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Full UK Post Code Data Available

16 September 2009 by Stuart Cam

From The Guardian

"Wikileaks is hosting what it says is a copy of the entire UK postcode list, last updated on July 8 2009, that contains all 1,841,177 UK post codes together with latitude and longitude, grid references, county, district, ward, NHS codes and regions, Ordnance Survey reference, and date of introduction."

If you are working on a geo-location application for the UK market I suggest you download the file while it's still available as I'm pretty sure the cease-and-desist letter is already in the post from The Royal Mail!

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Categories: General | Google Maps | Web

I Read... There... I Said It!

03 July 2009 by Stuart Cam

I am sometimes asked "so how do you keep up-to-date with all that's happening in the industry?".

Well, I...

The problem is making time for these endeavours. Usually I will alternate between them, much like a buffet, occasionally gorging on a particular topic when I am in the right frame of mind. Obsessive? possibly... but I think it's important to have a varied diet to keep it exciting.

Online articles and coding websites are great for picking up the odd skill or two but they often lack the depth required for some topics.

I had attempted to reconcile my love of technical books and mitigate some of their downsides (size, weight, cost and errata) by purchasing a Sony PRS-500 and seeking out digital versions of titles. I bought the unit when it first launched a couple of years ago and since then it has seen relatively little action. It's been quite a disappointment. The main problem is screen size, or lack thereof. It's way too small to render diagrams and code snippets with clarity. If your primary goal is to read technical books then I'd suggest avoiding the unit altogether and consider a tablet PC instead. That, or take a look at the much larger 9.7" Kindle DX.

I have recently purchased a round of new books in dead-tree format, which I intend to read over the coming weeks...

Software Development

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know - Various

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know - Various

I originally found out about the book through Udi Dahan's blog. Udi has made a couple of article contributions and figured it would be worth a read since I respect his opinions on software development and admire his NServiceBus framework.

The book contains small snippets of non-technical advice from a variety of architects - experience which, in some cases, has been hard won.

The unedited contributions from each author are available for free.


SOA in Practice: The Art of Distributed System Design - Nicolai M. Josuttis

SOA in Practice: The Art of Distributed System Design - Nicolai M. Josuttis

What are the two rules of distributed computing?

1. Do not distribute, it's difficult
2. See #1 (asynchronously)

I know, I know, it's a terrible joke! I had been looking around for an authoritative book on SOA and distributed systems and this book came highly recommended for cutting through the hype. The accompanying website can be found here.


.NET Framework

Effective C#: 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your C# - Bill Wagner

Effective C#: 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your C# - Bill Wagner

I had originally found out about this book through my professional network on LinkedIn via Chris Fulstow. He had mentioned that he was reading the book so I figured it must be worth a look.

It's full of best practices specifically for C#, covering some of the more esoteric language 'features' and how to avoid digging yourself into a big hole with them.

Take a listen to the interview with Bill Wagner on .NET Rocks!


More Effective C#: 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your C# - Bill Wagner

More Effective C#: 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your C# - Bill Wagner

I figured I ought to buy the sequel as it contains information on how to get the best out of the newest C# features such as LINQ and Lambda Expressions.

I heard about this book through Chris Fulstow (again) and subsequently through another .NET Rocks! podcast with Bill Wagner.


ASP.NET MVC 1.0 Quickly - Maarten Balliauw

ASP.NET MVC 1.0 Quickly - Maarten Balliauw

I've been aware of the ASP.NET MVC framework for quite some time. Pretty much the day after Scott Guthrie announced a prototype at the ALT.NET conference. I was looking for a short book which would assume knowledge of ASP.NET and cut straight to the .NET MVC implementation.

Since v1.0 is fairly new there are numerous online tutorials for earlier versions and some great MVC blogs, but not much in the way of printed books. This looked to be the best of a small bunch.


Windows Presentation Foundation Unleashed - Adam Nathan

Windows Presentation Foundation Unleashed - Adam Nathan

I have a minor confession. I have zero WPF experience, which is a little embarrassing since it replaced GDI+ long, long ago.

Unlike many other technical books this one is printed on glossy paper in full colour and totally jam packed with pictures and diagrams. Perfect presentation for learning a presentation framework!

An ex-colleague, Jack Ukleja, recommended this book.


Other Technologies

The Definitive ANTLR Reference - Terrence Parr

The Definitive ANTLR Reference - Terrence Parr

I purchased a digital copy of this book some time ago and have nearly finished reading it... in the bath... on my PRS-500... wrapped rather optimistically in cling film. This time I figured I'd buy the paper version and risk the £16.88 it would cost me to replace if I dropped it!

