You Have a Contract, Right?

Writing software for others can be a tricky profession.  The client often has totally unrealistic expectations on how software development works.  They give vague requirements (or none!) and expect you, the developer, to read their mind and produce an awesome application.  And therein lies the problem, because there’s a wide difference between their requirements (or lack thereof) and the finished project.  A handshake and a verbal agreement just isn’t good enough – You need to protect yourself (and the client) with a contract and spell everything out.

If you don’t have a contract already, my preferred place to begin is by going to Docracy (www.docracy.com) and looking up contracts.  These forms aren’t perfect, but they’ve been looked at by lawyers, and in-lieu of hiring your own lawyer, a heck of a lot cheaper.

The basic contract has little over a dozen sections.  I’ll just highlight a few of the sections that seem to grab peoples attention.

A payments section is obvious.  It gets into the details of how you’re getting paid.  More detail is good.  What’s the rate?  How long is it good for?  Is it a fixed bid?  What is the payment structure?  Do you have a separate rate for bug fixes and for how long?  When can you revisit rates?  Do you take check or credit card?  Do you have a fee for taking credit cards?

The expenses section should detail everything that you are paying for out of your own pocket (like computers, development software, etc.) and what you expect the client to reimburse you for.  This could include travel expenses, special services, software, or plugins required for the project, postage and courier services or any number of legitimate things.  The point is that you need to document it!

One section that has caused me some issues over the years was the intellectual property ownership section.  Every client wants to own the code you’ve written and this section gives any patents or trade secrets developed for the project to the client.  I have, as many consultants do, a stable of controls and classes that I reuse on nearly every project which really can’t be the clients’ property when the project is done.  This is where the consultant’s materials section comes into play.

Consultant’s materials are the tools, or pieces of code, that were in existence before the work began that you use to get the job done.  You can give the client nonexclusive rights to the software with some exceptions (spelled out of course), or you can attempt to retain the rights to your own software.  Regardless, this section should be read carefully so that you and the client thoroughly understand the implications.  It has been my experience that this section almost always needs an edit or two to satisfy everyone.

A lot of clients also require a confidentiality agreement section that says that you won’t talk about your work for the client to others without permission from the client.  Sometimes they also want a non-compete section stating that you won’t work on similar software for a certain number of years.  Make sure that you understand the implications of these sections because it might mean you lock yourself out of an industry!

All of the above is fairly generic and is applicable to nearly all contracts.  In my format, the exhibit document is where a bulk of the details occur.  Here is where I list my deliverables, the client deliverables (I don’t like doing graphics so I usually require that the client do them), a listing of any requirements that I’ve received so far (referencing emails and other documents if need be), assumptions that went into the bid, payment schedule and amounts and milestone dates.  As you can image, the exhibit may be much larger than the rest of the contract.

In the client deliverables section, I always state that the client is responsible for final application testing and that they are responsible for end-user support.  The reason that clause is in there is that a client assumed I was doing all the testing and was going to perform end-user support.  This is why writing everything down is so important!

One of the assumptions I generally add into my Xojo projects is that Xojo can actually do what I, and the client, assume it can do.  I only had one issue ever come up and because of that assumption we were able to negotiate a slightly higher contract price to purchase a pricey third-party control.

In the exhibit I add a section that describes how long after the final sign-off I’ll fix bugs for free.  I also state the rate for the following year on program changes (new functionality, not bugs) and when I can renegotiate pricing.  This section can be contentious.  I’ll fix true bugs for a long time, but a lot of times the client doesn’t understand what a bug really is and how it’s different from their poor (or nonexistent) requirements.  If you find a problem client, this will probably be one of the areas that causes you grief.

There’s a lot of information that will be in your contract.  It’s designed to protect you and your client against poor assumptions.  It provides a way for you to handle the client and set their expectations upfront.  In the long run, a good contract will be the roadmap of your projects.

Why have a contract?  Because not having one may cost you  a lot of money.  I turned down a project a few years ago because the prospective client balked at having to pay money up front.  In indignation he claimed in 30 years he’d never paid anyone up front.

