Marketing 3.0

Marketing

In the early days of marketing, companies relied on print, and broadcast media. Newspapers, magazines, television, and radio provided advertising solutions for everyone. Then came the internet. During the last decade, we’ve seen marketing rapidly move to things like Google AdWords as well as social media. Today, people make heavy use of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to push their brand. Through both paid advertising as well as providing content, social media is now a major player in the marketing realm.

Unfortunately, however, this seems to be changing faster than many would like to admin. Facebook’s user base is dwindling, and Twitter is typically only used by people looking for information within a niche market – such as music or tech. Worse yet, LinkedIn – once a place for professional networks – is becoming the venue of choice for advertising. Initially, I embraced the use of LinkedIn to advertise my services to local businesses. Unfortunately, over the last year, I have been increasingly bombarded with connection requests from people who simply want to sell me products. Now, I am increasingly reluctant to connect with people I don’t know. I look for where the individual is located, and if it’s outside the US, I reject the connection. I’ve removed individuals who acted as spammers. None of this is new, of course, I’ve talked about it before (Social Media Etiquette and Sleazy LinkedIn Users).

Now, I am left to wonder where the next phase in advertising will take us. I assume others are having the same experiences, and are wondering the same thing. Mobile advertising seems to be good, but only if you’re selling games. Advertising on digital audio services such as Pandora or Spotify are great – if you’ve got the budget. I have to assume that other’s are having the same experiences I am, and so these methods are becoming less useful. I think we are on the brink of a massive shift in marketing, but I’m not sure what it will be. But whatever it is, I hope it’s less spammy than what people are doing now.

Simple Text Search

Search

I often need to search a directory of code for instances of a specific word. I like tools that I can use from the command line so that I can execute them from an SSH session across the network. Here’s how I do it.

#!/bin/bash

SAVEIFS=$IFS
IFS=$(echo -en "\n\b")

if [ $# -ne 1 ]
then
        echo Call is: `basename $0` string
else
        for file in `find . -type f | cut -c3-`
        do
                count=`cat "$file" | grep -i $1 | wc -l`
                if [ $count -gt 0 ]
                then
                        echo "******"$file"******"
                        cat "$file" | grep -i $1
                fi
        done
fi
IFS=$SAVEIFS

Developer Development

Growth

Most developers focus their time on learning new technologies or languages. They go to tech conferences and expos, read about new frameworks online, and take the occasional class on Coursera or Udemy. This is great, but I think too many developers are lacking critical skills in other domains.

I taught myself to program. Then, when I finally went to college a little over ten years ago, I decided to get a degree in psychology. Why? Because I wanted to better understand people. Like many developers, my interpersonal skills weren’t the best. I figured that by learning more about how people think, it would benefit me professionally.

Now, I’m getting ready to start my masters degree. Not in computer science, but in business. I already know programming incredibly well, so the next step for me is to better understand business. Not only will this help me as an entrepreneur, but will also help me should I ever transition back into the workforce.

Where do you focus your educational efforts? While learning more about your trade is a great idea, don’t ever forgot to hone those ancillary skills that will improve not only your marketability but also your ability to understand how to use your trade to the benefit of the world you work in.

Line Counting

Codes

A common metric used in software development is lines of code. While it’s not always a useful metric, it’s sometimes nice to know just how large a project is. I have a script I use to count lines of code in a folder. It will iterate through a variety of common file extensions and count all lines of code excluding blank lines. It’s written using sh, so it works on Unix, Linux, or MacOS, and should work on Windows if you have the Bash subsystem installed.

#!/bin/bash

# add additional extensions here
extensions=(bas c cc cob cpp cs cshtml fth f90 go h html java js jsp m pas php pl py sc sh sql ts xhtml)

for extension in ${extensions[@]}
do
  lines=`find . -name "*.$extension" -type f -exec cat {} \; | tr -d '[:blank:]' 2> /dev/null | grep -v '^$' | wc -l `
  if [ $lines -ne 0 ]
  then 
    echo $extension: $lines
  fi
done

Languages vs Algorithms

Programming

I was recently discussing a project with a potential client. His project was using a language I haven’t used heavily in quite some time. He was disappointed because he was struggling to find developers to work on his project. I indicated that I would not have trouble getting back up to speed on the language and being able to move his project forward.

This really highlighted in my mind what really matters in development – it’s not languages, it’s algorithms and software design. All programming languages are, at their core, pretty similar. For example, all languages include:

  1. Syntax for creating variables,
  2. Selectively executing a block of code based on one or more conditions
  3. Repeating a portion of code multiple times
  4. Encapsulating code into functions

These basic structures are responsible for all the software you will ever use. Whether it’s a complex operating system like Windows or MacOS, a cell phone application on iOS or Android, or an application on the cloud, they all rely on the basic elements above.

