Category Archives: Uncategorized

Is on-demand consulting the answer to your hiring woes?

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A consultant costs more per hour than a developer you can hire right? That depends!

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A big firm may cost a few thousand per day. But a smaller firm or one-man shop can bring you savings in line with a team hire.

1. You’re still looking

Have you been looking for 3 months? 6 months? You might find someone. But maybe never? I

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

2. On-boarding takes forever

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Related: Is automation killing old-school operations?

3. Fulltime hires quit

I’ve worked at a few firms where the fulltime hires quit within a few months. Why? One was a very mismanaged team. They were juggling a lot of technical debt & lacked leadership direction. Devs were frustrated and morale was suffering.

At another firm the CTO left. A new one replaced him who started throwing his weight around. Many of the old team members got fed up & left.

In all these cases a consultant will still be there, working day-by-day, getting things done. I wrote about this How do we measure devotion.

Read: Do managers underestimate operational cost?

4. Halftime need

Smaller demand? Perhaps your capacity isn’t a full 40-hour week. Then an on-demand hire is really ideal.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

5. Hit the ground running

Of course the biggest advantage is quicker on-boarding. You can expect productive work right away. That’s because a solo consultant has a lot of experience jumping right into the fray, and making an impact right away.

Also: Is the difference between dev & ops a four-letter word?

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Essential links this week

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Here’s some links & interesting stuff I’ve stumbled on this week. Enjoy!

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1. Start coding

Looking to start coding? Take a look at Open source for beginners. It’s a graphical list of projects on github, great for beginners!

Also: 30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

2. DIY Serverless

Interested in serverless & wanna dig past the hype? Take a look at this Functions as a Service howto which shows how to build lambda type offering in Kubernetes or Docker Swarm. Cool yo!

Related: Learning from the Dyn DNS outage

3. Serverless Use Cases

Curious when & where Amazon Lambda might make sense? Any and all microservices? Here’s a newstack article on viable use cases for serverless computing.

Read: Does Amazon Redshift have a dirty little secret?

4. Origami design software

Random, weird, and kinda cool! Robert Lang has designed some Origami software called TreeMaker. It replaces the pencil & paper method of designing new origami figures. Use the software to push the limits of paper folding further!

Also: My DIY Disqus.com hack for blog discovery

5. A distributed relational database that works?

Bloomberg LP has designed a relational database called Comdb2. Unlike many of it’s NoSQL peers, this distributed database is relational, speaks SQL, and is also highly available. Amazing!

Also: Are SQL databases dead?

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Some irresistible reading for March – outages, code, databases, legacy & hiring

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I decided this week to write a different type of blog post. Because some of my favorite newsletters are lists of articles on topics of the day.

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Here’s what I’m reading right now.

1. On Outages

While everyone is scrambling to figure out why part of the internet went down … wait is S3 is part of the internet, really? While I’m figuring out if it is a service of Amazon, or if Amazon is so big that Amazon *is* the internet now…

Let’s look at s3 architectural flaws in depth.

Meanwhile Gitlab had an outage too in which they *gasp* lost data. Seriously? An outage is one thing, losing data though. Hmmm…

And this article is brilliant on so many levels. No least because Matthew knows that “post truth” is a trending topic now, and uses it his title. So here we go, AWS Service status truth in a post truth world. Wow!

And meanwhile the Atlantic tries to track down where exactly are those Amazon datacenters?

Also: Is Amazon too big to fail?

2. On Code

Project wise I’m fiddling around with a few fun things.

Take a look at Guy Geerling’s Ansible on a Mac playbooks. Nice!

And meanwhile a very nice deep dive on Amazon Lambda serverless best practices.

Brandur Leach explains how to build awesome APIs aka ones that are robust & idempotent

Meanwhile Frans Rosen explains how to 0wn slack. And no you don’t want this. 🙂

Related: 5 surprising features in Amazon’s serverless Lambda offering

3. On Hiring & Talent

Are you a rock star dev or a digital nomad? Take a look at the 12 best international cities to live in for software devs.

And if you’re wondering who’s hiring? Well just about everyone!

Devs are you blogging? You should be.

Looking to learn or teach… check out codementor.

Also: why did dev & ops used to be separate job roles?

4. On Legacy Systems

I loved Drew Bell’s story of stumbling into home ownership, attempting to fix a doorbell, and falling down a familiar rabbit hole. With parallels to legacy software systems… aka any older then oh say five years?