He then proceeded to go through the rounds of contractors and they all turned him down for much the same reason.  Finally, he found a developer that was looking for some extra money but already had a full time job.  He did the work (without a contract and without any up front payment).  And, as you can imagine, the client shafted him in the end.  Said that it didn’t work as promised so therefore wasn’t going to pay.  The client was full of it because he walked away with the source and never looked back.

The developer lost thousands of dollars and had no way to enforce it since he didn’t have a contract in place.  Even having a contract won’t stop a client from not paying but at least with a contract the developer could have gone to small claims court to recover some of the money.  No contract meant no such recourse was available.

I think we all have contract horror stories.  Have any that you’d like to share?

Names Mean Something

This week I had an ARGen user contact me.  They had purchased a license and it wasn’t outputting the tables like it should.  He was able to send me the database and I confirmed the problem.   I looked at the XML file that ARGen was producing and it appeared to be an error in the XML generation.  I did a quick fix and sent it back to him.

Except, that didn’t really solve the issue.  Silly me for not looking more into the issue (it’s good to be busy, but sometimes…).  Of his four tables, only the first two were generated for the DataFile namespace we use for ActiveRecord.  Digging into it some more I discovered that Database.FieldSchema was failing.

Silly me for not checking for a database error.  I find this ironic that I preach db error checking and I didn’t check it in that particular case.  I guess I just didn’t think that FieldSchema would return an error.  Anyway, the SQLite database had a table named ‘group’.  That happens to be a reserved keyword in SQLite and you really shouldn’t be able to do it, but some tools will let you do it anyway.  In fact, all of my tools let me do it but they must be qualifying table names internally.

In SQLite, if you put single quotes around the name like ‘group’ it will work.  In a quick test against MySQL and PostgreSQL that doesn’t work and generates a db error.  Now ARGen checks for the error and will warn if it bails prematurely because it can’t find the schema of a table.

I also recommended to the developer that he change his table name.  Having ‘group’ in every SQL statement is going to be a royal pain.  It’s easy to forget and unless your QA and testing staff (stop laughing and catch your breath) tests every single code path it’s quite possible that your customer will find it before you.  Why make life harder on yourself?

Which leads me to what BKeeney Software does.  Carol, our resident DBA (otherwise known as the Database Goddess) has a bunch of naming conventions for databases.  All tables have a prefix.  Regular tables have a “t_” prefix.  Reference tables like states, types, zip codes, etc, get a ‘tr_’ prefix.  Tables that are a many to many relationship have a ‘tx_’ prefix.  Views get a ‘vw_’ prefix and stored procedures have a ‘sp_’ prefix.

Some other rules:

  • Table names are never plural.  It’s never t_people, it would be t_person.  t_check not t_checks and so on.
  • If it’s a child table it will have the parent table name in its name.  So an invoice line items table might be t_invoicelineitems.
  • Avoid abbreviations unless it makes sense to use them.  We just finished a large accounting app with payroll.  We had well over 100 tables JUST for payroll, so rather than having payroll spelled out in every single table we just used ‘pr’ in the table names.
  • For the Primary Key field we insist on auto increment integers.
  • Primary key field name cannot be a simple ‘id’.  It’s too easy to get confused with which ‘id’ you’re talking about in joins.   Our primary field name is TableName_ID (underscore ID at the end).  So the primary key for t_person would end up being Person_ID.

I’m sure some of you are thinking that these rules are overboard and I’d agree if I didn’t do a dozen large database applications every year.  Once you get past a dozen tables or so things start to get confusing so having rules give us some advantages on big projects.  At a glance we can tell the function of a table.  Time is money and with a staff of four, the last thing we want to do is make it harder for a team member to determine what the function of a table is.

Names mean something and some names have implications.  If the developer had used our naming rule so that his table name was t_group, ARGen would have had zero issues.  Oh well, it was an instructive bug report.  I get to chastise myself for not doing some error checking and I get to write about it.

What things do you do on databases to make your life easier?

Differentiating Your Services

There are hundreds of consultants out there doing the exact same thing you do.  They’re hustling to sell their services to the very same people you’re trying to sell to.  They don’t live in New York city or San Francisco and can live on $15/hour.  How can you, a good developer, compete with overseas programmers or newbies?

