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5 Ways to Kill a Software Project

Dear Reader,

[UPDATE: Podcast version]
For the past three months, I’ve been watching a software project happening nearby slowly dissolve. While it’s not totally gone, currently, it is in such a state that I doubt it can be realistically salvaged. That’s not to say that the project won’t be delivered but the developer is now in ‘patch-n-go’ mode with major needs of the client being ignored simply to allow him to get “something” out the door. So as everyone is recovering from this year’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, let’s take a look at some of the steps that the developer and the project owner took to effectively kill this project.

First, a little background; this project is a web based project. In hind-site the customer needed a CMS with a shopping cart. The customer sells a wide variety of items so any off-the-shelf shopping cart solution would have had to have been customized. I’m sure by now, you have selected your favorite open source CMS or shopping cart package as a good basis for this project. I know I did, but that’s too simple of an exercise. With the basics of the project in mind now, let’s take a look at 5 rules that were followed to a “T” to properly kill this project.


My Job Description

Dead Reader,

My boss asked me to write up my job description the last time I was out in Cupertino. I’m sure this isn’t what he had in mind, but I’m going to share it here for all to see.

What I Do

1: I represent Zend.
Ok, sometimes I do it well, other times, I try and avoid embarrassing them but for better or for worse, my job is to represent Zend to the PHP community at large.

I let people know just how cool of a company Zend is and how great it is to work there. This might sound a bit too touch-feely but in reality it has a hard and fast metric that I use to measure success. I know I have been successful when a Zend employee hands someone their business card and the response they get is

“You work at Zend? How cool is that?”

Because it is cool, damn cool, and it’s my job to let people know that. It’s a damn sexy company to work for and the pay is decent. Honestly, either one of those is a reason to go to work for a company but only one of those will keep you there long-term. Can you guess which one?

2: I manage DevZone
I feed the content beast that is DevZone. Sometimes I do it myself, sometimes, I help others do it but in the end, a large part of my time is spent writing or wrangling original content for DevZone.

3: I scout talent
Every conference, BarCamp or usergroup I go to, I am constantly looking for the best and brightest to pitch to the managers at Zend looking to hire. This is a cool part of my job because I love helping developers find positions at cool companies. I’ve done it for almost 10 years now and it’s still fun. Short of building and managing development teams, scouting talent is probably the funnest part of my job.

What It Takes To Do What I Do

First and foremost, you have to be a developer, specifically, a PHP developer.

I know I will ruffle some feathers with this one but it is my opinion that everyone at Zend should be able to write something in PHP. I mean no disrespect to my non-nerd co-workers but it’s the way I feel. Honestly, if you never wrote OO in PHP 4, how can you extol the virtues of the object model in PHP 5? If you have never had to compile Apache and PHP on a Linux box, how do you know that Zend Core is wonderful? If you have never had to manage a production server, how do you know that Zend Platform is great?

Most importantly though, if you’ve never had to work for a company where management expects developers to “do whatever it takes” yet still pays them for a 40 hour work week, how can you appreciate how much more productive you can be and how you can regain your sanity as a developer by using tools that actually increase your productivity instead of your complexity? So to do what I do, you have to actually be a developer.

Running a close second though is you have to love developers.

I was at ZendCon last year when someone came up to me and said “You are not a developer are you?” Now I’ve been a developer for more than 25 years so I was a bit taken aback by this comment. I explained this to him and he looked at me and and smiled and said something to the effect “You are way too outgoing to be a developer.” What he didn’t know is that I’m usually very introverted.

I just got back from a planning meeting for the upcoming BarCamp Nashville during which I probably didn’t say 10 words. Around most groups of people, I sit quietly and listen. Put me in a room of developers though and it’s a whole different story. As Johny Phoenix is fond of saying…”my people”. I can sit and talk shop with other nerds till the wee hours of the morning. So, the second skill you have to have to do what I do is you have to love developers.

The third skill you have to have to do my job is an unquenchable thirst for all things new. In my duties as a representative of Zend I attend, and occasionally speak at, conferences world-wide. That’s right, you heard me, I get paid to attend conferences. My boss often makes the joke that I don’t attend conferences, I take mini-vacations on the company dime, and he’s not far wrong. (but not in the way he thinks.) I love learning. I was teasing someone a few weeks ago at php|tek by telling them that I attend so many conferences per year that I’m working on my PHD in PHP. How I do love to learn, if I didn’t this job would get old in a hurry. I’m on the road these days more than I’m off but at each conference I attend, I learn something new. That gives me fodder to feed the DevZone beast as I share what I’ve learned with others. So you have to have a passion for learning to do this job.

So there you have it. That is what I do and what it takes to do it.

