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Successful teams

Successful teams deliver successful projects. As a lead, how do you build a successful team?

There are many factors to build a successful team, but the foundation of them all is safety. Can problems be discussed openly? Does everyone trust everyone else? And once you have that, the team can build. Build diversity, build towards a common goal, and build something that matters.

Successful Google team

Google defines successful teams according to its research at

Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?

I accept, given multiple ongoing accusations against them about defending toxic managers and culture, that Google may not be living these values. However, these are clear statements that are supported by other studies such as The Game Outcomes project.

Penguins at Edinburgh Zoo

So how do we build a team like that?

Number one thing, and the only way I’ve found success, is to empower the team and everyone within it to make changes. Without that ownership, nothing matters.

Once you have that, you as the leader have to own the rest. Delegate where you need to, but own your team’s safety, support, direction, purpose and motivation.


Are you free to take risks and try something new?

Not everything you do will be a success, so do you celebrate knowledge and learning as a goal? Yes, that cost us time and money, but we learned not to do that again

Are team members supported? When someone mansplains your tech lead, do you correct them, and ensure her voice is heard? When a deaf developer joins the team, do you ask whether they prefer lip reading or sign, and help the team adapt appropriately? Do you recognise colour? Do you use preferred pronouns?

When mistakes are made, do you find someone to blame or do you all accept responsibility to address it? If the production database can be deleted by the graduate on their first day, and there are no backups, that is never their fault.

Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

High Quality

Do you always have an high standard?

Everyone has their code reviewed, especially the lead. Is every line of code, and every process open to review and improvement? Great that you’re agile, but if you really value people over process, write the process down, and follow it. It doesn’t mean no process, it means that process serves the people, not the other way around. It means you change it when it no longer supports the people or the product.

What are your quality standards for code, for user experience, for security, and most importantly for behaviour? How are they enforced? And are they always enforced on time, every time?

Have policies. Do not have a daily fight over tabs vs spaces.


Ask everyone on your team what the team is building. If you get more than one answer, that’s a bug.

Ask everyone which part everyone else on the team plays towards that. Does that match how they see their role? Are there any gaps in responsibility?

Ask everyone what their priority is and why. Is anyone blocked? Ask them what their next priority is and if they have everything they need to fulfil it. If not, do they know where to get it?


Is everyone bringing their whole self to work? Do office politics make them wary? Are they in a marginalized group and they have to bring representation as well as talent, and they are having to do both jobs at once?

At the office, is this the number one thing for them to be doing? Are your developers feeling stuck in support or BA? Are they frustrated that they aren’t allowed to refactor a gnarly piece of code that’s very open to be improved because “it works, don’t touch it”.

Does everyone on the team feel empowered to speak up and to fix things where they interfere with the goal of the team?


Ask everyone why the team is building what they’re building, and why their part is important.

How will this change the user’s day? How will it affect the company? What’s the net improvement?

The Game Outcomes formulation

If you don’t like the Google formulation, try the game outcomes one. There’s plenty that applies to non-game projects. There’s a few negatives to avoid, and I’ll revisit them in a later post.

The most important indicators for success from the Game Outcomes project are:

  1. Great game development teams have a clear, shared vision of the game design and the development plan and an infectious enthusiasm for that vision.
  2. Great game development teams carefully manage the risks to the design vision and the development plan.
  3. Members of great game development teams buy into the decisions that are made.
  4. Great game development teams avoid crunch (overtime).
  5. Great gamedev teams build an environment where it’s safe to take a risk and stick your neck out to say what needs to be said.
  6. Great gamedev teams do everything they can to minimize turnover and avoid changing the team composition except for growing it when needed. This includes avoiding disruptive re-organizations as much as possible.
  7. Great gamedev teams resolve interpersonal conflicts swiftly and professionally.
  8. Great gamedev teams have a clearly-defined mission statement and/or set of values, which they genuinely buy into and believe in. This matters FAR more than you might think.
  9. Great gamedev teams keep the feedback loop going strong. No one should go too long without receiving feedback on their work.
  10. Great gamedev teams celebrate novel ideas, even if they don’t achieve their intended result. All team members need the freedom to fail, especially creative ones.

How do you keep your team on the right path?

We all want to work on successful projects, and there’s been a couple of times in my career I’ve been lucky enough to work in a team where everyone is delivering 10x. 10x developers don’t work in isolation, they work on teams where all the above needs are met, and they thrive off each other.

It’s great to have that dream team, but start by thinking about how to make your team reliably successful, and you’ll be doing better than most software teams.

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Microsoft Edge, ungooglability and a new class of bugs

Microsoft definitely has a naming problem. .net core was one thing, but calling a browser Edge was just trolling developers. Try searching for “Edge CSS” or “JavaScript Edge”. It’s a lesson in frustration, which means the bugs in the new browser are extra painful to debug because it’s that much harder to find the blog posts and Q&A for the last person to fix the problem.