Let’s be honest.  If the client is evaluating potential developers solely on price then you probably don’t want them as a client anyway.  That’s not to say that price should be ignored because a client that’s not frugal with their money is a problem too.  But, it is possible to win a bid even with a higher end price.

So how do you differentiate yourself from the cheap programmers?  The first thing to have is a page on your website that shows previous projects.  This shows potential clients the type of work you’ve done before.  You have to be careful about violating any Non-Disclosure Agreements you have, but for the most part you don’t have to get into specific details about a project to portray the type of work it was.

If you’re just starting out, your previous projects page is going to be sparse.  Another drawback is when your previous projects page doesn’t show the skills the client is looking for.  Unfortunately, the only way to get around this problem is to be upfront with the client and let them know you’ve done the research and have a plan.

Do you have off-site storage of source code?  If you’re working out of your house (who needs an office anyway?) you should probably have automatic backup of source code to an off-site facility.  In the event of a disaster like a flood, fire, earthquake or someone breaks into your house, this is a simple and inexpensive way to protect your work.

We use a Subversion host that gives us gigabytes of storage that amounts to hundreds of Xojo projects files along with documentation and other supplementary info.  The host itself has offsite backup storage and hourly backups.  Does this sound paranoid?  You bet it does!  Your code is your money maker and the client isn’t going to be willing to fund several more months worth of work because your hard drive crashed or your laptop was stolen and you have to recreate your work.  They don’t care, they just want the project done.

Bug tracking systems like Bugzilla, Mantis and many others are good open source software applications that make bug tracking cheap and easy.  Using a bug tracking system is light years ahead of working strictly through email, if for nothing more than the documentation features and audit trail features.  The client can log into the system and see a bug’s status and add additional information.  You, as the developer, can request additional information, close a bug, or merge it with another one.  A good bug tracking system is a must on large projects or projects with multiple developers.

Oddly enough, the other thing that can differentiate yourself from other developers is your contract (you do have a contract, right?).  A good contract is not only protection for you and your client legally, it is also a way to document what you will and won’t do.  It’s the first step into managing the expectations of the client.

Contracts can be a pain to create.  Start with a standard contract.  I’ve been pretty impressed with the documents at www.docracy.com.  Once you have one you like you can add to it.  We use a standard boilerplate contract that is fill-in-the-blank for the basics (name, address, etc) and has general responsibilities for us and the client.  We constantly refer to Appendix A that lists all of our deliverables (source code, installers, documentation, etc), client deliverables (graphics, timely testing, etc), a brief description of what the code will do, and the payment terms.

Price is important and you’ll lose some clients because of it.  It happens.  But using some of the tools and techniques we’ve talked about you can differentiate yourself from the cheap and inexperienced developers.

What things help differentiate you from other developers?

 

Xojo Consulting

When we (Christian Miller of Pariahware and myself) spoke at REAL World 2007 about Xojo (then Real Studio) consulting we had no idea what people wanted.  So we took the generic approach of  lets-throw-everything-we-can-think-of-and-fit-it-into-45-minute presentation.  We were surprised that nearly every seat in the room was filled.  We were off to a decent start.

To make a very long story short, we were pretty happy at the response to the presentation.  What surprised us even more was the Question and Answer session afterward.  There were a lot of really good questions.  One of those questions has come up again and again:  How do you find Xojo Consulting work?  It’s a good question.

In my opinion, the best way to find work is to get the Professional license for Xojo.  Yes, at $995 it is expensive but in addition to the Desktop, Web, Database Access and Console you get access to the Pro-only forum which includes access to Xojo consulting leads.  As a consultant I find myself using all the Pro features eventually so the price doesn’t concern me.  I do realize that not everyone has the same resources that I do.

There is a page on the Xojo website called Find a Consultant where potential clients enter basic details of who they are, how to contact them and a brief synopsis of their project.  That information is then posted in the Pro-Only forum.  In turn, the developers may contact the person who posted the project.

In my opinion, this is like shooting fish in a barrel.  The potential customer already knows (or at least thinks they know) that they want a Xojo developer.  So you don’t have to sell them on Xojo or the advantages of one code base for three platforms for desktop, web, and console apps.  Isn’t that half the battle?