Ian Bogost ruminates why nothing works anymore… and I don’t think an hour goes by where I don’t ask myself the same question!

Also: Are we fast approaching cloud-mageddon?

5. On Databases

If you grew up on the virtual world of the cloud, you may have never touched hardware besides your own laptop. Developing in this world may completely remove us from understanding those pesky underlying physical layers. Yes indeed folks containers do run in “virtual” machines, but those themselves are running on metal, somewhere down the stack.

With that let’s not forget that No, databases are not for containers… but a healthy reminder ain’t bad..

Meanwhile Larry’s mothership is sinking…(hint: Oracle) Does anybody really care? Now’s the time to revisit Mike Wilson’s classic The difference between god and Larry Ellison.

Read: Are SQL Databases Dead?

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Launch Festival 2016 Tickets for San Francisco event

launch festival 2016

One of the biggest startup festivals of the year LAUNCH is coming up next week in San Francisco.

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Are you feeling lucky? If so enter to win tickets to Launch 2016. The winner will get a pass to the event, a one-on-one with Jason Calacanis, a one-year RushTix pass which seems pretty damn cool, and lastly a Dining on Reserve pass.

Nice!

1. Launch Festival 2016

The Launch Festival is a creation of Jason Calacanis. Formerly one of New York’s own, he started Silicon Alley Reporter way back in the dot-com era v1.0. Remember that? After some huge successes here, he moved on to become a huge figure in the Silicon Valley scene & the bay area.

Past events have included folks like Paul Graham & Mark Cuban & this years event is shaping up to fill Fort Mason Center to capacity again.

Also: Why is everyone suddenly talking about Amazon Redshift?

2. RushTix Membership

RushTix is a membership based way to discover local artists, concerts & events in the bay area. As a member you get comped tickets to all sorts of cool events. Check it out!

Related: Which tech do startups use most?

3. Dining on Reserve

Reserve consolidates restaurant discovery, reservations, and payment all in one smartphone app. What’s more you can use it at restaurants in a few big cities, like our own New York, LA, SF, Philadelphia, Boston & DC. Not bad!

Related: Is data your dirty little secret?

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Best of Scalability, Speed & Performance posts

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Twitter IPO

Why did the Twitter IPO filing mention scalability?

It’s been a while since the twitter IPO, and they’ve had their ups and downs. An interesting little side note in the IPO filing mentioned speed, performance & scalability.

5 things toxic to scalability

5 Things toxic to scalability

Still one of our all time most popular articles, this post garnered 20,000 views alone. Covering the five biggest problems web applications face around scalability.

Pitfalls

5 Scalability pitfalls to avoid

Another twist on a popular theme, some of the common pitfalls startups stumble over on scalability.

Hire generalists

Are generalists better at scaling the web?

If you’re hiring to scale the web, think twice before hiring specialists. It may be the generalists that provide the most comprehensive help.

Scalablity happiness

What one change promotes scalability happiness?

If there’s one thing that can help most websites with speed & performance, this has got to be it!

Is scalability big business?

Why is scalability such big business?

Scalability remains a challenge for many web startups. What’s the reason and does that make it big business?

Are ceos hiding scalability problems?

Are Startup CEOs hiding scalability problems?

Are their technology choices that amount to sweeping problems under the rug?

5 ways startups misstep on scalability

5 Ways startups misstep on scalability

Missteps abound, here are some of the biggest for startups.

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Best of Scalable Startups Devops Content

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I wonder if I can blog about devops without first level setting on what the term means. Yes I’ll agree it’s used broadly, sometimes as a buzzword, sometimes as a catch-all phrase. Luckily I already wrote a post like that… What is devops and why is it important?.

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Fear of automation

There’s a lot of automation happening in the cloud. A lot more configuration management (chef, puppet, ansible) is in use. I’ve seen some platform as a service companies (Heroku & EngineYard are examples of these) argue that you can now spend more on devs. You won’t need an operations staff. This raises the question Is automation killing old-school ops?.

NoSQL taking over…

If you look left some startup is building on Mongodb, and look right and another is building on Cassandra. It makes you wonder, Are sql databases dead.

Death of MySQL?

While we’re on the topic of relational databases, it’s been six years since Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems. Some are still worried, Will Oracle kill MySQL?