And Edge doesn’t behave like IE, or Firefox, or Chrome. I’m sure Microsoft, like the other vendors, are updating OSS frameworks to help them target Edge, but there’s still a lot of Javascript and CSS that breaks silently, so no Console logs to help, no odd numbers in the calculated CSS, and no hacks to persuade Edge that it can render just like the big browsers.

I want to like the browser, I really do. Anything that brings the end of IE closer has to be welcomed, but even after the Anniversary update of Windows 10, it’s far from ready. If I try to open IIS failure logs in Windows 10, it opens up IE, and displays with the correct CSS, and then tells me I should use Edge, where the CSS is broken. It’s frustrating as a user, and as a developer. It’s an alpha product, and it should have been treated as such. Give it to devs, allow power users to opt in, and iterate it. Microsoft still needs to learn what it means to develop in the open.


Unfortunately the problem is then compounded by Microsoft’s documentation problem. For all the faults of IE, at least Microsoft had a good reputation for documentation at the height of MSDN. Unfortunately, MSDN is starting to decay, and there’s a number of conflicting alternatives springing up. For us developers, the seemingly preferred route for latest information is blog posts (or the comments thereon – which were the only source of information for a knotty Docker problem we had), but there’s also GitHub, and the occasional update to the existing MSDN documentation suite.

Microsoft seem to be trying to frustrate developers. Especially when they have evolving, and conflicting APIs (I’m looking at you Azure, and the Python vs PowerShell vs Node APIs, and the Portal experience). The documentation experience at Microsoft feels like the Google UI experience before Material Design. And it needs a similar overhaul.

I love seeing Microsoft trying to be more open and I see it working, to a certain extent, in the C# and .Net space, aside from the .Net Core RC release cycle chaos. They’ve come a long way from the days of alt.Net (although I agree that we need to recapture that passion, both for the sake of new developers, and for the sake of keeping Microsoft in check), but they’re in danger of alienating developers once more with the confusion, and the inconsistencies within certain platforms.

In that context, removing project.json and keeping .csproj was the right decision. One clear and consistent path. Now go and apply it across the board.

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Updated slides on Genetic Algorithms

I had the opportunity at work to revisit my Generic Algorithm talk, to refactor it with a bit more time to hopefully make it clearer. I also ported the C++ template code to Python to make it easier to demo. I’ll be talking about the implementation differences in a future post but I’ve included the links for the talk below for public consumption.

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The UX of Big Data

Following on from my Dangers of Big Data talk at DunDDD, I’ve been thinking about what a good user experience for data analytics would look like, imagining the business user presented with useful, actionable information rather than notepad and a copy of the R or Python cookbook. I want something deceptively simple like the Google search box, rather than deceptively complex like Excel.

Excel, and R and Python, put a lot of tools at your disposal, and you could use any of them to construct an answer, but the secret to analytics relies on getting a valid, useful answer. The first is a matter of restricting the answer space to that which can be supported by the data (for example, disallowing multiplication of time-based input streams, or aggregating when there is no statistical basis for it), the second is a matter of allowing the user to explore the space so they can determine (and where appropriate, train the system to recognise) which factors are most important, how they affect the desired outcome, and how changes to the environment affect these factors.

Then the question becomes, how much should the software take over. Do we have a duty to protect users from themselves by preventing invalid analysis where we can detect it, or do we have to accept that the frustration that will cause leads to alienation and users will be less likely to respond well to further corrections. Even nudging had its possible, as anyone who had been frustrated by grammar checkers can attest. But at least nudging helps the user to understand, rather than putting up roadblocks. Nudging encourages learning, roadblocks encourage switching to another way.

How would you encourage users to handle analysis appropriately?

google search

The future of Google

Google plus you, personal search. Interesting idea, but I’m already seeing it making a difference, even for people without a Google+ account – and that’s why it’ll be big.

I’ve been playing about with the Kinect SDK with a mate, and now that we’ve got things up and running, we want to do things properly, so we went to grab a copy of NUnit so we can unit test the gesture recognition code (I’ll have another blog on that if there’s interest). So, he searches for NUnit on his machine, and the first result is, as expected. What I didn’t expect, because he doesn’t have a Google+ account, is that my name (and appeared next to the result, because of this blog post :

So, the social data is need into the algorithm already, using my Google+ profile to link my to WordPress and his contacts to link him to me.

And that’s something Google has needed for a long time – search that tells me what my friends know, because if they’ve bookmarked Putty, I’ll know I’m downloading from the right site.

