Working at Canonical, three years in. a.k.a wtf just happened?

A couple of people have reached out to me via LinkedIn and reminded me that my three year work anniversary happened last Friday. Three years since I left my job at a local place to go work for the Canonical where I got the chance to be paid to work on open source software and better my Python skills with the team working on Launchpad. My wife wasn’t quite sure. “You’ve only been at your job a year and a half, and your last one was only two years. What makes this different?”

What’s amazing, looking back, is just how *right* the decision turned out to be. I was nervous at the time. I really wasn’t Launchpad’s biggest fan. However, the team I interviewed with held this promise of making me a better developer. They were doing code reviews of every branch that went up to land. They had automated testing, and they firmly believed in unit and functional tests of the code. It was a case of the product didn’t excite me, but the environment, working with smart developers from across the globe, was exactly what I felt like I needed to move forward with my career, my craft.

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I joined my team on Launchpad in a squad of four other developers. It was funny. When I joined I felt so lost. Launchpad is an amazing and huge bit of software, and I knew I was in over my head. I talked with my manager at the time, Deryck, and he told me “Don’t worry, it’ll take you about a year to get really productive working on Launchpad.” A year! Surely you jest, and if you’re not jesting…wtf did I just get myself into?

It was a long road and over time I learned how to take a code review (a really hard skill for many of us), how to do one, and how to talk with other smart and opinionated developers. I learned the value of the daily standup, how to manage work across a kanban board. I learned to really learn from others. Up until this point I’d always been the big fish in a small pond and suddenly I was the minnow hiding in the shallows. Forget books on how to code, just look at the diff in the code review you’re reading right now. Learn!

My boss was right, it was nearly ten months before I really felt like I could be asked to do most things in Launchpad and get them done in an efficient way. Soon our team was moved on from Launchpad to other projects. It was actually pretty great. On the one hand, “Hey! I just got the hang of this thing” but, on the other hand, we were moving on to new things. Development life here has never been one of sitting still. We sit down and work on the Ubuntu cycle of six month plans, and it’s funny because even that is such a long time. Do you really know what you’ll be doing six months from now?

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Since that time in Launchpad I’ve gotten work on several different projects and I ended up switching teams to work on the Juju Gui. I didn’t really know a lot about this Juju thing, but the Gui was a fascinating project. It’s a really large scale JavaScript application. This is no “toss some jQuery on a web page” thing here.

I also moved to work under a new manager Gary. As my second manager since starting at Canonical and I was amazed at my luck. Here I’ve had two great mentors that made huge strides in teaching me how to work with other developers, how to do the fun stuff, the mundane, and how to take pride in the accomplishments of the team. I sit down at my computer every day and I’ve got the brain power of amazing people at my disposal over irc, Google Hangouts, email, and more. It’s amazing to think that at these sprints we do, I’m pretty much never the smartest person in the room. However, that’s what’s so great. It’s never boring and when there’s a problem the key is that we put our joint brilliant minds to the problem. In every hard problem we’ve faced I’ve never found that a single person had the one true solution. What we come up with together is always better than what any of us had apart.

When Gary left and there was a void for team lead and it was something I was interested in. I really can’t say enough awesome things about the team of folks I work with. I wanted to keep us all together and I felt like it would be great for us to try to keep things going. It was kind of a “well I’ll just try not to $#@$@# it up” situation. That was more than nine months ago now. Gary and Deryck taught me so much, and I still have to bite my tongue and ask myself “What would Gary do” at times. I’ve kept some things the same, but I’ve also brought my own flavor into the team a bit, at least I like to think so. These days my Github profile doesn’t show me landing a branch a day, but I take great pride in the progress of the team as a whole each and every week.

The team I run now is as awesome a group of people, the best I could hope to work for. I do mean that, I work for my team. It’s never the other way around and that’s one lesson I definitely picked up from my previous leads. The projects we’re working on are exciting and new and are really important to Canonical. I get to sit in and have discussions and planning meetings with Canonical super genius veterans like Kapil, Gustavo, and occasionally Mark Shuttleworth himself.