Big mistakes!

Mistakes happen in the datacenter. Sometimes *big* mistakes. You’ll cringe at When fat fingers take down your database but hopefully learn a few things about what not to do!

Hurricane lessons

Two years after a hurricane devastated lower manhattan we can still learn a lot. Real Disaster Recovery lessons from Sandy.

Db operations

Every startup has a database. You ignore that management at your own peril. I wrote 10 ways avoid trouble database operations

On resistance

Another week, another war story. Sometimes the job of an op, systems administrator or DBA is actually to say “no”. In this story the CTO was shouting, and tons of money was being lost every minute. Supposedly. So I wrote Does a devop need to practice the art of resistence?

Perspectives & mandates

Ops & devs look at the world in different ways. I argue that’s because the business asks them to do very different things. Devs are tasked with bringing change, through new code & product features. Ops are tasked with continuity, stability, uptime & performance. That often means resistance to change. So I wonder Does a four letter word divide dev & ops?

Database as a service?

You’re looking at Amazon Web Services, and wondering, should I use their RDS database service or build my own MySQL? Here are 10 use cases for RDS or MySQL.

On High availability

99.999% uptime you say? Is there a myth of five nines that we’re still struggling with?

Open Source

Many custom Oracle applications could just as easily run on MySQL. But if you’re going to migrate from Oracle to MySQL, prepare to bushwack. Open source is a jungle!

What you don’t know can hurt you…

If you’re a manager or CTO, beware Beware what ops doesn’t tell you mysql.

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Is Hunter Walk right about operations & startups?

The.Rohit - Flickr
The.Rohit – Flickr

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Hunter Walk blogged recently about the importance of building great operations teams. And while he was speaking primarily about business operations, the startup technical operations teams are equally difficult to get right.

1. performance & scalability

As your grows like Birchbox, your customer growth curve may begin to look like a hockey stick. That’s a good problem to have. Will your web application be able to keep up with the onslaught of traffic those customers bring?

Getting performance and scalability just right, will mean fewer site crashes during those key moments when all eyes are on your site.

Also: Is top operations talent hard to find?

2. Operations is key to architecture

Developers will always have strong opinions on architecture. However they may be heavily influenced by their own mandate, features, deliverability & deadlines. So it’s no surprise that they may sometimes choose to build on ORM’s, the middleware brought to you by Hibernate, Cake PHP, Active Record & the like.

And while these technologies seem a necessity in todays modern architectures, they play havoc with your long term scalability. Strong technical operations teams mean a better vision in this area. Heading off your reliance on these technologies will mean managing technical debt before it takes down your country.

Read: Are generalists better at scaling the web?

3. Operations informs strategy

Did you build in those operational switches to turn off the heaviest code, when your site gets overloaded? Operations strategy can help you see these problems on the horizon before they overwhelm you.

Have you considered building a browse only mode for your site? If you’ve ever visited Facebook or Yelp after hours you may have been greeted with the message “We can’t save your comments. Please try again later”. A small innocuous message to end users doesn’t disrupt their enjoyment of the site terribly. But from an technical operations perspective it’s huge. It means teams can perform backups, upgrades and maintenance without interrupting day-to-day activity on the site.

Related: Is scalability a big business?

4. Operations means resilience

We only learn real disaster recovery lessons from storms like Sandy. That’s because resilience highlighted best when it is a real & urgent need.

In technical operations, getting backups right & testing your recovery plan all form key steps in your path to excellence. Get them right before you need them, and ensure repeatability.

Read: Is high availability a real possibility?

5. Operations means technical strength

At the end of the day, getting technical operations right, means you can move from strength to strength. It means building on a solid foundation the likes of Google, Facebook, Foursquare & Etsy. It means you can evolve & grow with your customers, and meet their needs confidently.

Check out: Do startup CEO’s underestimate operational costs?

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Is Amazon RDS hard to manage?

iRobot1

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I once rented an apartment while traveling in Europe. Unfortunately I didn’t speak the local language of French. So when I got there I had trouble coordinating.

After about twenty minutes of frustration, I found someone who could help. They spoke some broken English. So I would speak very slowly, then they would translate. That back and forth continued, until finally we understood each other.