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Weekly Developer Hangout Revival : Friday 14th October, noon

I’m planning to restart the weekly developer hangouts I was running from my Google+ profile now that invites are no longer required and screen and document sharing have been added.
Next Friday I hope to be talking about iPhone 4s, Nexus Prime, and whether node.js really is a cancer or if node.js is not cancer.

If you’re planning on coming, give me a shout here, or on my Google+ page, and please spread the word.

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Adding HTTP Headers to WaTiN tests

EDIT (2010-08-17 21:26 GMT) : I found a bug in the COM interop that prevented the code from compiling on certain machines. This has now been fixed so if you copied this code before, please try it again.

It’s taken me a while to figure this one out, so I’m putting up a post in case anyone else has a problem. In our system, we need to inject specific headers into each request to simulate our live environment, which means either injecting those expected headers into our tests or having different controller behaviour for dev and live environments.

WaTiN is great for all the other tests we do, but it doesn’t currently support adding HTTP headers to a request, and after a look through the source code, I can see the hoops they’d have to jump through to make it cross-browser. For our purposes, we just needed IE support, so we have the option of intercepting the events on the IE instance directly.

MyHeaders is a property of type object for COM interoperability. It uses the SHDocVw dll to interact with IE. If you allow MyHeaders to be null, you will get an infinite loop and a StackOverflow. I will not guarantee anything about this code, but I hope it’s one small step towards native WaTiN cross-browser HTTP headers support. I am happy to hear about any success you have using or extending this. I will leave setting of test-specific values and compatibility for other browsers as an exercise for the reader.


        private object MyHeaders { get; set; }

        private void beforenavigate2replaceheaders(object pDisp, ref object URL, ref object Flags, ref object TargetFrameName, ref object PostData, ref object Headers, ref bool Cancel)
            if (Headers == null)
                Cancel = true;
                object objTestHeaders = MyHeaders;
                _ieInstance.Navigate2(ref URL, ref Flags, ref TargetFrameName, ref PostData, ref objTestHeaders);
        private void beforenavigatereplaceheaders(string URL, int Flags, string TargetFrameName, ref object PostData, string Headers, ref bool Cancel)
            if (Headers == null)
                Cancel = true;
                object objFlags = Flags;
                object objTargetFrameName = TargetFrameName;
                object objTestHeaders = MyHeaders;
                _ieInstance.Navigate(URL, ref objFlags, ref objTargetFrameName, ref PostData, ref objTestHeaders);

        private void SetUpBrowser()
            Settings.AutoMoveMousePointerToTopLeft = false;
            Settings.MakeNewIeInstanceVisible = true;
            Settings.WaitForCompleteTimeOut = 120;

            _ieInstance = new SHDocVw.InternetExplorerClass();
            MyHeaders = "Content-Type: application/json\r\n";
            ((SHDocVw.InternetExplorerClass)_ieInstance).BeforeNavigate += beforenavigatereplaceheaders;
            ((SHDocVw.InternetExplorerClass)_ieInstance).BeforeNavigate2 += beforenavigate2replaceheaders;
            _browser = new IE(_ieInstance) { AutoClose = true });
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The Cloud Promise

Having submitted a talk on html5, and calling it “The Language of Cloud Computing” (please vote for it if you are interested), I thought I should take this opportunity to discuss how I see the possibilities of the cloud. I do web development in my day job and we use some of the technology that is now discussed as cloud technologies, but this is my perspective as an end user. I will put a warning here, that there is a bit of blue-sky thinking in this post.

My original germ of this post came after reading this post by Gary Short: Cloud Computing – It’s that New Old Thing – Gary’s Blog and as I’ve been writing this post, I think that he’s the angel sitting on one shoulder telling you to be careful, to watch out for snake oil and to mind the gap, which makes me the devil on the other shoulder telling you to go on, jump in, the water’s lovely, and what could possibly go wrong? With that in mind, I recommend you read his post and keep it in mind.

There are two distinct shifts I have seen that are classed as “Cloud Computing”. On the server side, machines are becoming virtualised which allows for greater flexibility and a more efficient use of resources (go green rangers). I use VMs all the time, and I think they’re great. Of course, mine aren’t hosted across the world, like Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) or Windows Azure. On the client side, it’s about the trend to save your data “somewhere else” so you don’t need local storage and you can access your data from everywhere. That seems to be the underlying vision of Google Chrome OS and the Apple iPad and it has a certain appeal when you don’t have to worry about backups, running low on disk space, and other maintenance tasks. Why not give it to someone else to worry about? And if that’s not enough, put your photos on Flickr!, edit them on Picnik, and then share them on Facebook, giving a lot more options than you could have on your own, and allowing others to manipulate, improve, and remix your data.

But what if you pick the wrong service? Picnik currently doesn’t work with Windows Live Photos so you miss out on that service unless you upload the photos from your computer. And what happens when you’ve been using Yahoo 360 for blogging and it disappears from the web?

