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Teamwork Doesn’t Have to Suck

Note: This is a repost from my Medium account, https://medium.com/@ericsaupe/teamwork-doesnt-have-to-suck-741fe1a9ec61

Let’s face it, teamwork can suck. A new project comes up, the team gets together and inevitably a small portion of the team does the majority of the work. Deadlines come, tensions run high, and suddenly you dread waking up in the morning to head back into the hell that has been created. We’ve all been there. Let’s talk about how to make all of our teams better not only for our own sanity but for every member of our teams.

Teams can be great!

Move together

Hard working team members can quickly lose their drive without a destination in sight. A common and achievable goal should be the first step to improving any team. Each member should know their role and how they contribute to moving towards that end.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

— Andrew Carnegie

Recently I was responsible with leading a complete rewrite of our company’s eCommerce site. The goal was simple, get us on a new open-source-based platform and clean out the crap. Over the years we had made customizations to our old open-source-based eCommerce platform to the point of forking it; effectively destroying the benefit of open-source technology. This project was our attempt at getting back into the community and “going vanilla”.

Bringing us together were the baby steps that we each made to move our large project toward the finish line. Those baby steps came from small tasks rather than large epics. Developers had clear features to implement, QA had specific guidelines to follow, and project managers had direct questions that needed to be answered. Everyone had something to contribute and because the tasks were small and clearly defined it was simple to feel like we were moving as each one was completed. After months of hard work we successfully finished the project and grew closer through our achievement.

That sense of movement, even if small, drives momentum and encourages teams. Set a goal, define a path, and let everyone run.

Cut the weight

Over the years I’ve worked on good teams and bad. The biggest team killer is a bad team member. One person can easily drag an entire team down due to their attitude, lack of communication skills, or the work they produce. The hard truth is that person has to go.

That can be hard to hear and even harder to execute. Do we just fire them? Move them to another team? Yes! Whatever it takes to get the toxic person out of your group is the answer. I once worked on a team where everyone was very communicative until this one person came around. Then everyone tensed up and were afraid to share their opinions for fear of being confronted about their ideas. This kills the team.

No organization or project is worth holding hostage over one team member. Shake it up and lose them. If it’s not working out then make that change sooner than later. The team will benefit greatly.

Build each other up

Praise never seems to come often enough. We should share in our defeats but build up individual accomplishments. When something goes wrong the team together holds the responsibility. When something goes right the individual people should be praised for their great work. This does two things to the morale of a team. First, a single person is not criticized for damaging your project. We are moving this thing together so we should share the load when things get heavy. Someone falters and we all get behind them to get everyone back on track. Second, individuals can see that their contributions are noted and matter. Even the person who may not be at the forefront of day-to-day additions should be thanked for every bit of effort given to the team.

Whatever good things we build end up building us.

— Jim Rohn

I’ve worked on projects where one or two team members contributed to a very high-profile feature that was talked about immensely while others did the less glamorous features and bug fixes. Were the latter’s contributions any less to the overall movement of the project? No, and they should be praised openly for doing their part as well as the others for the high-profile feature.

One way that we keep the praise going is using a Slack extension I created called Sticker Chart Party!. It gives your Slack team a digital emoji sticker chart similar to grade school days where we can quickly give a sticker every time someone does something noteworthy. Messages can be attached to the emoji to see why people got them and it’s a fun way to thank people for their contributions and help.

Sticker Chart Party! makes praise easy

My current team has grown closer together thanks to constantly high-fiving each other over all of our victories and banding together during the struggles. A good team should make every member feel comfortable and supported without alienation.

Small changes again and again

Iteration is key to life. Teams should always be evolving. As new people come and go the dynamic will always be changing. Open discussion should be encouraged on what is working and what isn’t and how to improve it. Tools, processes, and work styles should all be on the table for debate. If an idea is presented on making work life better by allowing for a remote work policy it should be discussed and tried. My current company just decided to go remote-first opting to allow employees to work wherever they feel comfortable that day whether it be at home, the office, or somewhere else.

Don’t be afraid to change how the team is working. I’ve seen people come in to a job and just settle into the routine saying, “That’s just the way it is here”. In all the companies I’ve worked for there is always room for change and improvement. Maybe as small as putting up art on the walls or shifting schedules around. Whatever makes the team happier will make them more dedicated and productive.

Be the change

It’s better to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission. Make your teams better right now. Be the positive change by publicly thanking those that are doing good work. Start the dialog in team meetings by bringing up possible issues that can be resolved as a group. It all needs to start somewhere and, in my experience, everyone wants to make things better and will rally around the idea of at least trying new things.

Shake things up and be happier in your teams.

y83Je1OC6Wc

A friend of mine called me up recently to ask me how to get started with programming. I’ve gotten these requests more and more as the demand for programmers rises. I’m going to compile a list of resources to help anyone get started with what I feel are the basis for what anyone who wants to program will need. This list is by no means comprehensive and while this will get you started you should not feel like you can go from knowing nothing to building the next Facebook simply by following this guide. It will, however, give you a solid foundation with which you can build and grow to the point where you could potentially build something like Facebook or Instagram on your own or working with a small team.