Boss, I hope this is helpful, although I’m guessing you want something more formal. :)

Until next time,


Traveling Companions

Dear Reader,

Back from the House of Mouse and a wonderful 4 days spent with my favorite traveling companions. (Oh yea, the family was along also)

What I did on my vacation (Disney, Cirque, Savannah Ghost Tour) is much less interesting than who I traveled with. (BTW, if any of you know someone who actually works at Cirque du Soleil and have the opportunity to watch the show from the booth like we did, I HIGHLY recommend it. Also, see if you can get the back-stage tour) But I digress…

This vacation, I traveled with Scott Sigler and the whole GFL. Scott, WTH? This is the first time since EarthCore that I’m actually having to wait for episodes! Get off your lazy ass and release more than one a week. (Side note: if you’ve not seen the Ionath Krakens’ Jerseys, Scott now has pictures of them and bitchen cool sports cards located here.)

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to resort to my “other podcasts” to stay entertained. Look I pony up the dough like a good junkie now gimmie my damn fix! (Second Side Note: If you’ve not already ordered your print copy of Ancestor then WAIT! Buy it April 1st and buy it by clicking on this link because I’ve gotta pay the bandwidth bills too!

Since Scott is too busy sipping Martinis and counting his royalty checks to feed his junkies, I had to resort to other podcasts to stay amused. (It was that or talk to the family…you do the math) One that I had forgotten about till my recent trip to London was EscapePod.

I first discovered EscapePod soon after it started and quite by accident. I was preparing for a cross-country drive so I was grabbing anything I could to fill-up the old iPod, when I came across this. The first EscapePod I remember listening to was Feng Burger. (It’s still one of my favorites)

EscapePod is a series of Sci-Fi and Fantasy short stories, written by excellent authors, some of which are names you would recognize. From the description that the editor gives at the beginning, it sounds like most of them are reprints (what’s the audio equivalent of a reprint?) from SF magazines and anthologies. None the less they are some of the most entertaining stories and short fiction around.

The editor (his name escapes me and he doesn’t list it on the *&^% web site) does a fantastic job of selecting stories. He does an intro and an outro to each story that gives you a little bit of what’s going on with the feed, listener feedback on stories, etc. Nothing too long and certainly nothing that distracts form the story.

If you have any sort of commute to work you want to subscribe to this podcast! (Monday – Sigler, Tuesday- EscapePod, Wed-Fri stay home and wait for Monday)

Oh, if you do subscribe to EscapePod, make sure you download “Merry Christmas From the Heartbreakers”. I’d list more of the really, really good episodes but there are way too many. Really the only thing I heard from Oct-2006 through Feb-2007 that I DIDN’T like was “The Boy Who Cried Dragon”.

That’s it for now. I’ve got another one brewing in my head but it’ll wait for tomorrow. Thaks to the both of you for stopping by. If you need me, I’ll be sitting in front of iTunes hitting the refresh button on Scott’s feed, jonesing for the next chapter. (Go away, don’t bother me!)

Until next time,


Books on iPod. (Why Stephen King has been relegated to backup status)

Dear Reader,

Scott Sigler’s latest comment here on Postcards reminded me that while traveling recently, I started listening to “Infection”. Ok Scott, sue me, I’m at least a year behind on my podcasts. But I hate this once a week crap so I wait till the entire book is available and then listen to it all at once. The downside is I’m never motivated to listen to Scott’s ramblings at the end, “Big Space”. (You get the joke kiddies, Big Space…BS…see, I knew you’d get it.) And I never get to comment on whatever Scott talks about before he dives into the story. So I totally missed it when [Avast ye, there be graphic words and images ahead] he caught flack for his character telling a female character “shut up or I’ll cut out your cunt and watch you bleed to death”.

Now, immediately previous to this, the character had just nailed a man to the wall with steak knives and beat him till he assumed room temperature; nobody had a problem with that. But threaten abuse against a woman and by-god your are going to lose an infinitesimal number of listeners. Anyhow, I wish I had been listening to it weekly when that happened so I could have commented on it in a relevant time frame.


So what’s all this got to do with anything? Well other than trying to out curse Ed Finkler in a blog post (not really possible but everybody needs a goal) I really wanted to talk a bit about where fiction is headed. I’ve been a Steven King fan for a long…LONG time. From “Graveyard Shift” that I read in early high school, all the way up to “The Girl that loved Tom Gordon” , which was a huge disappointment, I read most everything he wrote. But honestly, sometimes (like the last title mentioned) Steve just kinda phoned it in.

A couple of years ago, I found myself about to embark on a cross-country drive. (why is irrelevant) I wanted something to listen to in the long stretch of highway so I went out searching for free books for my iPod. Among other goodies, I found this one called “EarthCore”. It sounded sufficiently Sci-Fi and gory so I downloaded. It only took a couple of episodes and I was an EarthCrack junkie. It was one of the best fiction books I had read/listened to.

Since then I don’t think there has been a time that my iPod hasn’t contained piece of a Scott Sigler novel. Right now I have 2, “Infection” and “The Rookie”, my long flight to Europe isn’t looking that bad. The thing that makes these books good is not the free it’s the talent.