Looking back I’ve spent the last three years becoming a better developer, getting an on the job training course on leading a team of brilliant people, and crash course on thinking about the project, not just as the bugs or features for the week, but for the project as it needs to exist in three to six months. I’ve spent three years bouncing between “what have I gotten myself into, this is beyond my abilities” to “I’ve got this. You can’t find someone else to do this better”. I always tell people that if you’re not swimming as hard as you can to keep up, find another job. I feel like three years ago I did that and I’ve been swimming ever since.

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Three years is a long time in a career these days. It’s been a wild ride and I can’t thank the folks that let me in the door, taught me, and have given me the power to do great things with my work enough. I’ve worked by butt off in Budapest, Copenhagen, Cape Town, Brussels, North Carolina, London, Vegas, and the bay area a few times. Will I be here three years from now? Who knows, but I know I’ve got an awesome team to work with on Monday and we’ll be building an awesome product to keep building. I’m going to really enjoy doing work that’s challenging and fulfilling every step of the way.

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Bookie meets Google Summer of Code 2014

Today the Google Summer of Code student selections were announced, and with that announcement Bookie revealed our selections for the slots allocated for each of our two mentors. This announcement highlights an amazing round of participation in Bookie as an open source project. Twenty people participated and landed over 110 commits worth of patches in Bookie since the opening of GSoC. That is AMAZING! In less than a week every bite-sized bug evaporated from the issue tracker. Also amazing is the quality and effort that everyone put into their work. Everyone was eager to learn how to add tests to their patches, and they worked so hard to get their code landed. Bookie emerges a better open source tool for managing bookmarks than it was 2 months ago, and that is because of the hard work and dedication of all of the participating students.

Students did more than land branches; they invigorated the community. We had many users jump into IRC to answer questions and guide students through the process. They also performed QA and did code reviews of their work. The enthusiasm the students brought to Bookie motivated me to make the time to help move things forward. After all: if a student spent 3 days figuring out how to fix a bug, write a test for it, commit the fixes to git, and get it up for code review; then I can manage to find the 30 minutes to pull the commit, review the code, and QA the work. This period motivated me to update documentation and ensure the install process worked for a wider audience. Additional motivation came from knowing that Bookie is interesting as a tool to other people besides myself.

I want every student not selected for Google Summer of Code to know their work and effort is greatly appreciated. I and the other members of the Bookie community enjoyed working with everyone who participated. Bookie had 32 applications for 2 available spots. In conversations with other organizations Bookie had a comparatively crazy amount of competition for few allocated spaces. I wish Bookie had a dozen or so more mentors and slots as over half of Bookie's proposals would have easily been accepted. Culling the dozens of great proposals into two positions was a very difficult process for us. It's hard to say "not right now" when there's so many great offers by so many eager and capable students.

Regardless of whether you were selected for Google Summer of Code the fun doesn't have to end. If you found the time contributing to Bookie valuable; if you learned something new, gained some material for that resume, or just had a good time: PLEASE DON'T STOP! Bookie isn't going anywhere or closing up shop; we're more than happy to continue mentoring and working with you all. We worked hard during this process to ensure all students were given the best chance to take something positive away from this application process. With your continued participation in the Bookie project we'd like to continue to mentor and provide guidance for you.

One area of guidance we owe all students relates to your proposal. Should you want any explanation of what you could do differently with your proposal / application please let us know. I'll be honest though: most of the applications we received were quite good, so there's little to critique. The scoring method we used put most of the applications within a few points of each other. But if you'd like to know more please feel free to ping me in irc and ask me anything you'd like.

Finally we'd like to congratulate Sambuddha and Pradyumna for their outstanding work leading up to this announcement, and we look forward to the results of their proposals for adding great features to Bookie over the summer. If you find the work interesting, please come help them out. Feel free to get involved, help with the work, the code reviews, and the testing of the new features. Maybe you'll be helping mentor Bookie next year? Who knows? :)

This was our first year participating in Google Summer of Code, but you can be assured it will not be the last.
We'd like to thank all of the students for flooding our channels and making this not only an amazingly crazy and busy time but also an immensely rewarding period in Bookie's history. You are all part of Bookie's history and we look forward to seeing you as part of Bookie's future. Thank you.