I’ve been part of the program for a a long time (in all its various incarnations and price points).  The quality and quantity of the leads varies considerably but all it takes is one decent sized project to make up your investment. You can find more information about it at https://xojo.com/support/consultants.php.

Most of the clients I’ve obtained from these leads have come back for more work.  This doesn’t happen with every client, naturally, but it happens enough to make a note about it.  In several cases the original job was a small project so the client could see if we were worthy of the project they REALLY wanted to do.  These small projects are good to see if you and the client are compatible (people are people and some just don’t get along).

Other developers have had some luck with finding work on the hire a developer sites like Rent A Coder.  Some of these sites require a fee to bid on the listings.  I would use caution using these sites to find work as your competing against people from all over the world.  Some people can live on $15 an hour (or less).  If you can pay your bills and save for your retirement at that rate then go for it.  I know I can’t!

Bidding on a fixed bid projects is an art form.  I use some basic formulas that call for a certain number of hours for each window/class/control and for really complex windows or classes I break them out separately.  Then if you want to get an idea of how much time you’ll spend on a project multiply your estimate by three.  That will take care of interruptions and waiting for responses for questions, doing research, and all of the things you have to do on a project that you can’t directly bill for.  I know a few developers that use a factor of 5 in doing their estimates.

This might seem a bit excessive but nearly every project I’ve ever worked on (even as an engineer in a previous lifetime) this seems to work reasonably well.  This doesn’t mean that the bid is inflated by three, it just means that I’ve accounted for interruptions and other issues that come up that might cause a delay.  At any given time I’m usually working on three or four separate projects and each one needs attention on a regular basis.

Track the time you spend on each project.  If you can, track the time you spend on each part of the project.  After each project, review how long it took to do the entire project and if you can, track how much each portion of the project took.  After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll find out what takes more time than you anticipated and what takes less.  This is valuable feedback for when you’re first starting out and learning how to do things.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you need to live on what you’ve bid.  If your rate is $15 an hour and you live in New York City I doubt you’ll be living comfortably unless you have six roommates in a two bedroom apartment!  In the long run, what you earn has to take into account your lifestyle, your location, and your ability to set aside enough for your retirement years.

As a consultant if you can bill 30 hours per week that’s awesome!  Most consultants say 20 billable hours per week is good.  Use that as your basis for determining what you should charge.  You’ll need to allow time for dealing with administrative issues, taxes, writing proposals and looking for more work.  Then take into account vacation and sick time (it happens) and what your expenses are and you’ll need some padding because some months will be slower than others.

50 weeks * 20 hours = 1000 hours per year.  You determine that you can making a living if you bring in $80,000 per year.  That means that you need to charge $80 per hour.  $80,000/1000 hours = $80/hour.  Don’t forget that you’ll have to pay your own taxes and insurance so take those things into account!

To be honest we charge significantly more than the $80/hour rate.  This was just an example of how to do some simple math to come up with a consulting rate.  Hopefully your rate leaves you with enough to live on and start saving for retirement.

Where are you finding Xojo work?  Have any fun stories of a client saying no to your rate and then coming back a year later after spending far more than your original estimate?

Look for some posts next week about my experiences at XDC!

How Not to Get Screwed By Clients

Excellent article over at Fast Company that’s a really good read.  http://www.fastcodesign.com/3024819/how-not-to-get-screwed-by-clients?partner=newsletter  I’ll wait for you to come back.

Get it in Writing

Never do any work unless you have it in writing.  If you do happen to be talking via phone or video send an email afterward what you think you heard.  It’s up to the client to tell you differently then.

Don’t do any work without a contract.  You can find some simple contracts over a http://www.docracy.com.

No Spec Work

We get this line a lot, “There’s additional work in the future.  What kind of a price break can we get on this small starter project?”  Really?  You want the discount, now, before we’ve established that we can work together?  Um…no.  Discounts are for when you trust each other and it’s a really big project (as in you don’t have to find additional work).

Upfront payments & never send final work before final money

If you ever have a client tell you that they’ll pay you afterwards just walk away.  Seriously.

