Thursday, 22 May 2008

Fire people who think they're entitled to run things

I recently had a conversation about how I would handle a situation where someone was not willing to comply with corporate policy or was unwilling to work as part of a team. My immediate reaction was to say "fire them" (which is rather brutal), and even during the conversation I had to explain that this would be the final resort.

Disruptive Influence

Having had time to think about the question I now believe there are stages before reaching the formal dismissal process. I feel the reason for getting to the point of firing someone should only be based upon the team and organisation as a whole. If the team can't get on with them, or the person(s) is disruptive to the success of a project or organisation. This is summarised really well in an article by Ben Leichtling "Fire people who think they're entitled to run things". A manager or senior professional in an organisation has a responsibility to deliver projects to a high standard, if someone makes that hard to achieve then there is a serious problem. The disruptive influence of some team members can make it really hard for a manager to deliver a successful project, or to feel in control of the project.

Personally I would try to work with the person by understanding what motivates them and explaining why it is important to work as a team and within the guidelines set out by the organisation. There is also the case that they may have valid arguments for doing things differently and are not communicating them effectively. In the end someone has to be in charge and people have to accept authority so if all else fails you have to embark upon the path of dismissal.

Luckily, I've never been in the position of working with really obstructive people and where issues have occurred it has been possible to resolve them through compromise or if necessary through being assertive. Although occasionally I'd love to say "Look if you don't like it then find a new job", but that is hardly professional. I'd prefer to maintain the moral high ground.

Constructive Influence

There is an alternative to the disruptive influence and I have used this successfully with like minded colleagues. This alternative is to use constructive and critical analysis. Putting a lot of clever and experienced IT people into a room can lead to a conflict of ego's. Each person is bound to have an opinion about how to design a solution or deliver a project, and may think theirs is the best solution. The challenge is to make use of all of the different ideas to perform critical analysis. Somone coming into a design meeting using critical analysis after it has started may believe the team is in conflict and not achieving anything because of some of the heated debates that can take place.

Critical analysis will only work well if everyone understands it is taking place and can be professional in accepting other peoples views and constructively analysing them. Eventually the best parts of each idea will start to come together until it is possible to arrive at a solution using the best of the ideas.

The key to success is that someone has to be in charge and have the authority to make the hard decision of intervening at the right moment to influence the design, and to stop the process when it is taking too long or the best possible solution in the time available has been delivered.

Team Success

I don't claim to be an expert on the psychology of teams but I do have a lot of experience of managing very capable IT teams. From my experience I can conclude team success can only be achieved if everyone works together and accepts that there is a structure. Sometimes managers have to earn respect and in the worst case they have to take firm action to ensure success.

The bottom line is that a manager can "fire" someone working for them, it never works the other way around. So even if a team member thinks the manager is wrong, it is down to a professional team member to influence the senior person so that the correct approach is used.

Friday, 9 May 2008

JavaOne2008. Thursday roundup

Wow what a week.

It seems like a long build up to the release of JavaFX and the new browser plugin and I can't wait for it to happen. As Jim mentions in his summary of day 3 I think there will now be a concern amongst AJAX followers that the technology is going to look dated. At the moment AJAX front ends that want to be really rich seem to rely too much upon Flash, look at Google Analytics - all the charts are Flash.

Even today AltioLive's Graph control that will be released in Altio 5.2 shows the power of Applet based technologies over JavaScript. There are several JavaScript based graph widgets but they tend to be slow when handling lots of data.

I strongly believe that Java 6 has again made Java Applets an option for consumer Rich Web Applications and can come out from hiding in the enterprise solution area, and JavaFX further strengthens the position of Java Applets as a solution.

I'm sure that if you talk to the Java SE team they will strongly disagree with the idea of JavaFX being "stillborn". Healthy competition between SilverLight, Flash, Applets and AJAX is required to provide end users with the best user experience possible.

If you want to see a real FilthyRich Web Application look at the AltioLive IDE, as Jim put's it we "Eat our own dog food" I don't believe a product can trully say it is good unless you can create an IDE using the underlying framework. I like Eclipse but there must be something wrong if AJAX and Flash don't have IDE's using their own technology. NOTE: there are some AJAX IDE's out there.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Can all developers juggle

Is there a direct correlation between being a software engineer and the ability to juggle?

The reason why I ask is that we were giving away juggling balls at JavaOne2008 and I'm amazed at how many people at JavaOne can juggle, the best I saw was 6 balls. What I really want to know is if there is a correlation with how good a software engineer is and their ability to juggle. I'm not going to do a survey on this but if someone discovers the answer and it happens to be yes then all interviews I do in future will require:
  1. Presentation
  2. Interview
  3. Juggling exercise
---Update--- just to make Jim happy the original discussion was started by Jim, I just embellished it.