Juju Quickstart and the power of bundles

The Juju UI team has been hard at work making it even easier for you to get started with Juju. We’ve got a new tool for everyone that is appropriately named Juju Quickstart and when you combine it with the power of Juju bundles you’re in for something special.

Quickstart is a Juju plugin that aims to help you get up and running with Juju faster than any set of commands you can copy and paste. First, to use Quickstart you need to install it. If you’re on the upcoming Ubuntu Trusty release it’s already there for you. If you’re on an older version of Ubuntu you need to get the Juju stable ppa

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:juju/stable
sudo apt-get update

Installing Quickstart is then just:

sudo apt-get install juju-quickstart

Once you’ve got Quickstart installed you are ready to use it to deploy Juju environments. Just run it with `juju-quickstart`. Quickstart will then open a window to help walk you through setting up your first cloud environment using Juju.

Quickstart can help you configure and setup clouds using LXC (for local environments), OpenStack (which is used for HP Cloud), Windows Azure, and Amazon EC2. It knows what configuration data is required for each cloud provider and provides hints on where to find the information you’ll need.

Once you’ve configured  your cloud provider, Quickstart will bootstrap a Juju environment on it for you. This takes a while on live clouds as this is bringing up instances.

Quickstart does a couple of things to make the environment nicer than your typical bootstrap. First, it will automatically install the Juju GUI for you. It does this on the first machine brought up in the environment so that it’s co-located, which means it comes up much faster and does not incur the cost of a separate machine.  Once the GUI is up and running, Quickstart will automatically launch your browser and log you into the GUI. This saves you from having to copy and paste your admin secret to log in.

If you would like to setup additional environments you can re-launch Quickstart at any time. Use juju-quickstart -i to get back to the guided setup.

Once the environment is up Quickstart still helps you out by providing a shortcut to get back to the Juju GUI running. It will auto launch your browser, find the right IP address of the GUI, and auto log you in. Come back the next day and Quickstart is still the fastest way to get back into your environment.

Finally, Quickstart works great with the new Juju charm bundles feature. A bundle is a set of services with a specific configuration and their corresponding relations that can be deployed together via a single step. Instead of deploying a single service, they can be used to deploy an entire workload, with working relations and configuration. The use of bundles allows for easy repeatability and for sharing of complex, multi-service deployments. Quickstart can accept a bundle and will deploy that bundle for you. If the environment is not bootstrapped it will bring up the environment, install the GUI, and then deploy the bundle.

For instance, here is the one command needed to deploy a bundle that we’ve created and shared:

juju-quickstart bundle:~jorge/mongodb-cluster/1/mongodb-cluster

If the environment is already bootstrapped and running then Quickstart will just deploy the bundle. The two features together work great for testing repeatable deployments. What’s great is that the power of Juju means you can test this deployment on multiple clouds effortlessly.  For instance you can design and configure your bundle locally via LXC and, when satisfied, deploy it to a real environment, simply by changing the environment command-line option when launching Quickstart.

Try out Quickstart and bundles and let us know what you think. Feel free to hop into our irc channel #juju on Freenode if you’ve got any questions. We’re happy to help.

Make sure to check out Mat’s great YouTube video walk through as well over on the Juju GUI blog.

Bookie Sprint – Aug 31st

It’s time for another Bookie sprint!

When – Saturday August 31st

What time – Starts at 11am

Where – my house! Ping me for address/map info if you’re coming along. Map out to Clarkston, MI.

What will we be working on?

The goal is to work on test coverage and breadability article parsing. Are you new to application testing? Come out and learn while helping out an open source project.

If you want to participate online please join our irc channel #bookie on freenode.net. If there’s something else you’d rather work on then please let me know and I’ll be happy to do whatever I can to aid in participation.

