Monday, 6 February 2017

Spend more time refactoring!

Hey You! Moron! You should refactor more!

Why? Because you suck! and you don't want to suck anymore! Your team will benefit from deeper understanding of the codebase they are working on, they will ask that which would otherwise remain unanswered. What makes code look good? Is there a better way of achieving this functionality? Could another library be easier to use? If I put some effort in will I be proud of my work?

No! you moron! Refactoring isn't a word for just changing code! Its when you change the code without changing the functionality! And no your code shouldn't be all red and broken the whole time! It's about making tiny little steps without breaking the code so that you don't mess it up! Why? Because you're a human! you make loads of mistakes! Get out of my code you mistake making noob!

Right now we have that settled, refactor in a separate step! a separate commit! that way other morons can pull it and keep working and they won't get merge conflicts! IT'S EASY! you can prepare the codebase for a new feature, make sure it still works! Think about it! working code! You might be able to ship a product that works!


Read a freaking book!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Recommended Reading

These are the best books I have read so far that I think every software developer should read. Every one of them has really helped me to understand and improve the way I work.

Code Complete (2nd Edition) amazon

Would recommend this book to anyone who is looking at taking a career in software development. Covers almost everything you need to know to a basic level, though a couple of sections are a little dated this book really helps make the transition from just understanding how to code to being a career software developer.

Clean Code amazon

Clean code is a good book about coding standards and thinking about how you lay out your code. While I do not necessarily agree with all the recommendations it is spot on with all the areas that you need to consider. It really helps to make you think about how you lay out your code and take some pride in it.

The art of Unit Testing (2nd Edition) amazon

This is a really good book for people who are looking at starting to do automated developer testing, while it may take a couple of reads mixed with a lot of practice eventually it will all make sense. I would recommend avoiding the first edition of this book as the writer changed his approach on a few key areas that really make a difference when trying to get to terms with unit testing.

The Design of Everyday Things (1st Edition) amazon

The design of everyday things is a great introduction to usability and its underlying concepts. I would recommend getting the first edition as I found the second edition much harder to read due to the extra information in it.

Conceptual Blockbusting amazon

This book is not about programming but I would really recommend it anyway as it looks at the way you solve problems and aims to help you with understanding and improving the process. It is also full of little games and exercises that are fun to do.

Design Patterns amazon

This book is a really good introduction to the concept of design patterns and has most of the classic (although some you probably won't ever use) design patterns listed. While the catalogue part of the book can be hard to read it really helps you by giving you an insight to some useful patterns that experienced developers use.

Refactoring amazon

Refactoring is an awesome book although I find the catalogue part that lists all the refactorings mostly useless when you are working in a modern IDE that has short cuts for a lot of them. It gives a good understanding of what refactoring is and why it is so key to being a software developer.

Soft Skills amazon

This book is essentially a motivational self help book written especially for developers, it is a really good read and full of all sorts of useful information on how to deal with the rest of life while having a software developing career. From making a CV to getting your dream job and managing money this book essentially covers everything that's not normally in software books.

Object Thinking amazon

This defiantly feels like more of an advanced book but really helps you to think about the way you design your object oriented programs. Some of the sections about using polymorphism over conditional logic we're quite a mind opener. Am looking forward to reading this one again soon as I feel this book still has much to offer.

The Mythical Man Month amazon

If any book can be described as a classic in the software development field it is this one, a great book that focuses on managing software projects. While much of the information may seem out of date it has so many points that still ring true in today's software development world.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Git Aliases

Git Aliases

You can add extra git commands in the command line to make your life easier using git alias

if you type git config --global -e you will be able to edit these.

they should go inside the [alias] section (add one if it's not there)

Basic Commands

These commands are just simple aliases for anything that I use a lot, mainly because I have to type less to use them.

s = status

See the status of the repository

c = commit

Commit changes to the local repository

cm = commit -m

Commit with a message
git cm "Updated some code stuff"  

aa = add -A

Stages all the changes in the workspace.

co = checkout

Checkout a branch or commit.
git co master  

Viewing History

lga = log --graph --oneline --all --decorate

Shows the history for the repository in a nice way.

lgab = log --graph --oneline --decorate

Shows the history for the current branch in a nice way.

Pushing & Pulling

plr = pull --rebase

pull but rebase instead of merge, find this useful when working on a branch that have others working in it to avoid merge commits. Makes the history much cleaner. See the internet for arguments about this.

pushup = "!git push --set-upstream origin \"$(git rev-parse --abbrev-ref HEAD)\""

Push a local branch to the origin remote, does what it says on the tin. Use this lots when working within a feature branch/pull request workflow.