Once you understand the basic syntax of a language, you move into the more important stuff – algorithms. Algorithms are a set of instructions to perform a given task. Regardless of the language, the algorithm will be largely the same. Next up on the hierarchy is software design. Knowing syntax and algorithms is great, but to really develop quality software you need to be able to design the interactions between components. None of these things vary substantially between languages. Languages are merely the syntactic rules you must follow to define your algorithms and implement your design.

I think people need to worry less about what language a developer uses and look for higher-order skills including algorithms and design. That’s what really defines the skill of a programmer!

Local Hack Day 2019

Learning

In December, I once again spoke at the South Hills School of Business and Technology for their Local Hack Day. I shared some of the lessons I learned throughout the year, and would like to share them here on my blog as well.

Team Members

Throughout the year, I encounter people who would like some development work on the side. They may be experienced developers looking for additional work, recently graduated noobs, or people just trying to find a place to start on their software engineering journey. As a small business, I don’t have the bandwidth to take them all on. But when I see potential, I try to see if I can plug them in. This year, I learned three valuable lessons about staff. First, inspect what you expect. Just because someone says they possess a particular skill does not mean they actually do. Finding this out late in the game can be very costly. Second, I would encourage noobs to check their attitude at the door. If you’re just starting out, don’t assume you know more than me. You don’t. Third, friends don’t always make great team members. They may be great to hang out with, but mixing personal and professional relationships can be dangerous.

Customer Relations

As a software engineer, learning to deal with customers is a new challenge for me. This year, I learned the value of contracts. While I have always preferred to do business with a handshake, I’ve learned that customers may not always think the same. Without a contract, you have no recourse when your customer relationship goes south. On the flip side, when you do have a signed contract, treat your customer like the girlfriend (or boyfriend) that you’ve always wanted. Show them how much they matter as a customer. Otherwise, they’ll find a service provider who will!

Productivity

I started this year doing a lot of work that yielded no value. As a business, I must focus on those things that generate revenue for my organization. Some of that work is obvious – such as billable customer hours. Others tasks are essential, but don’t generate revenue directly – such as advertising efforts. Still other tasks are utterly useless – stop doing them. For things that are essential but don’t generate revenue, find ways to automate them or to lesson the workload. I use Hootsuite for my social media, for example, because it optimizes my social media workflow.

Valuable Tools

As a developer, it’s important to have the right tools available to not only be in a position to exploit future opportunities but also to be able to meet current business demands. I have been telling people for the last year to learn OpenCV and Artificial Intelligence. The future will undoubtedly involve computer systems doing work previously only done by humans. In the meantime, learning how to create PDFs is a far more practical business need for everyone. I’ve also found LaTeX to be a very useful tool for creating business documents. Not only can I easily check the documents into source control, but I have 100% control over the layout without my software injecting the style it thinks I want.

Education

In the tech world, you can never be left behind. You need to always be learning new tools, frameworks, and languages. Go to sites like Udemy or Coursera and further your tech skills. Seek out valuable certifications and read books. Louis Pasteur famously said “luck favors the prepared”. In the tech world, that’s typically the programmer with the broader skillset.

Conclusion

Each year of our lives, we should strive to be more than we were last year. The starting point for that is to reflect on the last year and learn from your successes and your mistakes and then to apply those lessons to the coming year. Look back on your last year and take note. This year can be the best year ever if you put in the effort to ensure you’re on the right path.

Apple vs Android

Cell Phones

I’ve been an Android user for the last decade. This was driven by two main factors. First, Android devices come in a variety of sizes, colors, and configurations. Second, I find the Android developer environment to be far superior to iOS development. I’ve previously shared posts about iOS development horrors as well as the difficulty of automating iOS builds. So, when it comes time to buy a new phone, I don’t hesitate to purchase an Android device. Whether it’s Google or Samsung, or if I’m looking for a cheaper ZTE device, I love Android phones.

Recently, I was asked by a client to download any iPhone-only application needed for our project. Since I already have an account with Google Fi, I decided to purchase an iPhone and use my Google Fi sim card . I decided I would carry both phones around for a few weeks and see how the iPhone compared.

The most striking thing I found about the iPhone was how well it integrates into Apple’s product line. As a MacBook Pro user, I make frequent use of the Notes application. These notes automatically appeared on my phone. I have countless WiFi access points on my laptop, and they too were immediately available. Calendar, reminders, Safari passwords, iCloud data, everything I checked was immediately there for my use. My Android phone can access Google Drive as well as contacts, but the integration is nothing like Apple. Of course, Google isn’t working with either Microsoft or Apple to integrate their tools into the OS, so this isn’t surprising.