What would normally be effortless 5 minute process to checkin, became a thirty minute long and drawn out affair. This is essentially what managing RDS feels like. If you’re a day-to-day devops or sysadmin it can be limiting to say the least.

1. Missing command line

If you’ve been administering unix & Linux for some time, you’re using the command line. It’s the lingua franca of systems administration. There are many command line tools that help you manage a MySQL database, from top to innotop, percona-toolkit to mysqltuner. Without the command line your hands are tied. You’re left trying to breathe through a straw.

Is there a plus side to RDS? Yes of course. For those who aren’t schooled in operations, don’t manage servers 24×7, web interfaces are a godsend. They simplify things, and present a field of options to choose from. What’s more they are better dashboards for exposing management to business units.

Related: RDS or MySQL: 10 Use Cases

2. Entrusting someone to your backups

Backups are delicate piece of your infrastructure. Done wrong, and you’re missing data. What’s more when you go to recover, you need options.

Relying on Amazon’s process, means your hands are tied. Done right it will be push button simple. But done wrong and you could have a big mess.

Over the years I’ve been in a lot of fire fighting situations. Everyone is running around yelling, and looking for the extinguisher. You may want any of a number of tools at your disposal. Dumps, hotbackups, cold backups, snapshots. With RDS you’re handing over all your trust & confidence to another party for that.

Pushbutton is great if you’re not comfortable with server operations, but if you are it’s a huge limitation.

Read: RDS or MySQL: 10 Use Cases

3. Can’t tweak operating system

On Linux servers, there are a number of operating system dials that can be useful to performance. One is the IO scheduler, which controls on Linux writes to disk. Another is choice of filesystem. For example you may want xfs or ext4. Furthermore there are tweaks in MySQL that can take advantage of the right filesytem, to simulate raw or unbuffered IO. These can give you a much needed bump in performance as well.

Also: Does a four letter word divide dev and ops?

4. Slow query log limitations

Slow query log is essential. It is your most essential tool for sleuthing scalability problems.

In the early days of RDS, the slow query log file itself was not accessible. You could only use the slow query table logging, which would slow down your server. That meant you couldn’t leave it on perpetually.

Recently Amazon has made the file available, which is a step. But still you have to jump through hoops. With command line you have everything right where you need it. With RDS, you have to first download the file to your desktop, copy it to another server where you have the percona tools installed, then analyze it there. From there you have to open a mysql shell remotely to the RDS box, to run explain plan.

That is lots of hoops for an essential activity like performance tuning.

Read this: Do managers underestimate operational costs?

5. Managing parameters & security the Amazon way

Amazon has attempted to standardize management of servers. Security is managed with groups and RDS is no different. That’s great if you want all your servers setup the same way, but what if you want to tune just one server. You then have to configure multiple groups. It’s again extra steps.

MySQL systems settings are no different. As a regular daily DBA activity, you use SET GLOBAL my_parameter=my_value; But with RDS you are doing a number of obfuscated steps, through a dashboard.

Check out: Why I ask clients for a deposit

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Why tracking can make or break your content efforts

social index

I’ve become a social media fiend in the past year. Mostly because it’s working. The number of prospects & leads I get each month has been steadily rising. Here’s how I track. I hope it will help you too!

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The image above displays the results of my social media efforts. It’s what I call my “iHeavy social index”. I’ll have a followup post that goes into more detail about how that works.

1. Start measuring your time using social media

Let’s think about this carefully. Why not write down everyday, 1 hour on twitter, ½ hour on Google+, ½ hour adding links to buffer or hootsuite. The more you track the better idea you’ll get of how you’re spending your time. So try to be honest. Mine for this past month was 27 hours.

Read: Why twitter is the best way to reach journalists (and email sucks)

2. Track your time spent creating content

Writing content should be easier to track. For me idea time is two hours and writing time is another few. Last month I wrote five piece of content so 25 hours total.

Read: How to hack disqus, discover experts & new blogs

3. Monitor your total conversion value

If you’re a services business like mine, you’re sending people to your website, but don’t have widgets to sell. So how do you track revenue?

The answer is you still need to value conversions. For me, a visit to my pricing page has a value, as that indicates someone who is zeroing in on a service provider, or at least doing some comparison shopping. What’s more a newsletter signup has a value. But how much?