Bath + electrical items != mix.


Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools - Various

Compilers: Principles, Techniques and Tools - Various

Probably the densest, in both physical and subject matter, of all the books I purchased. I had a quick flick through some of the material and it looks pretty heavy going and full of maths. I anticipate that this will take a long time to read and no doubt expose many other holes in my knowledge along the journey.

My primary motivation was to supplement the ANTLR book with other compiler topics.


Collective Intelligence in Action - Satnam Alag

Collective Intelligence in Action - Satnam Alag

A rather interesting book intended for a Java audience, but which contains mathematics and algorithms suitable for implementation elsewhere. I discovered the book whilst surfing the internet for recommendation engines, which itself was a spur from reading about a recommendation engine that Joel Pobar had written in F#.

Hopefully this book will shed some insight on writing a sophisticated Web 2.0 application.


NHibernate in Action - Various

NHibernate in Action - Various

Another re-purchase of a book I own in digital form. I have followed it through the Manning Early Access Program.

My main gripe is that it doesn't cover the newest version of NHibernate, but given the time it takes to write a book and the speed at which frameworks evolve it's forgivable.

One of the best references for NHibernate available today.


Other

Here Comes Everybody - Clay Shirky

Here Comes Everybody - Clay Shirky

If I had a dollar for every time I heard Jeff Atwood mention Clay Shirky on the StackOverflow podcast I'd probably be able to buy this book without opening my wallet! Instead, I decided to spend my own money and discover the material for myself.

It comes highly rated and promises some insight on the huge changes we are seeing on the internet today with social networking and the wisdom (or madness) of crowds.


The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less - Barry Schwartz

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less - Barry Schwartz

This is the least technical book of the bunch, cited as a reference in The Cult of the Amateur - a book I really enjoyed reading on my travels.

I would probably consider myself a 'maximiser' when it comes to making purchases - perhaps this book will change the way I rationalise my spending decisions? Perhaps it will change the way I buy books? :)


Simply put, read books and treat your education as a #1 priority.

Bill Hicks would probably agree (just with more swearing):

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Categories: .NET | Books | C Sharp | General | MVC | SOA | Web

A Day In The Life Of A Software Recruiter

03 June 2009 by Stuart Cam

I have recently returned from a fairly long stay and tour around Australia and New Zealand. Since returning to sunny England my original plans have changed, I am now looking for contract web-based C# work in Bristol (drop me a line if you have a problem that needs solving).

I've updated my LinkedIn profile and uploaded my CV onto a couple of job boards on the off chance that some work might materialise through that channel. I am starting to wish I hadn't bothered.

Cut to a recent phone call.

...

Recruiter: So I see in your CV that you can program in jQuery?

Me: Sure, I have experience in using jQuery to write AJAX-enabled web pages and...

Recruiter (interrupting): AJAX?

Me: Asynchronous JavaScript And XML, it's a building block for creating rich internet applications...

OVERHEARD SCRIBBLING

Recruiter: OK... go on...

Me: ...so I have used jQuery for a little over a year. I have read a couple of books including jQuery In Action which was written by one of the framework contributors. I understand the CSS-selector syntax, the intentions of the framework and common use-cases. I have commercial experience using jQuery but I am no means a guru. As an aside, I wrote a similar intentioned framework for an e-commerce website around 8 years ago, but since then things have moved on and frameworks like jQuery have filled this space.

Recruiter: So... jQuery... it's a yes?

Me (sighing): Yes.

YOU COULD ALMOST HEAR THE PEN TICKING THE BOX

Recruiter: HTML experience?

...

I'm afraid to say that this scenario has played out over and over again for the last few weeks in different guises with many different recruiters. A tip to recruiters out there - if my CV states a particular technology and you ask me about it don't be surprised if I elaborate! Otherwise why even bother asking the question?

This brings me onto an imagined day in the life of a software professional recruiter:

  1. Wake up. Drink at least a dozen espressos in order to increase the number of words vocalised per minute. You'll need this for #7
  2. Trawl various job sites for CVs
  3. Copy CVs into the company system, why pay to access up-to-date CVs when you can copy and keep them forever? Quantity is everything, work the numbers!
  4. Receive word that Employer-X is looking for candidates, or more likely glean this information from other candidates
  5. Filter suitable keywords from the job specification. A useful tip here is to pick words where all the letters are capitalised. C#, .NET, C#, XML and ASP are such keywords
  6. Search the local pool of CVs using said keywords
  7. Call matching candidates
  8. Match keywords to candidate responses using a checklist
  9. Attempt to gain additional information from the candidate through such questions as:
    • Where else are they interviewing? (See #4)
    • Their theoretical lowest possible rate?
    • How are they finding the market? (what sort of question is this, do they not know their own market?!)
  10. Repeat #6 until candidate list is empty. Remember, volume and turnover is king
  11. Assemble all matching CVs into a big fire-and-forget e-mail to Employer-X
  12. Repeat #2 until 5PM
  13. Retreat to the cave for another nights sleep

Is it any wonder why the success rate of finding work through a job board has such a poor track record?