I turned down a project a few years back for a lot of reasons but one of them was that my gut was telling me the client seemed ‘slimy’.  For one, he insisted that in his 30 years of working with developers no one had EVER asked him for money upfront.  We said no and he went on his way.  He shopped his project around to a number of other consultants who also turned him down (for similar reasons).

Finally he found a Xojo developer that was just doing consulting for fun (really!) and who didn’t ask for any money up front.  What could go wrong, right?  He agreed to the project (no contract, by the way, but that’s another story) and delivered the project.  Guess what, the client stiffed him.

This developer did the work with no down payment and gave the client the final product before payment.  If he had at least gotten a down payment he would have been compensated a little.  Instead he got nothing.  Make sure you have your bases covered.  And of course with no contract in place the developer has no recourse.

Look for red flags.  Run for the hills

Don’t be afraid to run away from a prospective client.  Trust your instincts.  The linked to article has some good ones (including the This will lead to paid work line).  Some of our red flags:

• No specifications.  It’s common for a client to not have the fine details but when they have zero idea what they want then it’s time to move on (or charge them to write the specifications).

• Worse yet, worthless specifications.  I once had a client give me an 80 page specification document that made zero sense.  We had four people review it and all of us came out scratching our heads.  Funny enough, after meeting with him it was written exactly the way he talked.  Sadly, I should have walked away from that project even though the alarm bells were ringing.

• They fight you over every penny.  I’m not saying that the client shouldn’t be prudent with their money, but if they are professionals looking for professional help they should realize that your time, effort, and experience is not cheap.

• You’re the third or fourth developer they’ve either approached or worked with.  There’s a reason why they keep not finding or losing developers.

There are more red flags but those are a start.  What are some of your red flags with clients?

Open Letter To RS

Dear Real Software,

Thank you for a wonderful product.  It has served me and my clients well for over a decade now.  I can think of no other product that is as easy to use yet as powerful and flexible as Real Studio.  It really is a great product and I have no problems recommending it to others.

I have been critical of Rapid Release Model in the past and will probably continue to do so in the future.  I feel that in too many cases incomplete features and documentation have been released simply to fit the schedule.  I have advocated for fewer releases or releases that stagger bug fixes and new features because I have been bitten, too often, by needing a bug fix in a new release just to be bitten by a new bug somewhere else in the product.  It’s very frustrating for me and my clients.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, we are experiencing the opposite effect.  You see, you have been telling us for over a year that we need to be testing Cocoa because it’s the future.  We’ve taken this to heart because we don’t care to get caught with our pants down.  In addition you’ve also told us that bugs in Carbon, unless critical, won’t be fixed.  This leaves us between a rock and a hard place for our Macintosh builds because we have projects (for paying clients) that can’t be built using Carbon because of bugs, and we can’t build for Cocoa because of Cocoa specific bugs.

We have similar issues with Web Edition apps.  We have a number of very critical bugs that are affecting our delivery of web apps to our clients.  Sadly, what makes this situation hard to deal with is that those bugs are marked as fixed and are only awaiting a new release.

We all know that the goal is to have the 2012 Release 1 be a 100% Cocoa Mac build.  We also know that it is a completely redesigned IDE.  Both are laudable goals and I can only imagine the complexity of managing both of those projects simultaneously.

Real Studio Release 4 was released the week of December 5, 2011.  The three dot releases fixed some hugely critical bugs but contained just a few changes.  I understand that all hands are on deck to get the new IDE up and running and Cocoa polished.  No one is denying that it’s not a huge job to undertake all that at the same time.  I question, however, if you really have the resources available and the proper planning in place to accomplish these goals in a timely manner without understanding the ramifications to your customers.

It’s now been 120 days since the last major release.  Frankly, I don’t care about the 90 day release cycle but it leaves a foul taste in my mouth when you tell us to use Cocoa because you need more feedback and then stick us with a release that has bugs in both Carbon and Cocoa.  Unfortunately, there is no end in sight as there is no release date set for 2012 Release 1 and, as far as I know, R1 is not in beta testing yet.