Suppose a new client is a $5000 piece of business. How many newsletter signups might bring you one piece of business? Consider that people who get your newsletter are already in your inner circle, probably share your insights, and talk about you from time to time. Let’s say for arguments sake 50 newsletter signups will bring you one piece of business. Then a newsletter signup is worth $100.

Some other conversions that have value for a services business, about-us, pricing, download whitepaper, testimonials and so forth. Last month my total conversion value was $4350.

Read: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

4. Add it all up

This past month my conversions value came in at $4350. Since I spent 52 hours total on content & social media, my efforts yielded a value of $84/hr.

Now I admit there is a lot of estimating going on here, but the point is, track what you can. If you think your numbers are a bit high, adjust your conversion values (view pricing page or newsletter signup for example) downward.

You *could* also compare the above to actual revenue, but that is likely to be shifted in time. In other words social media that was effective in February, might yield a new client in March, and an invoice paid in May, so 90 days off or more.

Read: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

5. Get real with yourself

If you’re spending more and more time on social media & just hoping, you may be spinning your wheels. Looking at numbers like this forces you to face the hard facts. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something new.

Remember too, social media can have a residual affect, where people start talking, or your name gains visibility. If you’re getting more business though, folks should surely be checking you out on your website.

Freelancers: Why saying “no” requires such a delicate balance

Get more. Monthly insights about scalability, startups & innovation.. Our latest Are SQL Databases Dead?

5 Things I Learned From David Maister About Trust & Advising Clients

trusted advisor david maister

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If you’re a freelancer, consultant, or service provider of any kind, you can surely gain a lot from reading David Maister’s book The Trusted Advisor. There are so many ways we can improve, let’s take a look.

1. Consider Traits of People You Trust Already

It may not come naturally to put yourself in your clients shoes. But you can surely stand in your own shoes. So consider what traits the people you put your trust in have…

o don’t panic or get too emotional
o understand us without a terrible effort
o correct us & criticize gently
o are on our side & have our interests at heart
o don’t try to force things on us
o feel we can depend on them
o help us separate our logic from emotions
o remember the things we have said
o help us put our issues in context
o always provide fresh perspectives

Right out of the gates, Trusted Advisor is offering us some of those very characteristics. The first chapter alone is worth the purchase price.

Also: Why AWS Summit Is Free & Oracle World is $2650

2. There’s An Equation For Trust

It may sound surprising to consider a calculation for trust. Let’s take a look.

Trustworthiness = (credibility + reliability + intimacy) / self-orientation

These are all words we know well, but to truly understand them, Maister lays them out very nicely for us. He takes an interesting approach. Our credibility is the words we use, as we describe what we’ve done. Reliability is the actions we take, arriving on time, doing what we promised to do, delivering etc. Intimacy is about emotions, empathizing with your clients needs. And lastly Self-orientation, which may be the toughest one, which involves putting your client first.

He then turns it all on it’s head. How are people have have poor marks in one of those areas characterized? Poor marks in credibility, a windbag, who is all talk. Low score in reliability, that person is irresponsible. How about bad marks in intimacy, they are thought of as technicians. Ouch! And how about if you score badly in self-orientation, devious is your cross to bear.

Read this: Why Scalability Is Big Business

3. Your Client May Not Want Your Advice

“One of the biggest mistakes that advisors make is to think that their client always wants their advice.”

Does that sound counterintuitive? I think as an engineer particularly, that may be hard to wrap your head around. I was just hired, so the client must want my advice and solutions, right?

Ultimately yes, but first they may want someone to listen to them. Listen, understand their position & discuss. Really to empathize with what they’ve been going through. The more you can do that, the more confidence they will have in your solving those problems & be ready for you to take action.

Related: When You Have To Take The Fall

4. What Good Listeners Don’t Do

We’re all trying to be better listeners, at least I hope we are. I’ve seen lots of lists of things listeners do. What about what they don’t do? Let’s turn things on their head.

If we’re a good listener we don’t…
o make judgements or jump to conclusions
o give our ideas first
o interrupt
o respond early
o try solving a problem too quickly
o take calls or text during meeting

We’ve probably all fallen prey to one of these mistakes, so we all have work to do!

Check this: Why AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail

5. Take Responsibility

You’ve heard the refrain, but it’s not easy to do. Taking ownership means assuming the pain & worries of your client as if they were your own. As I learned in one engagement, sometimes it means taking the fall.

Read: Why devops talent is in short supply

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