Pebble: first impressions

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Some time back in April of 2012 someone on Twitter linked to this Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build a very geeky watch. The idea was interesting to me. I love my android phone, but it’s in my pocket all day. The idea of getting texts on my wrist while driving, working, and woodworking was intriguing. Not all messages require me to pull out my phone, unlock it, and view what was up. So I supported it.

Here we are, not that far from a year later, and I’ve gotten a copy of the watch. I’ve been using it for the past few days and wanted to put out there my feedback. There’s a bit out there already, but hey, my turn!

The Good

Does it work like it’s supposed to? Definitely! I’ve been getting texts and calendar notifications on the watch and it’s been really nice. Simple texts like the one from my wife “on my way home” have been nice to just press a button and dismiss. Calendar notifications as well. I’m up getting a drink and a meeting notice buzzes my wrist with a note what’s coming up. It’s much nicer than pulling out the phone. The one downside is that when you do pull your phone out there’s a bunch of notifications to dismiss and you want to make sure you got them all.

As for fit, I need to get a replacement wrist band, but it’s not that bad. I was worried about the size of the face, but I’ve not found that it’s actually not that large. There are much larger watches out there by far. I do find that it rotates around and ends up on the bone every once in a while, but I’m hoping a better watch band will help with that. I’d rather they put the $$ into the device and less into meeting everyone’s private feelings about what makes a great watch band, so no complaints.

Battery life isn’t really tested yet. I charged it when I first got it and I’m on day 3. This includes leaving it overnight hooked up to my phone which I should probably stop I guess. My phone battery seems ok as well. It’s hard to judge as I’ve got a nearly 1yr old Galaxy Nexus with a battery that needs replacement currently.

The Potential

I’m not going to go down the ‘bad’ road here. This is a new product, just released, and it’s getting updates so let’s just concentrate on what could be better.

The first thing is the navigation. It came out during the initial demos. The nav menu is setup in a way that needs love. If I have to have watch faces on there as full app status, then I should be able to remove ones I don’t use so that navigation is less painful. Honestly, watchfaces need a sub nav. Settings already has this, so the concept should be easy to implement.

Along those lines, back from the home menu should activate the watch face. I once changed watch faces because I was in the settings and waiting for the home nav to timeout back to the watch face. In that time I moved in my wrist in a way that activated a new watch face on accident. Doh!

Next up, we really really need the sdk. Currently, there’s just a limited set of uses. It’s great for texts/calender notifications, but there’s so much more that could be possible. Imagine a pomodoro app for the time management geeks, or hooking up the Field Trip app into notifications as you walk around. There’s a lot of potential and the sdk needs to come out to enable a lot of it.

It really needs a battery indicator somehow. I’d really settle for a number value in the settings/about area. If I’m going to trust this as my watch I need to have an idea when I leave the house if it’s going to make it or not. If it’s meant to charge once a week, I’m not going to have a full recollection of the last time I put it on the charger. Was that Sunday? or maybe it was Saturday? I don’t think it needs to be too prominent though.

The final thing is more a nitpick. I listen to Audible a lot on my phone. While doing the dishes, cleaning the house, making dinner, all the time. So I really love the idea of using my watch to start/stop vs using my phone itself as it sits in my pocket. However, the integration there isn’t perfect. If I’m playing a book and use the music app to pause, it will pause my book, but starts the Google Music application. Then another pause will stop that music as well. However, I can’t then start back up again. Somehow, my bluetooth speaker and headphones talk to Android in a way that it can start/stop any audio application. It just starts the last thing playing, podcasts in DogCatcher, books in Audible, or music in Google Music. I really want the pebble music app to work like that as well.