The problem is that the majority of recruiters finding and screening candidates for software development roles have little, if any, understanding of software development.

Think about that for a minute. Would you be happy if your local NHS service entrusted the hiring of staff to an agency with no experience in the industry? Would you hire a wedding planner to find you a reliable plumber? Probably not, it doesn't make sense, yet this is the reality today.

These fly-by-night recruiters are adding zero value in the employment chain. At best they are simply getting in the way and getting paid rather handsomely in the process. The situation is even more ridiculous when you consider that some companies sign exclusivity agreements with these clowns, forcing all potential candidates through the gauntlet. How does restricting your available talent pool in a knowledge-worker industry ever make sense for a business? It doesn't.

I take some comfort in knowing that I am not alone in thinking this way. Miguel Castro, a well respected member of the programming community rates sub-standard recruiters as one of the second biggest things which annoy him.

The financial climate today is such that recruiters themselves have resorted to sending their own CV's to other recruiters. A room full of recruiters schmoozing and interviewing each other for their own jobs, how cannibalistic!

I must point out that not all recruiters are like this. Some are actually very good and even generate work for candidates through their existing client relationships. I also appreciate that there is a time and a place where an external recruitment agency makes sense. In any industry you have the high-flyers and the bottom-feeders - how unfortunate for us professionals that our recruitment industry has so many of the latter.

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Categories: .NET | General | Web

.NET Is Not A Language

03 June 2009 by Stuart Cam

A response to this article.

First of all, .NET is not a language, it is a framework built on the common language runtime. When .NET was released almost 9 years ago it supported several languages including C# and VB.NET. It now supports many more. Any assertion that .NET is a single language is totally incorrect.

.NET is a large and diverse ecosystem which keeps growing with every release. It's now practically impossible to be an expert in every aspect of the framework, web development using web forms is simply a small galaxy in a very large universe.

If we applied the argument put forward by Greg to construction we'd have the HVAC guys doing structural assessments and the electricians installing carpets. After all, they are all in the construction business, why can't they do everything? I for one wouldn't like to spend money on an apartment in that building!

If only it were as easy as opening Photoshop, slicing a few elements and constructing an HTML and CSS representation. The good old days of web development; lots of outline-glow graphics on black backgrounds, table layouts, static text and little or no meaningful interactivity beyond the URL in the address bar changing. The days when FrontPage made everybody's mum a web designer.

The complexity in building a modern website (or Web 2.0 for the buzzworders out there) is increasing exponentially as consumer expectations grow. Search, SEO, scalability, performance, caching issues, interactivity, cross browser and device compatibility, JavaScript degradation, different encodings, localisation, W3C compliance, DDA compliance... the list goes on and on. Anything more complex than a brochure-ware site requires a broad range of software and web development skills. The developers who can manage all of those complexities and get the project completed on their own are simply not on the open market, their employers realise their value and avoid giving them reasons to leave.

With all of this increase in complexity features like Intellisense are essential. The .NET framework is massive. Why make life difficult by having to remember namespacing trivia? Besides which, the physical act of writing code should be the least of your concerns.

Greg believes that the blame is with the banks and urges us to agree.

Well, I've thought about it and I completely disagree. Maintenance of a software project accounts for around 60% of the total money and effort spent. Robert Glass knows this, that's why it's Fact: 41. Couple that with the bank wanting to remain competitive and I can only envisage a demand for developers, not a mass firing and flooding of the market.

Web development, above and beyond brochure-ware sites, is just plain difficult. It relies on a solid team with diverse skill sets all working together towards a well defined goal. This is a difficult thing to achieve in any business. The role of management is to remove obstacles, identify problems early and to keep the team functioning as best as possible. You need only a small number of architects (the generalists) working on maintaining the technical vision and laying the groundwork but the rest of the work can, and should, be delegated to specialists.

The very best developers, I would argue the generalists, will never have trouble finding work and the chances are they'll be the ones interviewing you. Get that wrong and you'll fill the team with poor and mediocre developers and encounter many more problems.

Unfortunately, finding great developers is not even a problem money can fix.

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Categories: .NET | General | Web


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