Why we are moving to microservices

Ever since I joined Twiga, there has been talk of switching to a microservice architecture. This idea had been baked into the product from the beginning so the switch should not be as hard.

I don’t actively code so there is no technical satisfaction but am still excited about what is coming next.

In this entry, will be talking about what I foresee coming.

The project becomes more expressive

In a previous entry, we delved into what it means to properly name entities in your code.

Having a big vocabulary is useful because we are better able to attend to concepts we have a name for.

By breaking up our system into microservices, we are able to have multiple entities to talk about. For example, it will be possible to have a meeting to discuss authentication and have its code cast in the background that is functionally separate from the rest of the system.

This tallies well with our brain which is wired up for affordance. Briefly described, the theory of affordance states we don’t see things as they are but as what they mean to us. Eg a cup as something to reach towards. Thus our code will now express meaning.

Evolution on multiple timelines becomes possible

Working for a fast growing startup has turned out to require far more versatility than I originally thought. The core product needs to serve multiple parties each having their own goals, values and tech readiness.

We could always work out what would be the best processes for the organization and then code it but of what value would that be to the person using it?

To ensure the product we deliver actually has value to a human, we need to evolve the product to better serve them, when we have multiple classes of users with fundamentally different needs, we are in effect building out a suite of products.

Microservices should help this flow much easier by enabling us to evolve at the rate of the relevant party.

Easier to scale the team

As I briefly explained in the entry How managers cripple their best team members new team members are inherently destabilizing.

Yet a feature of a growing startup is an influx of new team members.

The switch then should enable us to set up independent teams to work on different services while preserving the integrity of existing high performing teams.

Furthermore, it’s now possible to use multiple languages across the system growing our hiring talent pool and enabling us to use the best language for any specific use case.

Do you use microservices in your own organization? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex

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Signs you are in a useless meeting

When I was fresh in the work scene, I used to secretly admire my boss who seemed to always come from a meeting.

While we were holed up in our workstations, he would come back with interesting stories about the client or happenings from the powers that be in the organization.

If you google terms related to success, you can be sure one of them will involve a well-furnished boardroom. The boardroom is associated with power.

What I didn’t know then was my adorations were misplaced. As a matter of fact, my boss was doing me a favour by actively excluding me from these meetings. You see since then, I have had my fair time in the boardrooms. What I have come to find out is most meetings are simply a waste of time.

My brother has a saying:

If we are going to waste time, at least lets waste it doing something fun

In this entry, we are going to be looking at some of the signs you are currently trapped in a useless meeting.

What is the purpose of this meeting?

Should be obvious right? Wrong!

Never assume the purpose of the meeting is obvious. The purpose should be stated explicitly both in the invitation and when the meeting starts. This helps focus the participants and get the most value for the allocated time.

If you are the sponsor of the meeting or a participant and you can’t articulate a purpose, there is a good chance no such purpose exists.

You see in a meeting you are either:

  1. Giving an update on an ongoing project
  2. Planning for an upcoming project
  3. Working together on an existing project
  4. Reflecting on a complete project

If this meeting doesn’t fall in any of this buckets, you are likely stuck in a useless meeting.

How many topics are up for discussion?

If you walk into a meeting and realize there is no agenda, excuse yourself and find something better to do with your time.

A good agenda acts as a guardrail for the team. It empowers each participant to know when the meeting has gone awry.

Assuming the sponsor has the discipline to keep the meeting within the bounds of the agenda, it is just as important to ensure the agenda items are few and focused. More specifically, each item on the agenda should be seen to serve the purpose of the meeting.

For example, an update meeting agenda should look something like this:

  1. What have you managed to achieve since last time we met?
  2. What are your blockers?
  3. What are your plans?

Not this:

  1. What are your achievements?
  2. Discuss on possibility of building an XML parser
  3. Review of intern applications

Who benefits from the meeting?

In physics, we learn, no matter how long you push on a wall, if it hasn’t moved, then no work has been done. In the same way, no matter how lively the discussion is, if people go back to their desks the same way they got out of them, then no work has been done.

The meeting sponsor (the person who invited everyone) should clearly benefit from the meeting.

You will be shocked to know how many meetings happened because the Director said it should happen. Even worse, some meetings happen simply out of custom, ie this is how we have always done things!

What are the outcomes?

Meetings are not necessarily gloomy events. Humans are social animals, we are programmed to enjoy the company of others, yes even those pesky coworkers.

Yet meetings must be productive, something must come out of it.

Some examples of meeting outcomes would be:

  1. An action list (who to do what by when)
  2. A decision
  3. A communication plan

This meeting artefacts bear witness to a good meeting.

While some meetings will only produce notes, that is ok as long as it’s understood from the onset this was meant to only be a status update.

How do you protect your team from useless meetings? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex

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What it means to be a leader in a software team

In my career in technology, I have had the chance to serve in several leadership roles, latest being Twiga foods. My first time, I assumed leadership, or as the organization referred to it, management involved defining what was good for the organization, breaking that up to tasks then delegating the tasks to individual developers.

Over time, I have come to realize this model of leadership is seriously flawed, not in the least because developers are very smart people, smarter than I am.

Even more important, by monopolizing the work of visioning, I simultaneously lost out on great ideas from others and demotivated them at the same time!

In this entry, we will be looking at what I see is the role of the leader in a software team.

Custodian of priority

All teams face a bombardment of new information every single day. In this blizzard, its very easy to get lost and like the proverbial hyena get split in half!

Your job is to make sense of this incoming mess of requests, messages and bug reports and in the light of your team goals, give them meaning.

Not all tasks are the same, by giving them context, the team can then decide which tasks will give them the greatest return on their time and energy investment.

This also means you guide them in reviewing old commitments to see if they still make sense.

Trawl for new useful information

Nassim Taleb in his classic book The black swan introduced the concept of the unknown unknowns.

A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences.

In software, this translates to unplanned work. As mentioned in How you pay for technical debt

Like matter and antimatter, in the presence of unplanned work, all planned work ignites with incandescent fury, incinerating everything around it

As the leader, you need to be constantly monitoring your environment for signs of this black swans. It may come in the form of changing business environment for your clients or even unresolved disputes in choices to be made.

Either way, bring them up to the team for discussion and resolution.

Ensure personal growth

Maybe I have been more lucky than others. All engineers I have worked with have been naturally curious autodidacts. Yet for those new in the field, they may have no idea what they need to know or the experiences they need to have to mature into senior roles.

Your work as a leader then is to appreciate raw talent and provide support for growth.

Peter Senge establishes Personal Mastery as one of the core disciplines. He defines it as:

Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.

This is very important to understand and practice yourself while encouraging it for others as well.

You see, the higher the skill level of those around you, the more peace of mind you experience. When you are knee deep in a project this is not the time to start wondering if your colleague will drop the ball.

Provide feedback to the team

All successful systems are so because they have someway of getting and acting on feedback from their environment.

This means even as the team is working on the next iteration, you must be mindful of how the last release is being used. What do the users think of it?

Even here, you must be careful the team does not develop a culture of aloofness and insensitivity to the message coming from the rest of the business.

Through this entire entry, you may have noted the leadership I talk about does not need any official designation to execute, yet it will provide a lot of value to your team.

How have you provided leadership to your team today? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex

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