Conclusion

I really like the Pebble, but a big part of my like is seeing the potential. I think they made a great decision to not try to make the watch the computer and use the phone for that. I hope they don’t ever stray from that decision. I also really like how Android has made things much nicer/easier for them. I can’t wait to see what other apps can do with a Pebble intent that would allow exposing some UX away from the device itself. If you’re a dev I’ll finish up with a few wishlist items for people to work on:

  • Google Authenticator app on the watch to show the number generated
  • Google now card info: weather, flight upcoming, upcoming meeting
  • Syncing alarms from device to watch
  • Twitter replies/DM notifications
  • Field Trip app info when you pass by a specific place
  • Guidebook integration with next talk/room information

Bookie 0.4: one week retrospective

Phew, that was a whirlwind of a week. Just over one week ago I finally released Bookie 0.4 and published the blog post to reddit as an announcement. This introduced signups and I was eager to see if there was real interest in the project now that users could sign up and try things out.

By the numbers

Traffic definitely came.

  • The blog post picked up 800 visits over the two days in the weekend.
  • https://bmark.us grabbed 360 unique new visitors.
  • We went from 58 to 126 activated user accounts.
  • Those users brought us to over 26,000 bookmarks stored in the site.

Complications

Of course, any swarm of new users finds the holes in the system and Bookie was no different. There were a few issues. First, the celery task that sends out emails on signup wasn’t running because the email config wasn’t setup right. This was a pretty quick fix. Next, the import system wasn’t filling out the path for uploaded files correctly. This one was another pretty easy fix, but I managed imports manually until I got the fix deployed.

The big thing was that, for probably the first time, all three moving parts to the system were trying to store bookmarks at once. The celery backend, the web UI, and a cron script that looks for new bookmarks without readable content and fetches it for storing. All of these hit the Whoosh fulltext index and caused locking issues that broke both imports and saving new bookmarks from the webui until I figured out the issue and just reset the fulltext index.

It was pretty bad timing as I could see users trying to add test bookmarks via the web interface. Google realtime analytics is pretty entrancing to watch. In the end I had to run to the Whoosh docs and change things up to use the async writer instead of the default locking mechanism. This got things running again, but the problem now is that I had to remove all the existing fulltext index. I’ve still got to finish a background job that will walk through all bookmarks and index them.

At some point I might need to remove the fulltext indexing from the current SqlAlchemy event hooks, but as purely background celery jobs that I can control from one place easier. This would remove the lock at all from the cron job and the web ui.

Disappointments

While I could see the charts showing traffic, it was tough because it was pretty invisible traffic. There were only three new users into the #bookie irc channel, and only a few people left comments in the reddit thread. No one left a comment on the blog post. Both my Twitter account and the Bookie accountgained fewer than 5 new followers. While the repository was starred many times, only two forks were created.

Going forward

There are a few new users active over the last week, and I’ve gotten a pair of pull requests. While the saving of new bookmarks was broken for a lot longer than I’d have liked, the site never went down. Imports were done in a semi-reasonable time frame. All of this felt pretty great and is encouraging for future work. I still need to finish fixing up the readable parsing. It’s the big selling point of Bookie, and the fact that fulltext search and readable parsed content for all bookmarks isn’t there is frustrating.

Here’s looking forward to great work and a more popular release announcement for Bookie 0.5.

Bookie 0.4 released into the wild!

Bookie is a Python based open source bookmark managing web application that includes content archiving, a Chrome extension, and much more.

Phew, that took a lot longer than expected. I’ve tagged Bookie 0.4 and the live site is updated to run it.

This brings a ton of work on getting an updated webui with some client side MVC, an API, Celery job running backend, some stats, and spin off projects such as breadability and a cli client.

The big thing is that signups are now there as well as a landing page. So hopefully this will spike up interest in new users checking out Bookie.

There are still a ton of long term ideas to work on with Bookie. I’d like to get a ‘reading’ view setup so that you can easily run through the bookmarks you’ve marked `toread`, especially in a mobile view. <3 my N7. I also want to work on getting suggestions for related bookmarks, suggested tags based on content, and other interesting machine learning type problems.

If you're the type that takes your bookmarks seriously give it a try. If you don't want to run your own instance, sign up to https://bmark.us and try it out there.

You can get an idea of the roadmap we're working off of on the Trello board.