC manufacture a wide variety of RFID inlays and tags for all sorts of uses, ranging from asset tracking and supply chain management to access control to contactless payment (such as “tap” credit cards) to remote keyless entry for cars to animal identification to tickets for concerts and sports events to retail sales and anti-counterfeiting protection.
SMARTRAC started as a hardware company producing radio frequency transponders and reader, but they’ve seen that a lot of the opportunity is in the software that talks to this hardware and in the emerging internet of things (IoT).
That’s where SMART COSMOS comes in. It’s SMARTRAC’s portfolio of cloud-based services that enables developers to build new applications that can work with SMARTRAC’s RFID tags and inlays to “read the world”.
Here’s the official “SMART COSMOS 101” video:
SMART COSMOS needs someone who can wear a number of hats:
Developers will be writing applications that make use of SMART COSMOS’ SaaS services, and they’re going to need someone who can speak their language to show them how it’s done.
A number of SMARTRAC’s clients are the sales and marketing departments of large retail operations, and they’ll need to someone who can operate in both the worlds of marketing and technology.
And finally, SMARTRAC makes appearances at conference worldwide — a quick glance at their site says that they’ll be a conferences in Vegas, Munich, Tehran, Cannes, and Manila before the end of the year — and they’ll need a skilled speaker and presenter to promote their wares.
You know who’s really good at all of these? This guy:
This is a remote job, with me working from the home office…
…but punctuated with trips to conferences where SMARTRAC will have a booth or will be presenting and developer gatherings, visits to the U.S. office in Baltimore or the European office, and possibly SMARTRAC’s RFID manufacturing facilities, which are scattered all over the globe.
Day one of the job has me on the road to one of those aforementioned manufacturing facilities. I’m off to Asheville, North Carolina to visit the SMARTRAC plant there, and spend the next few days working with my new team on a developer evangelism plan for SMARTTRAC. This will be interesting, and I’ll be posting quite a bit on this topic, so watch this space!