Thursday, 8 October 2009

Is "Tech Lead" the new "Architect"?


Five years ago, everybody seemed to want to have the word "architect" in their title. Firstly, they all needed a title and having an A in the acronym was the bomb - EA (Enterprise Architect); IA (Information Architect); and any other term with the "A" word at the end of it.

With this title came a lot of responsibility for whether the project succeeded or failed. Accepting that meant that you couldn't let others fail and take you with them. That's when in some circumstances, the iron fist came out and the right to veto a change became part of the job description. Of course, that made sense when it was your head on the chopping board.

It is commonly argued regularly that the decision making in a group should be centralised in order to make conflict resolution easier to solve. I agree with the idea that there must be away to settle disagreements between members of a team if they come to an impasse. There are many ways to do this but the fastest and most decisive is for one person to have the final word. The other way I have seen work regularly is to have the team decide through majority opinion or vote. When the group decides something for all then that is usually accepted by all.

The group decision method can go wrong if the most popular person and strongest speaker dominates. The one man final decision can also go wrong if... well, if they aren't good enough to make that call.

It is a rare project that I have worked on that is lead by one person with all the technical and high-level knowledge to make all decisions well. I have however often seen teams with a mix of people who can answer all the questions needed and pick the best option. Add to that team an external arbitrator (like a project manager) who can facilitate the decision making process and you have a much more successfully functioning team.

Software engineers are more creative lateral thinkers than they are credited with. Although the other disciplines of engineering are extremely logical, spend some time herding cats and you'll see that devs are more craftswomen (and craftsmen) than they are plodders through an already defined structured process.

With this creativity in mind, software engineers do not want to be mere typists for their architect or technical lead. They need to be allowed to create and use their skills to move the project forward. If you don't allow this, you lose all that is good about working with them. Unfortunately, this is too often the case with the tech leads I have seen since starting my career. Most of us find ways to work with these little dictators and sometimes we simply get fed up and move on to another team, another project or even another job.

Is today's title of "Tech Lead" the new, more acceptable synonym for what is now the dirty word "Architect"?

Yes, it is. Teams build software. Good tech leads and architects will guide their team, support them and remove technical blockers from their path. They won't use the word veto or force their ideas on to their intelligent peers. If they don't see their team as their peers then that's another problem altogether.

Come on tech leads, keep your title but use your powers for good and not evil.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Give me an alternative


I've been blogging about some "simple" stuff lately and there is a reason for that. It seems that things that those of us who have worked building big web apps for a long time, take for granted. There are certain ways to do things... etiquette even. As long as I see these things missing when I interact with the web world, they will appear here. If this is too condescending then "think you have but slumber'd here while these visions did appear".

On opening an email from my favourite pet food delivery place Star Pets in my gmail, I noticed before I hit the load all images button that the images all had place holders of a hyperlink with the text alt. This turned out to have the HTML: <img border="0" alt="alt"/>

Now, HTML elements have the alt attribute which is an alternative text attribute that is on the element in order to:
  • allow an image, link or other artifact to have a meaningful placeholder while it loads or if it fails to load;
  • allow search engine web crawlers to easily understand and index your site; and
  • assist accessibility browsers like JAWS.
As a developer, you are helping make your site easier to understand and use by people and machines. That has to be a good thing and it's not much effort. Developers, analysts and testers can all contribute to adding meaning to your pages with alt attributes so start doing it now.

It's etiquette.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

And another one bites the dust


Going through my lower priority email in the middle of the night, I decided to read the one titled "Changing times at Trading Post" from the Trading Post. Thinking that it would be something about a new Twitter account or iPhone application, I was surprised (but not so surprised) to see the actual news. Rather than re-tell it, here is a quote from the email:

"As a result of this change in customer preferences, Trading Post will become an exclusively online and mobile trading place from November with the last print publications on sale from 29 October 2009."

In Australia, the Trading Post is an institution. It's the regional collective classifieds for your area. You pick one up and spend a morning on a weekend reading it. You call people about stuff you don't really need but seem like a bargain and deal with the disappointment or glee that comes from finding whether it's still available.

I recently put my car up for sale on their website, on ebay and on carsales.com.au. Although I sold the car through carsales.com.au, I got the most inquiries from the Trading Post. Since I chose to display the advertisement in their print issue as well as on the website, people were contacting me for quite a while after the car was sold.

This is another example of a popular publication leaving the world of paper and moving to a purely virtual one. I feel like there should be some sorrow floating around in my sentimental mind somewhere but if I'm honest with myself then it makes no difference to me. I don't feel saddened by it. In fact, it feels right.

We trade online all the time now. Maybe just as they named their classifieds-only paper after an old fashioned "retail store serving a sparsely populated region", it's evolved in to the next type of place to sell and buy... on this Internet thing.