Stephen King’s Got Your Back

I also have a Stephen King Audio Book, “The Cell” on my iPod. I paid considerably more for it and it’s been there since November and I’ve not bothered to listen to it. It’s not that I don’t think that King’s books are any good, it’s just that Scott’s are so much better. When I run out of new Scott Sigler material (and he blocks my emails because I’ve begged for more and he’s tired of it) then I’ll dust off “The Cell” and listen to it. Since it’s the unabridged version I’m guaranteed a long listen, even if it’s not full of “lot…and lots of f****** violence.

Finally, the point

The point of this post is not to gush like a fanboy over Scott. (I did that when he showed up at ZendCon and I’d had a couple of glasses of wine) My point is that so far book publishers have not suffered the same fate as music publishers have, and movie publishers will.

The music industry got complacent and content with the the idea that people would buy whatever they publish. The Internet busted this all up, not by letting people download music for free. Cal’s first law of content is “Free crap is only marginally better than being charged for crap…it’s still crap.” No, the real revolution was the ability for listeners to find music that was good but wouldn’t make it in the mainstream. (I’d throw out a cliche here like “The Long Tail” but really, we all know what I’m talking about) Good, free or otherwise, is still good.

Movies are heading there, it’ll just take a bit longer. Since the industry’s attitude towards users is the same – you are all dirty criminals and can’t be trusted with our precious, precious content – the outcome will be the same, plummeting sales, phony posturing about piracy and a lot of late night drinking trying to figure out where the hell things went wrong. (and again, see “Cal’s First Law” above)

It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyhow. I encourage everyone to consider this before buying an album or a movie ticket. Do you really like supporting industries that treat you like a criminal, even if you’ve not done anything? If we all just stop buying their products, maybe they will start listening.

The problem as I see it is that both industries value their content much higher than the average person does. What they don’t seem to understand is that they can’t sue consumers into valuing their content any higher. It’s only when we see value in their content that we will be willing to pay to consume it. I value Scott’s content, I’m willing to pay for it and I consume it like the junkie I am.

It’s artists like Scott (who, I was floored to find out, still works a day job. I wonder if any of the victims in “Infected” are named after his boss?) who give me hope for the future. If all music artists, movie producers and authors take the time to engage their audience like Scott does, I think there is hope. If they don’t, my personal opinion is that they will fall by the wayside. Either way, don’t worry Scott, Steve’s got your back.

Until next time,

40+ Again

Dear Reader,

My what a difference a year makes. Last year on my birthday I was a little depressed because I was still living away from my family and winding up a job that I really , REALLY loved but had to leave. This year, I’ve been through two jobs, one that I didn’t really like but it paid the bills and one that is possibly the coolest job I’ve ever had. (Well, as with any job, there are some things that could be better but by-in-large, it’s damn cool)

So here I sit again, celebrating my 40th birthday for the n+1 time. I’m looking back over the past year and I have to say that it’s been a good one. Here’s a list of a few things that stuck with me. (In no particular order)

Barry Coggins
BC& Big Head Rock!
Digital Dog
Until the CEO flipped out, my wife kinda sorta liked working there. (Maybe more on that in a future post) Heck, I even did a 3 week stint there and enjoyed the people.
Band Season
Ok, so the Eagles didn’t win State this year. Still I had a ball and even though I complained, I really did enjoy it.
Freelance Fred
Don’t worry Fred, I’m not going to get all mushy. You make me laugh, for that you’ve earned lifetime free tech support. Even if the answers are mostly Hmmmmm….never seen one do that. (Obligatory Beanstalk link)
I’ve worked at a lot of companies (don’t believe me, check my resume) and Zend is second only to Jupiter Hosting in my list of the top companies to work for. Zend truly rocks as a company. They make sure that even though I’m 2/3 of a country away, I feel included in the daily corporate life. They also do things like remember my birthday and make sure that I don’t miss out on things like corporate parties even thought I’m not there. That’s just awesome!
Brian Setzer
That was a heck of a concert and one of the best Birthday presents I’ve gotten since my first Pentium.
Wicked was great. Hearing my daughter talk about it to her friends was even better. Best of all though was 2 days, uninterrupted with my wife and kids.
Mildred Crabtree
My Nana passed this year. I wasn’t sad. She lived a great life and now she’s in heaven. It was fun to see all my cousins again.
Savannah College of Art and Design
I got to spend a whirlwind two days with my daughter on a college tour. I am happy for her and think that her decision to go to SCAD is the right one. I wish I had gone to college.
Wife 1.23
Another wonderful year with my wife, the lovely and talented Kathy.

There were more, I know, but those are the ones that stick out.

I love this time of year. not for the usual reasons but it is my tradition to spend time in December thinking back, looking over my shoulder before moving on. It’s fun to visit old memories and old friends. Tomorrow I’ll worry about where I’m going, today, I just want to enjoy where I’ve been.

Until next time
Push the button Frank.