JavaOne2008. A day for applets and reporting

If I can conclude anything about JavaOne2008 on Wednesday it's that the Java community is once again thinking about Java Applets (especially if you like JavaFX), the second thing is that there is a big drive to produce highly interactive reporting tools.

We met a number of Sun Microsystems staff today, some we expected to meet and other by chance. I asked Ethan Nicholas who works on the Java JVM kernel if it was possible to get two applets to communicate with each other without using JavaScript and guess what, it may not be a simple task (the question was asked during our talk yesterday).

Jim's thoughts for versions of Java earlier than 1.6u10 would be to use static variables/classes, the problem with this approach is that both applets need to be aware of each other and would be tightly coupled, not Web 2.0 at all. At least this would have worked though.

With the delivery of Java 1.6u10 it's going to be even harder for Applets to communicate in a browser as each Applet will run in its own virtual machine and so globally available static classes are not an option, so it's back to JavaScript - on the plus side Ethan appears keen on the idea of making this happen. I think a solution is needed if Java Applets are to be used on the desktop as demonstrated in one of the key note talks. The standard for desktop applications communicating has been set by Microsoft and so Java will need an equivalent communication mechanism for desktop applications to really succeed, and it needs to ensure applications are loosely coupled.

I regret not seeing the talk on JavaFX where dropping widgets onto the desktop was shown and it seems that it was not made clear during the talk that this ability to drag an applet to the desktop was a plugin feature and not JavaFX. Jim, Tom and I had to explain this several times to people visiting the booth.

I'm going to try and spend the day tomorrow looking at all the different reporting tools, there's a great fit between RIA and reporting, and there are lots of possible products to choose from it's just identify how easily AltioLive could integrate with different reporting products.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

JavaOne2008. Java applets still have the power to draw a crowd

Conclusion for Tuesday 6 May - Java 6 update 10 provides a whole new opportunity for Java Applet technologies to compete on a level playing field with Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight. The combination of improved download options, faster JVM load times combined with JavaFX rich graphics will enable the AltioLive product to focus upon adding value to the Java Development community rather than overcoming problems with the Jave SE plugin technology. 2008 and 2009 provide many opportunities for Java Applet technologies and I feel confident enough to say that Applets are NOT a "old school" technology, and are here to stay for the forseable future.

Loss of focus by Sun Microsystems and/or the Java product team is the only concern. If enough Java developers push for improved performance and a simpler user interface API's Sun will need to meet the demands. It's about working as a "community", considering all the options and not thinking Adobe and Microsoft offer the only solution to rich user interfaces in a web browser.

Enough of my soap box rant and a quick review of the day.

The booth had a steady flow of people interested in both the freebies and our product. The interest in a product was really great to see making all the hard work to improve the AltioLive product worth while, and the java development community still has interest in Java Applets technology.

Jim and I guess about 80-100 came to the presentation, and given that the were a number of very big talks by popular speakers I was pleased. Aside from not feeling too good - a serious lack of sleep, the talk went really well, with a few lessons learnt should we do a talk again next year.

The question that catches you out! - "How do you get two applets to communicate in the same browser session?", Jim put a lot of effort into his examples and neither of us spotted the fact that we didn't do an example of Java Applets talking to other Java Applets, is direct communication possible and more importantly should the security model allow it to happen. Not something I plan to answer in this blog.

Jim gets his 10 minutes of fame- a surprise visit by the JavaOne2008 reporter caught us out and Jim had to do a 10 minute technical interview about applets and AltioLive - good interview Jim especially when it was at the end of a very long day.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

JavaOne2008. Booth ready to go

San Francisco day 1.

Our first full day at JavaOne 2008, and I think all of us are very tired - it took us nearly all day to prepare the booth, demo's and practice the talk that Jim and I will do tomorrow.

The day started at 6am this morning with a vigorous walk up some very steep hills, I'm amazed the houses don't just slide down the hills.

Tom has put together some good videos of AltioLive designer and applications that we will play back through the next few days. Even before they were complete people were stopping and looking at what was happening.

Tom and I decided that the Community One speed dating event just wasn't for us. Wives and girlfriends should not worry, it was all to do with meeting up with other organisations and discussing how you could benefit each other - we were just too tired to meet 21 companies in 45 minutes.

Everything has gone to plan so far at the event. Although, the BIG worry is the Altio website, we have had a few issues with the website and hope they will be fixed by tomorrow. If you have difficulty accessing, try the alternative , Our service provider is working hard to investigate the problem and we hope to have this resolved soon.

For those of you attending JavaOne2008 and who read my posts I look forward to meeting you.

Friday, 2 May 2008

New AltioLive website goes live

The new AltioLive website is now up and running, just in time for JavaOne!

All going well AltioLive 5.2 will be available for download as a Beta release very soon.

April was busy and May is even busier.

Go have a look at the new site at