Stash & Reset

Most of these I found on Phil Haacks blog

wip = !git add -A && git commit -m 'WIP'

Work in progress commit, commits anything to the current branch so it can be reverted later. Useful if you need to change what you are working on. You could use git stash but I prefer having a proper commit.

load = reset HEAD~1 --mixed

Used to undo the commit that was done with the wip command and put the changes in the working directory.

wipe = !git add -A && git commit -qm 'WIPE SAVEPOINT' && git reset HEAD~1 --hard

Really like this one, use it instead of "git reset --hard" to clear the current working directory. Much better because it still commits the changes before wiping so they will remain in your local repository until they are garbage collected.


Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Running a Release Retrospective

We just shipped the first release of a project that I have been working on out to customers and it was decided it would be a good time to run a release retrospective with all of the teams involved.

Format of the session

3 hours in the afternoon with roughly 30 people attending.


Some senior managers came in and just say a few words to kick off the meeting in a positive way. Sometimes retrospectives can turn quite negative so this helped make the point that the release was a success and we are there to look for improvements in the coming versions.

Discussion of outcomes

Discussion of the expected outcomes of the meeting, this was a list of different items with actions we are going to take and owners for those actions. The items were:
  • Recommendations (What we did well)
  • Knowledge (What we learnt)
  • Mysteries (Things that need investigation)
  • WTF's (Things that we can improve on)
Next time I would rename recommendations to something else as they came out as recommended things we can do better rather that things we did well that we recommend we keep doing and pass on.


We tried energizer for this meeting as described in parts of a retrospective. After some reading we decided to try the Candy Love Energizer (whats better to get people talking than chocolate?).

This worked well and got everyone being talkative, would really recommend this energizer (think its a bit more interesting as most people haven't done it before).

Story of the project

This was a brief presentation with some key dates and statistics of the project, to help focus people on what we were going to be discussing the following breakout section.

This was shorter than hoped but it worked well to help frame the period we were talking about. 

Retrospective Prime Directive

"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."

Read out the prime directive and explained that the meeting is supposed to be a positive thing looking at what we can do better and improve on rather than blame.


We broke up in to 4 teams each with flip board paper and pens with each team to focus on a different area. Each team should identify Recommendations, Knowledge, Mysteries and WTF's with possible actions.

Quality & QA

Looking at our quality management & testing


This is essentially the story of a story, from customer to shipped.

Planning & Release

Looking at how the project was planned and released.

Work & Environment

How the teams interact and work together, inside and outside of the team. as well as generally at working within the company & skill sharing.


Each team presents their findings and we discuss as a whole group the proposed actions.

The discussion was very interesting though some of the topics were very developer focused, it was suggested that we should have a developer only meeting first next time to avoid bringing the other team members to boredom.

Actions & Owners

Review the actions and assign owners.

The hardest part of these things always seems the be actually getting something practical out of as many items as possible. To try to help we assigned owners to each item and I will try to chase the owners to make sure progress is made over the coming weeks.

Release Success

Each person gets a piece of paper and writes a 1-10 on it to say how well they thought it went. This provides an anonymous way to gather information on how well everyone who worked on the release believes it has gone.

While this is probably not the best way to judge the release it was interesting to see the information that came in. In future I would suggest maybe using a more simple system (Well, OK, Poor) or something along those lines.


The session went pretty well most of the feedback was very positive. We identified several points and actions that we will be looking at over the period of the next release.

I would highly recommend playing around with the different subjects to suit the number of people you have joining in and areas you want to cover. Hopefully when we do another release retrospective we can try another set and compare the results.


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Protocol Buffers & Lists

For this example I will be using the following example .proto and looking at serializing large repeated data sets in C#.

 syntax = "proto2";  
 package pcdf;  
 message Boiler  
   required string BoilerId = 1;  
   required int32 TableNumber = 2;  
   required string TableName = 3;  
   required string BoilerData = 4;  
   required string BrandName = 5;  
   required string Qualifier = 6;  
   required string ModelName = 7;  
 message AllBoilers  
   repeated Boiler Boiler = 1;  

Serialization Code
 var listBuilder = new AllBoilers.Builder();  
 for (var i = 0; i < 7000; i++)  
   var builder = new Boiler.Builder  
     BoilerId = "ID",  
     TableNumber = 2,  
     TableName = "Name",  
     BoilerData = "Data",  
     BrandName = "Brand",  
     ModelName = "Model",  
     Qualifier = "Qualifier"  
 var list = listBuilder.Build();  
 var bytes = list.ToByteArray();  
 var fileStream = new FileStream(OUTPUT_FILE, FileMode.Create);  
 fileStream.Write(bytes, 0, bytes.Length);  
For the actual tests real test data was used.

Deserialization Code
 var fileStream = new FileStream(OUTPUT_FILE, FileMode.Open);  
 var boilers = new AllBoilers.Builder();  

For a list of over 7k items serializes about 10ms slower on my machine, not quite what I expected from what is supposed to be a super fast binary serializer. Upon further reading it appears Protocol Buffers are not designed to handle large data sets, but this can be worked around by serializing the items individually.

To fix this we will serialize each item induvidually but add them all to the same stream with the length of the item added before each item.