This delay is starting to be intolerable.  Your failure to plan and execute this transition properly is starting to cost me.  So far, my clients have been patient.  The really large projects are still on schedule but that’s about to end as Web Edition and Cocoa bugs WILL cause them to stop dead in their tracks.  Do you plan on paying my salary and my employees while we wait on you to release a working and stable version?  I’m certain that my clients won’t be willing to pay for projects that don’t work because of framework bugs.

Here’s my fear:  You’ll release a new IDE with all of the Cocoa and Web Edition fixes but because you’re hurrying it through the testing process (because we’re all bitching for bug fixes) it will not be usable.  If that happens I am doubly screwed since I have zero options.  I can’t go forward and I can’t go back.  I see this as a lose-lose situation for me.

I urge you to reconsider the Cocoa and IDE redesign in the same release.  Let us, your loyal, paying, customers get our bug fixes so that you can continue working on the new IDE.  I realize this change will greatly impact the schedule of the IDE.  I also realize that retrofitting the newer framework into the older IDE is also a LOT of work if not extremely difficult.  However, if going back to an R4 update is faster and more stable than the new R1 IDE then I say do it and I will applaud the decision and defend the decision to the end.

I know this letter probably won’t go over well but I’m looking ahead and getting nervous.  I know you’re working as hard as possible but perhaps it’s time to rethink the strategy and go a different route.  Engineering is about planning and adapting to changes.  There is no shame in doing something different.

I hope I’m wrong and things fall into place.  I’d love to pen a post saying thanks for a great release saying that all of my developers and clients are happy.  I see many things that will make that hard to do.  I am nervous and nervous customers are a bad thing.

Anxious and concerned,

Bob Keeney

BKeeney Software Inc.

Clients Coming From Another Developer

If a potential client came to you complaining of another developer in the community, what would you do?  I’ve had a few referrals happen like this and if I personally know the developer I usually send the developer a quick note asking for any details they’d be willing to share about the client.  I’ve only done this for developers that I consider friends but I’m wondering if I’m breaking some sort of protocol.

I look at this way, if a potential client comes to me and is mad at another developer (and names them) I think I should do my due diligence and find out as much as I can about the client.  Should this be a warning flag?  Not all clients are made equal and some are downright bad and not worth the time and effort to court and some you should run away from as quickly as possible.  Ours is a small enough community where a bad client can go through many developers in a short amount of time causing nothing but heartache and financial ruin along way.  I know I’d appreciate a heads up if I was next on the list.

I’ve turned down potential clients because of various issues (mainly just gut instinct but some over contractual issues) only to have other developers contact me later asking if an why I had turned down the project to begin with.  I can hear the dismay in their voice (you know that old style communication thing called voice?) when I give them the answer.  I almost wish they had contacted me up front because sometimes these projects cost people hundreds of dollars (at a minimum) and tens of thousands for a really big project.  We all deserve better than that.

So what do you do if you’ve been contacted by a client unhappy by another developers work?  Have you contacted that developer asking for information?

Happy Coding!

 

Dear Idiotic Developer

Dear Idiotic Developer:

OPC is our internal slang for Other Peoples Code.  I’ve talked about this before but just in case you’ve never been here before, OPC projects are always the most dangerous kind of projects to work on.  They can quickly become a rats nest and cause no end of grief mainly because you have to figure out what the original programmer (or programmers) was thinking.  Because it’s a Friday afternoon and I’ve been up to my elbows in digging through your OPC project all week here is my list of complaints:

  • Poor variable names:  Variables such at ‘tmpd’ and ”bDbDl” don’t tell me anything.  Long variable names aren’t going to kill you and using Real Studio’s autocomplete will (usually) make this a non-issue.
  • Three Letter Acronym (TLA) Variable names:  Stop being lazy and use some real words.  Obviously you didn’t expect someone else to read your code in five years.  If I ever find you I promise I will mock you.  I hope you are doing a better job of naming variables in your new job than your last one!
  • Poor method names:  Methods named “SelAcc” and “DoWork” don’t give me any type of clue on what it does – especially when you have no comments in your code.
  • Nested If-Then Blocks from Death:  There are times you need to do this but it’s been my experience if you’ve got more than 2 or 3 at any given time your method is too long and should be broken up into smaller methods.  Keep it simple.  Complexity kills.
  • Multiple nested loops from death:  See nested if-then blocks from death above.
  • Long methods:  This kinds of goes with the previous two.  If your methods scroll and scroll and scroll you have a problem.  If you had a problem in that method (i.e. it throws an exception) good luck finding the problem.  Break it up into smaller chunks of code.  Perhaps you can take the 100 lines of code you have the first part of your IF statement and break that out?  Just sayin’.
  • Controls using the default names:  Really, you expect me to figure out the difference between TextField1 and TextField11 by making me look at the UI?  Next time, please use a name that will mean something to you in code.
  • Controls using generic names:  On the flip side you used a name different than the default one.  Good for you.  Perhaps next time you can use something other than ‘s’ for its name because it took me a while to figure out it was damn text field rather than just a plain string.
  • Constant names versus property names:  Quite ingenious the way you used the same constant name as a property name so that the IDE doesn’t help me in autocomplete.  Thanks.  That’s ones special.
  • Stop trying to be fancy:  I get it.  You went to whiz bang college and learned some cool programming tricks and techniques and you’re pretty smart.  Remember, you’re writing for your boss/client/person who signs your paycheck so don’t forget that you’ll eventually move on/get fired/hit by a bus.  Be nice to the poor bastard that has to learn your code after you.  Assume they do not have your skill set.
  • No comments/documentation.  Of course given all the previous bullet points this one isn’t surprising.  Would it have killed you to put a sentence – ONE SINGLE &*^!@% SENTENCE – describing what a method does?  If you hadn’t done all of the above items too that’s all it would have taken but instead you have ZERO comments in 10,000+ lines of code.

But, I must say thanks for reminding me why I don’t like working on OPC projects.  You’ve taught me that just saying “no” in future projects will make my life easier and less complicated.  My wife, kids, and dog will like me better if I don’t take another OPC project.

I think if I had any advice for programmers just starting out.  Spend six months fixing Other Peoples Code (OPC) and see what drives you absolutely bonkers.  Then, and only then, can you start writing your own code.  You’ll hate it but it will give you some very valuable experience early in your career, on the things not to do.  Being kind to the developers that come after you is just as important and by doing this you’ll know.

Ultimately I’m a lazy programmer.  Not that I don’t do the work I just don’t want to work that hard at figuring out old code.  If you name your variables and methods properly and consistently, keep your methods short, and if you write minimal comments it’s not that hard to figure it all out later.  Having to guess at someone else intent makes my head hurt.

Sincerely,

Bob

So dear readers what OPC foibles drive you crazy?

What’s Your Real Studio Story? (Part two)

In part one of this series I talked about the early chapters of my Real Studio story.  Today I’ll talk about some of the things we (because we have multiple employees) with Real Studio.

Let’s go back to the 2008.  That was the last year that Real Software held the REAL World conference in Austin, Texas.  I begged Real Software to let me have a meeting at 8:00 AM to hold an organizational meeting for a REALbasic users group of some sort.  I was surprised at the turnout and the Association of REALbasic Professionals (ARBP) was born.  http://www.arbp.org

Starting ARBP has been a job of persistence and overcoming inertia.  Since we started with nothing: no organization, no leaders, no website, no expectations, we really had no idea what we were going to be when we grew up.  Thankfully I was supported by an awesome group of dedicated individuals that really helped push the organization, and me, along.

In three years, ARBP has hosted two conferences.  The first was in Boulder, Colorado in 2009 and the second was in Atlanta, Georgia this past March.  Both of those conferences were recorded and are available for ARBP paid members.

Besides helping organize both events I’ve spoken at both of them.  So has my #1 employee, über programmer, Seth Verrinder.  Seth has been with us for three and a half years and has been an awesome addition to the team.  Without him, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are.  Between the two of us we’ve also written a fair number of the tutorials, newer projects in the source code repository, and articles.

Sharing code with the community is great way to contribute.  Many of us ‘old timers’ have a library of code just sitting around that would contribute to the community and help people just starting out with Real Studio.  Think about adding your source code to the ARBP Source Code Repository.