Now, as I’ve found the iPhone integration so valuable for my business, I see myself continuing to use both. While I have never been a huge iOS fan, their integration with their OS is truly amazing. Who knows – maybe I’ll eventually use an iPhone as my primary phone!

Microsoft Account Mayhem

Mayhem

Recently, I purchased a laptop for a non-profit organization. The user was not a super tech-savvy individual, so I decided to get everything setup as much as possible for her. Since the laptop was running Windows 10 in S mode, I would need to first upgrade to the standard Windows 10 version. During the initial laptop startup, I avoided using a Microsoft account. However when started the upgrade process, the first thing Windows did was ask me to sign into my Microsoft account. No problem, I enter my credentials and wait for the upgrade to complete. As I continue, however, I notice that Microsoft added my OneDrive account and had started downloading my data. Then, I see that Microsoft Office is registered to me. Obviously, I didn’t want any of this. So, now I go through everything piece by piece and remove my account information.

A few days later, I’m at a client site setting up Office. I enter the credentials for the user, and am provided with an error that another Microsoft user is already signed into the machine. Search as I may, I could not find out what Microsoft was complaining about. Fortunately, after a reboot I managed to get it working again.

I really like how Microsoft has integrated their services into Windows. OneDrive is an amazing tool to easily share between machines, and using a single sign-on to enable all the Microsoft services can be convenient. Or, it can be a nightmare. Microsoft, how about you stop forcing someone to login to get a Windows update. Or, better yet, ask if we want to use that same sign for other services. While you’re at it, change Office registration to be more friendly for business users. I think we’d all rather have a product key than to worry about registering Microsoft accounts for every member of our team.

The Simplest Solution

Simple

When we encounter complex problems, do we seek the simples solution, or the most complicated and costly solution?

Recently, I had to upgrade a client machine. The old machine was running Windows 7, and I suggested that the client upgrade to a newer machine running Windows 10. Fortunately, the client’s requirements were rather simple – they needed Microsoft Office and the program they use for creating a lot of their printable resources – Print Shop. Their data was all stored on OneDrive, so this would be a simple upgrade. Or would it?

Unfortunately, the version of Print Shop the client was running was from 2006. We looked at newer versions, but it appeared that there was a substantial risk that their existing documents would not transfer to the new version without substantial rework. While the client was willing to accept this risk if necessary, their preferred route was to get it working on the new machine.

I started the installation, and patiently waited for it to complete. At the end, a screen asked me to wait while the installation concluded. I waited and waited, but the screen did not go away. I was able to run the installed application, but the installation would not terminate. I hit the cancel button, hoping the dialog would disappear and we could go on using the application. Unfortunately, hitting cancel caused the application to uninstall.

I thought that maybe there was a glitch or that I needed to wait longer. I installed the application again, and the same dialog appeared. It hung just as before. So, the first step was to wait… for three days. Unfortunately, the dialog still didn’t go away. I thought of just rebooting, but was worried that would, ultimately, cause the application to uninstall again. I could copy the files and the registry, but that could have caused more problems than it solved.

What would I do? I took the simple answer – I unplugged the machine. Since I didn’t cancel, and didn’t shut down, Windows didn’t try to uninstall the application. And, upon reboot, the software was still there!

While I don’t like unplugging machines, in this instance – it was the simple solution that worked. Sometimes, we need to put aside the technically correct answer and just go with what works. In the end, the client doesn’t care – they just want their problem to go away!

Coding Style

Writing

One of the most important skills for any team of engineers is to develop a consistent coding style. Without it, development and debugging times increase and productivity decreases. Coding style is much like the rules of writing a story. Sentences start with a capital letter and end in a period. New ideas are started in new paragraphs. Spaces exist between letters of words. If someone were to write a book without following those conventions, it would be substantially more difficult to read. Coding style works the same way.

One of the projects I worked for years was a complicated telephony system. It included low-level code for interfacing with the phone boards as well as high-level code for displaying data to the user. This was a lengthy project that took substantial time to develop. During development, John and I worked to develop a consistent coding style. A mentor on the team, Mark, would review our code, provide feedback, and fanatically insist on standard coding conventions and style.

At first, this seemed silly to me. I’m a developer, let me do what I do! But, as time went on, it became increasingly apparent how valuable it was. After a while, I was unable to tell the code I wrote from what John wrote. While this may seem silly, this meant that when bugs were found, either of us could feel equally comfortable understanding and changing the code.

Today, when I learn a new language, one of the first things I try to do is learn standard coding conventions for that language. Some languages, like Java, have well established and followed conventions. Unfortunately, many other languages do not. When that happens, the team needs to determine what conventions they will follow for their team. If not, expect bugs to take longer and development to be slower.