Which Language Should I Learn?

This depends entirely on what you are trying to do. Some people want to make their work life more efficient by writing small programs to automate their daily tasks while others may want to create websites and web applications. For the first I suggest Python. It is easy to pick up for beginners, it forces good code formatting, and it can be extended to do a large amount of things including creating large websites and applications (Instagram runs on Django which is a web framework built on Python). If you really want to write web applications or create interactive websites I would recommend learning Ruby on Rails. I have written web applications in both languages and I am far more effective in Rails thanks to their mantra of “Convention over Configuration”. I’ll be writing a post about why I feel Rails is better than Django later. Pick your language based on your goals and read the online books I have linked below. They will help you set up your computer and teach you how to create very simple programs for you to have a good base of understanding for programming.

Great Starters Guides

Code Editor

You’ll need a program to actually write the code. I personally suggest Sublime Text 3. It is free, light-weight, and can edit any type of programming file. It has a lot of neat extensions and themes so you can customize it to fit your needs.

Learn Git

Once you have picked your language of choice, no matter what it is, you’ll want to learn Git. Git is a tool to help you version your project and files. Versioning is similar to saving but gives you specific moments to return to. Let’s say you are working on a Word document. You start writing a lot, hit save, then you write a bunch more but decide you hate all that and want to return to where it was when you hit save initially. You could hit CTRL+Z a bunch but it would be nicer if you could point to a specific version of the file and say “I want to start from there again.” With Git you can do that. You make commits, marking moments in time, with messages about the changes made. If you ever want to go back you can simply rollback to any previous commit undoing your current changes. This is useful when you have a working program and then start to do some complicated work only to find you have totally screwed up the project. Just roll back to when it was working and start again.

Github

While you can use versioning locally for your small projects you really start to see its true power when you make your software available for others to review and help; this is known as open-source software. Create an account on Github and they will guide you in pushing your local git versioned projects into projects that anyone can see and help you with. Don’t be afraid of others seeing what you might consider “bad code”. The point of doing this is so others can help you learn and progress. When you have a larger project others can write features and submit bug fixes for your code as well. Once you have a firm grasp of whatever language you have chosen you can even write code for other open source projects to help them with their features and bugs.

Conclusion

Everyone should learn a little bit of programming just like everyone learns a little bit of math. Obviously we can go very deep into mathematics and we can do the same with programming but everyone should have a grasp of the basics and have a foundation even if you don’t do it professionally. I hope this guide was useful and let me know if you have any questions or concerns in the comments below.

rails

Rails 5

As has become tradition, a new full version release of Rails is coming just two years after the release of Rails 4. This new version progresses the platform by bumping the underlying minimum Ruby version and adds a slew of neat features to keep Rails feeling fresh and new.

Ruby 2.2.2

Ruby 2.2.2 is required in Rails 5 because Rails 5 will take advantage of the new Symbol Garbage Collection found in Ruby 2.2. There is also rumor of Rails 5 using the Incremental Garbage Collection found in Ruby 2.2. They have decided to use Ruby 2.2.2 since Ruby 2.2 had a major security vulnerability that is patched in 2.2.2.

https://github.com/rails/rails/pull/19257 Ruby 2.2.1 PR

https://github.com/rails/rails/commit/32f7491808d2c4e097ed7b3ee875e4d1cea8c442 Ruby 2.2.2 Commit

Rails API

Many Rails developers these days are finding themselves using Javascript Frameworks more and more. Whether DHH likes that or not it’s a fact of life. Before Rails 5 developers turned to the ruby-api gem which helps create a minimalist Rails application specifically for use as an API. This functionality is now going to be wrapped up and packaged with Rails 5 so no need for another gem. Just use the command rails new <application name> --api and Rails will create your new API app all on its own!

Here are a couple of tutorials for you Backbone and Ember users.

https://github.com/rails/rails/pull/19832

Turbolinks 3

Turbolinks has been a part of Rails since Rails 4 but is getting a major update to hopefully make developers happier about using it. Turbolinks has been criticized for having major usability problems but the concept of only loading portions of the DOM that change is a sound idea. Many Javascript Frameworks take advantage of this idea specifically React.js. Turbolinks will fetch the body content of your page without worrying about rerendering the CSS and Javascript. You can opt-in to specify which parts of the page should be changed if you’d like as well. They also added a progress bar by default to help the user see things are happening behind the scenes, but with the increased speed you hopefully won’t need that.

https://github.com/rails/turbolinks

Action Cable

Action Cable is the feature I am most excited about. Simpler web sockets for Rails. Anytime anyone says web sockets to me I cringe a little just because of how complicated they can be to set up. Many have tried to make the problem easier and Action Cable is Rails’ way of giving it a try.

https://github.com/rails/actioncable

Rake or Rails

The beginner’s dillema, do I use rake db:migrate or rails db:migrate, is it rake test or rails test? Doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all rails. From Rails 5 on the rails command can be used to run rake commands. Simple change but a nice one.

https://github.com/rails/rails/issues/18878

Integration Tests

Rails 5 is beginning a push to deprecate Controller tests all together in favor of Integration tests. As part of that they are deprecating assigns() and assert_template in controller tests. Aaron Patterson has a great keynote from Railsconf where he outlines the speed improvements made to the Rails testing environment and why Integration tests will be the way to go.

https://github.com/rails/rails/pull/19058

Update

I gave this presentation to the SLC.rb user group July 28th, 2015 and here are the slides from that presentation in case anyone is interested.