What we realy need is some proper data portability. You don’t want “Facebook compatible” or “Works with Flickr”. Google Reader is great because it works with RSS, and there’s a lot of RSS out there to work with. We want something as simple as “Yes, it’s a JPG, I can work with that”, just like I can on my computer. And more than that, we need to be able to move our data from one cloud provider to another.

My ideal model for how “The Cloud” should be working, for me, would be that every cloud provider would support standard data transfer protocols, whether it’s ftp, imap for email, or something new, that supports open authentication to transfer directly between providers as well as to my local storage. The key is making it easy to synchronise my data. Yes, some of it will be world-accessable, with all the privacy issues that presents, and yes, some providers will be better at some things than others, but making it easy to transfer my data between providers means that I can move around to get the best of all worlds, instead of choosing this place for greater storage instead of that one that lets me share, or the other one with better editing. There’s loads of people who make it easy to get your data in, they support multiple clients, have a nice web uploader, annd so on, but it’s often a lot harder to get your data out. The Data Liberation Front (the Data Liberation Front) is a nice step in the right direction from Google, and I think is a good, basic philosophy for Cloud providers to follow, but that should be the bare minimum I should expect from a provider. If they don’t follow that model, they are not “The Cloud”, they are just silos full of quicksand, and the more you struggle to get you data out, the more it seems to be lost forever.

So, will html5 help with any of this? AJAX has become a reason for providers to become more open, to encourage traffic back to their own sites, and adverts, but with html5, we get, for example:

  • microdata, to help define areas of pages that other sites can understand, such as calendar events and contact details;
  • structural elements, like nav, to help parsers find the interesting data;
  • Cross-document messaging to allow pages from one domain to communicate with pages on another domain, with a security model to prevent XSS attacks; and
  • protocol handler registration to allow a website to declare that it can handle fax: or mailto: links, or jpg or apk files so I can grab a link or file from one site and sent it directly to another site that I trust.

I don’t know how many cloud providers will start to use these features, but until they do, the cloud is stunted.

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HTC hero / Android review

Last month, I got an HTC hero phone running Android to replace my ancient o2 ice which had started to crash whenever a phone call ended. I decided to ditch o2 as well due to problems with their data network ever since the iPhone came out.

The hero is slightly faster than my old phone, although it is occasionally prone to hanging, mainly during sync to Google by the looks of things. The Google side seems to be the weakest part of the phone. The mail and contacts have stopped syncing with Google, but the HTC email via IMAP, Facebook, Flickr and other sync are still working perfectly.

The camera is good quality (see the attached photo) but without a flash, don’t bother in dark conditions.

I’ve seen reviews that talk about poor battery life, and it can run low fairly quickly under heavy usage, but the stand-by time is fine, now that I’ve turned off always-on mobile internet in favour of WiFi.

There’s a number of good apps in the market, including wpToGo that I’m using to write this, the app, and the games Abduction and Bonsai Blast.

The soft keyboard works well, and is much easier to use than my wife’s acer aspire one once I learnt to trust the auto-correct, type in landscape and to avoid the settings key which is annoyingly close to the comma.

There are some flaws which would put some people off, and I think they’d kill the experience for me on a stock Android phone. The HTC extensions make for a much nicer experience than the g1 I’ve tried, but the primary problems all seem to be software related, so I’ll have to update my thoughts once the new HTC firmware and Android 1.6 are ready and installed.

For now, it’s worth checking out, but don’t break your contract for one.

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Genetic Algorithm Templates

I had a great time at the Tech MeetUp (@techmeetup) in Glasgow this week. If you want to meet up with other tech minded folk in Scotland, it’s definitely worth checking out. See the details at the end of this post.

At the meeting this week, I got talking to a few folk (including John Gallagher who gave a great talk) about AI and Genetic Algorithms. This inspired me to dig out my old experimental code for doing GAs using C++ Templates. The code’s very rough and ready, and it was written long before I discovered TDD or subversion, but it should be standards-compliant, and it compiles in the latest GCC (I can’t vouch for other compilers, if you try it, let me know). As it’s a source-code library, you’ll have to compile it yourself, but if you don’t know how to use a compiler, you’re probably reading the wrong blog anyway. I will be tidying up the code and creating a wish list as I get the chance, but I’m throwing it out there in case it’s useful to anyone.

If you’re interested, check it out at the link below and let me know what you think.

Genetic Algorithm Templates (edit : updated link to github)

If you’re interested in Tech MeetUp, you can see videos from previous talks at their website

The Tech MeetUp is the informal opportunity to meet other developers and tech companies, to showcase your hacks or projects, and to find out what’s happening around us. Help build the tech community – set up a profile and come along to a Tech MeetUp.

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