Speaking of training, in late 2009 I was contacted to do some video training for Real Studio.  They only wanted about eight hours of video and I felt that I couldn’t do the language or the IDE justice in that short amount of time.  But it did start my creative juices flowing and now I have over 30 hours of Real Studio video training material available at http://www.bkeeney.com.  That 30 hours comprises over 110 separate videos including most of the common Real Studio controls for both desktop and Web Edition.  Most videos come with a project file that you’re free to use in your own projects.  I have two complete series where I start at the beginning of a project and follow it through to the end.  Needless to say, I’ve been very happy with the results and the comments I get from users are very encouraging.

What sort of work do we do with Real Studio?  Well, it varies all the time since we’re a consulting firm.  In the past year we’ve done major updates to professional athletic training system (we did version 1 as well), updates to teleprompting software (we did the version 2 rewrite), major work a Web Edition project for an underwriting company, fixed some right-to-left language support in an existing Real Studio app, updates to a veterinary management app, and updates to credit repair software.

From-scratch projects include a PDF viewer/annotation/organizer app, a military strategy simulator, a family genealogy organizer, a front end user interface to a serial lightning detection device, a neurological test for patients with brain damage, a proof-of-concept app for a Mac OS X computer to talk to a electronic keyboard that uses a proprietary ethernet protocol, and a Web Edition app to share URL’s among registered users.  Most desktop projects are cross-platform.

On top of all that, we’ve created a number of smaller, proof-of-concept/training projects for folks that want to do something specific in RB but don’t have the time or inclination to learn it on their own.  These projects are actually kind of fun since they’re very specific and allow us to explore a control or API that we’ve not spent much time on without having to worry about the nit picky details of a full-blown application.

I’m very picky on how I organize documents (I am an engineer after all) so every now and then I go through the older directories as a refresher.  We’ve done a LOT of projects over the years and not one of them is similar to another one.

So how do I find the clients?  At this point we’ve been doing Real Studio consulting for a long time and a lot of long-term clients keep coming back for rewrites and major new additions.  I’m very happy about that as the relationship is already in place and they trust us.  It’s an awesome feeling.

Believe it or not, the video training has been a nice addition to our consulting business.  The progression is that people sign up for the videos and then after a couple of weeks (or months) they send us an email asking if we are available for work.  Because of the videos we already have a ‘relationship’ even if I’ve never talked to them before because they see how I work with Real Studio.

I’m also a member of the Real Studio Consulting Referral Program https://secure.realsoftware.com/store/consulting.php.  It currently costs $495 for twelve months and $295 for six months.  It’s worth it.  By the time a potential client sends in their information to the Find a Developer Page at https://secure.realsoftware.com/support/consultants.php they’ve already decided that Real Studio is what they’re looking for.

At one Real World I said being part of the Referral Program is “like shooting fish in a barrel”.  I still believe that.  The cost is insignificant.  One very small project and it pays for itself.  If you want to start working with Real Studio on a full-time basis, this is the place to start.

One last note on ARBP.  I’m happy, and a little sad, to say that today is my last official day as leader of the organization.  Tonight is our board meeting where a new board will take over and a new president will lead ARBP into the future.  I’m still on the board as Treasurer (assuming no one else wants it) but the day to day stuff will no longer be in my hands.  I urge you to volunteer as it’s a great organization that is always looking for help.  You don’t have to be a Real Studio expert (or professional) help out.

So those are the current chapters in the BKeeney Software Real Studio story.  What sort of projects are you working on?  How are you finding work?

 

RB Developer Column: Face Time

The January/February 2011 edition of REAL Studio Developer magazine is out.  My regular column talks about the value of ‘face time’ and how, despite all of the electronic means available to us, of communicating with one another, sitting across the table with another person is a very powerful thing.

Sadly, we (BKS) meet very few of our clients face-to-face.  Those that we do have become more than just clients – they’re colleagues, partners, and sometimes even friends.

Personally, I think this is why I’m so excited about the REAL Studio conference coming up in March in Atlanta.  It’s a lot of work to put on a conference and do a presentation.  But past conferences have shown that I always come home very happy and jazzed about the things that I’ve learned and people I’ve met.  Exhausted?  Definitely!  But well worth it.
What about you?