Fixed Serialize
 var fileStream = new FileStream(OUTPUT_FILE, FileMode.Create);  
 for (var i = 0; i < 7000; i++)  
   var builder = new Boiler.Builder  
     BoilerId = "ID",  
     TableNumber = 2,  
     TableName = "Name",  
     BoilerData = "Data",  
     BrandName = "Brand",  
     ModelName = "Model",  
     Qualifier = "Qualifier"  
   var bytes = builder.Build().ToByteArray();  
   var intBytes = BitConverter.GetBytes(bytes.Length);  
   fileStream.Write(intBytes, 0, intBytes.Length);  
   fileStream.Write(bytes, 0, bytes.Length);  

Fixed Deserialize
 var fileStream = new FileStream(OUTPUT_FILE, FileMode.Open);  
 var list = new List<Boiler>();  
 int size;  
 while ((size = GetSize(fileStream)) != -1)  
   var bytes = new byte[size];  
   fileStream.Read(bytes, 0, bytes.Length);  
   var boiler = new Boiler.Builder();  

This updated code resulted in a significant difference (160ms -> 25ms) between JSON.Net and Protocol Buffers.


Protocol Buffers in C#

Protocol Buffers can be installed via Nuget,
 PM> Install-Package Google.ProtocolBuffers  
Or search for Protocol Buffers, there is also a Protocol buffers lite package that is smaller and does not use relection (better for some lighter platforms like mono). Note: an option must be set in the .proto file to compile the proto for use with the lite package.

As well as installing the protocol buffers library this will also download the tools required to compile .proto files and generate C# files from them. The tools will be located where the nuget package was installed to.

A .proto file will be required to generate the required files for usage. This example .proto defines a message called TestMessage with 3 properties. The package is used like a namespace and will also be used to generate the namespace of the classes in C#.
 syntax = "proto2";  
 package test_proto;  
 message TestMessage  
   required int32 Id = 1;  
   required string Name = 2;  
   optional string Details = 3;  
For more information on defining a .proto file see the protocol buffer v2 spec.

To compile a .proto file locate protoc.exe in the tools dir and run it with the following parameters.
 protoc -oitem test.proto  
where item is the name of the output file and test.proto the name of the .proto file. This outputs a compiled version of the .proto file.

The next step is to generate the .cs files that will contain the generated code that can be used to create and serialize the data.
 .\ProtoGen.exe item  
This should generate a .cs file containing everything you need to read/write to the protocol buffers.

 var builder = new TestMessage.Builder();  
 builder.Id = 2;  
 builder.Name = "Test";  
 builder.Details = "Some Detials";  
 var message = builder.Build();  
 var bytes = message.ToByteArray();  
You must create a builder as messages are immutable (Each message generates and internal Builder class), a message can be turned back in to a builder easily wit the ToBuilder() method.

 var builder = new TestMessage.Builder();  
 var message = builder.Build();  
You could just read the data from the builder if you wish.

Other Methods
message.ToJson() & message.ToXml()
These can be used to visualize the message in other formats.

message.WriteTo(Stream stream)
This is used to write the bytes to a stream.


Protocol Buffers

Protocol Buffers are a language-neutral, platform-neutral extensible mechanism for serializing structured data (official site).

In short protocol buffers are googles in house binary serialization format, designed to serialize small messages fast and with a small data size.

Where to use them
Protocol buffers are great when you need fast serialization and a small payload (where efficiency/speed is important). They are not so good when data formats are likely to change as this will mean you need to discard and recreate schemas and drop backwards compatibility or have multiple schemas for different versions.

  • Fast
  • Small Payload
  • Many cross platform implementations (c++, Java, C#, python, JS)
  • Generators a provided to generate data access classes
  • Schema Enforced (Need to define .proto file)
  • More complicated API than some other serializers

Proto Format
Protocol Buffer messages are first defined in a .proto file using the proto language. This can then be used to generate data access objects for your language of choice.
 message Boiler  
   required string BoilerId = 1;  
   required int32 TableNumber = 2;  
   required string TableName = 3;  
   required string BoilerData = 4;  
   required string BrandName = 5;  
   required string Qualifier = 6;  
   required string ModelName = 7;  
Fields are described with options (required, optional, repeated, etc..) followed by Type (int32, int64, string), field name then = and an Id number that must be unique. For more information read the v2 spec.

The current version is proto2, but Proto3 is current in alpha and being developed (Source code on GitHub) The update will include a new version of the .proto syntax.

Binary vs Text Serialization
  "Id": "21",  
  "Name": "Test User",  
  "address": {  
   "streetAddress": "Test Street",  
   "city": "Birmingham"  
Some formats serialize to text (JSON, XML, etc..) this can be really useful if you need to quickly view and edit the documents without special tooling. Binary serializations will require a tool that can read the document before you can begin to read and manipulate the data. Binary serializations will normally be smaller and more efficient though.