Rails 5

A lot of other under the hood improvements are expected to be made but I think I covered a lot of the major upcoming features. Let me know if you have any questions or which Rails feature you are most excited about by leaving a comment below.

How to Watch Streams in VLC Player

largeVLC

VLC Player has a neat feature that allows you to watch high quality streams. Here is a small list of how to watch them.

  1. Download VLC Player (if you don’t already have it)
  2. Open Network Stream (Ctrl + N on Windows)
  3. Copy and paste the link address
  4. Hit Go

If you are having lag issues:

  1. Go to VLC Preferences -> Select Show All
  2. Then go to Preferences -> Input/Codecs -> set Network Caching to 5000ms or more

If that doesn’t help try a lower bitrate or quality by switching the 4500 in the link address to 3000, ipad, 1600, iphone, or 800.

Link to Reddit Post

rails

One of the great strengths of Rails is the ability to create layouts that house various views of content. You create a layout with a basic HTML structure and then simply drop in your new content based on the view you are rendering. One of the simplest layouts is one that just renders the view that takes up the whole page and this is accomplished by the auto generated
app/views/layouts/application.html.erb.

The highlighted line is the important one. That <%= yield %> tells Ruby on Rails that whatever view you load just drop it right there. That’s great! Now we have a simple base layout that houses our imports and basic structure and CSS and we simply drop in our own content inside of this.

Let’s say we want to take it a step further. What if we want a left and a right side bar which is unique to each of our views? We just need to change our basic layout a little bit to add those columns and then update our view template code to take advantage of our new structure.

Yield Sections

app/views/layouts/application.html.erb

app/views/MODEL/new.html.erb

Following the suggestion of Obie Fernandez and Kevin Faustino in their book The Rails 4 Way, I have placed the two named structures of the layout first. It makes it easy to distinguish what the smaller sections will contain before getting to the meat of the content. Everything that isn’t labeled as content_for will be dropped in that unnamed yield in the layout.

Render Partials

That’s all well and good but what if you don’t want a specific set of sidebar content for every single view. Maybe a shared partial for the right bar will work great. In that case you’ll need to use the render method in your template to generate the template for you. Here is the example from above but using a shared right side bar template.

app/views/layouts/application.html.erb

app/views/shared/_right.html.erb

Render Partials with Variables

You can even pass in variables to your partials. Let’s say our right side bar takes advantage of some user data. We just pass the user variable to the render with a comma and a hash type variable being passed.

app/views/layouts/application.html.erb

app/views/shared/_right.html.erb

Pretty cool, right? I hope this introduction to layouts and partials was helpful. If there are any problems with my examples or if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below.

install-postgresql-934-on-mac

PostgreSQL is a pretty common database choice these days. It’s quick and fairly easy to set up but a lot of the information I’ve seen online makes it much harder than it has to be so I’m going to put my notes here.

  1. Download PostgreSQL and follow the installation guide for your flavor
  2. Fire up your console and type $ psql to open the Postgres command line
    1. From here you should do all of the commands you find online
    2. Everything you find on http://www.postgresql.org/docs/ will work in the command line
    3. This will be your main interaction between you and your PostgreSQL databases
  3. Create a Database – CREATE DATABASE my_new_database
  4. Read the docs and do some Google searches to find all of the commands you’ll need. There are way too many to list here and they all have their uses.

That should get you up and running. If you are doing a web development project your web framework would probably take over from here once you have your databases created. Django would create tables on its own, especially with South or 1.7 with migrations. Ruby on Rails could create tables using $ rake db:create or for more developed projects $ rake db:schema:load.

As usual if there is anything I’ve missed or questions that you have feel free to leave a comment below.

Installing Rails on Mac OSX

rails

When developing for Ruby on Rails the first thing you’ll need to set up your development environment. This guide will be for installing things on Mac OSX and would be similar for Linux. These are my notes from experience setting up a Rails environment based on The Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl.

New Rails Installation on OSX

Install Git

Checks if git is installed and if it isn’t it will install it

Install Ruby (Already installed)

Checks Ruby version, already installed on OSX

Install RVM

RVM is for multiple Ruby on Rails environments for different projects.

Install RVM Requirements

NOTE: RVM tries to install gcc46 which is an older version of gcc on OSX. Mavericks already has gcc installed so install the list that appears except gcc. It also can install but take a VERY long time so just be patient and see.

Tell RVM where OpenSSL is

Create .gemrc

This file stops the installation of Ruby docs, the text below goes in .gemrc

Install Rails

You should be ready to create your environment and install your Gems. If I’ve missed anything, or you have problems, let me know in the comments below and I will update this list.