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IBM Db2 12 for z/OS Performance Topics

IBM Redbooks Site - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 09:30
Redbook, published: Tue, 19 Sep 2017

Db2 12 for IBM z/OS® delivers several significant business values, such as cost reductions, scalability improvement, and improved application enablement for cloud and mobile environment.

Categories: Technology

The Ten Essentials for Good API Documentation

A list Apart development site - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 09:00

API documentation is the number one reference for anyone implementing your API, and it can profoundly influence the developer experience. Because it describes what services an application programming interface offers and how to use those services, your documentation will inevitably create an impression about your product—for better or for worse.

In this two-part series I share what I’ve learned about API documentation. This part discusses the basics to help you create good API docs, while in part two, Ten Extras for Great API Documentation, I’ll show you additional ways to improve and fine-tune your documentation. 

Know your audience

Knowing who you address with your writing and how you can best support them will help you make decisions about the design, structure, and language of your docs. You will have to know who visits your API documentation and what they want to use it for. 

Your API documentation will probably be visited and used by the following audiences. 

Developers

Based on their skills, experience, and role in projects, developers will generally be the largest and most diverse group. They’ll be using your docs in different ways.

At Pronovix, we started conducting developer portal workshops with our clients to help them learn more about what developers need and how to best support their work—and what they’re really looking for in API documentation. This is also supported by solid research, such as the findings published in Stephanie Steinhardt’s article following a two-year research program at Merseburg University of Applied Sciences.

Newcomers: Developers lacking previous experience with your API tend to need the most support. They will take advantage of quickstart guides that encourage them to start using your API—clear, concise, step-by-step tutorials for the most important topics, and sample code and examples to help them understand how to use it in real projects. If you can make onboarding pleasant for newcomers, they will be more likely to devote themselves to learning every nuance of your API.

External developers: Developers already working with your API will come back repeatedly to your docs and use them as reference material. They will need quick information on all the functionality your API offers, structured in an easy to understand way to help them quickly find what they need.

Debuggers: Developers using your API will encounter errors from time to time and use your documentation to analyze the responses and errors that crop up.

Internal developers: API providers tend to focus so much on their external audience that they forget about their own developers; internal teams working on the API will use the API documentation, as well.

These are just the most common use cases.

Decision makers

Decision makers like CTOs and product managers will also check out your API documentation and evaluate your API. They need to determine whether your API will be a good fit for their project or not, so it’s crucial to your business that this group can easily and quickly find what they’re looking for.

Other audiences

Although not as common, journalists, technical writers, support staff, developer evangelists, and even your competition might read your API documentation. 

Remember the purpose of documentation

The foundation of your API documentation is a clear explanation of every call and parameter.

As a bare minimum, you should describe in detail:

  • what each call in your API does
  • each parameter and all of their possible values, including their types, formatting, rules, and whether or not they are required.
Context-based structure

People won’t read your API documentation in order, and you can’t predict which part they will land on. This means, you have to provide all the information they need in context. So following the best practices of topic-based authoring, you should include all necessary and related information in the explanation of each call.

Context.IO, for example, did a great job documenting each of their API calls separately with detailed information on parameters and their possible values, along with useful tips and links to related topics.

Examples

In order to be able to implement your API, developers need to understand it along with the domain it refers to (e.g., ecommerce). Real world examples reduce the time they need to get familiar with your product, and provide domain knowledge at the same time.

Add the following to the description of each call:

  • an example of how the call is made
  • an explanation of the request
  • sample responses

Studies have shown, that some developers immediately like to delve into coding, when getting to know a new API; they start working from an example. Analysis of eye-tracking records showed that visual elements, like example code, caught the attention of developers who were scanning the page, rather than reading it line by line.  Many looked at code samples before they started reading the descriptions.

Using the right examples is a surefire way to improving your API docs. I’ll explore ways to turn good API docs into great ones using examples in my upcoming post “Ten Extras for Great API Documentation”.

Error messages

When something goes wrong during development, fixing the problem without detailed documentation can become a frustrating and time-consuming process. To make this process as smooth as possible, error messages should help developers understand:

  • what the problem is;
  • whether the error stems from their code or from the use of the API;
  • and how to fix the problem.

All possible errors—including edge cases—should be documented with error-codes or brief, human-readable information in error messages. Error messages should not only contain information related to that specific call, but also address universal topics like authentication or HTTP requests and other conditions not controlled by the API (like request timeout or unknown server error).

This post from Box discusses best practices for server-side error handling and communication, such as returning an HTTP status code that closely matches the error condition, human-readable error messages, and machine-readable error codes.

Quickstart guide

Newcomers starting to implement your API face many obstacles:

  • They are at the beginning of a steep learning curve
  • They might not be familiar with the structure, domain, and ideas behind your API
  • It’s difficult for them to figure out where to start.

If you don’t make the learning process easier for them, they can feel overwhelmed and refrain from delving into your API. 

Many developers learn best by doing, so a quickstart guide is a great option. The guide should be short and simple, aimed at newcomers, and list the minimum number of steps required to complete a meaningful task (e.g., downloading the SDK and saving one object to the platform). Quickstart guides usually have to include information about the domain and introduce domain-related expressions and methods in more detail. It’s safest to assume that the developer has never before heard of your service.

Stripe’s and Braintree’s quickstart guides are great examples; both provide an overview of the most likely tasks you’ll want to perform with the API, as well as link you to the relevant information. They also contain links to contact someone if you need help.

Tutorials

Tutorials are step-by-step walkthroughs covering specific functionality developers can implement with your API, like SMS notifications, account verification, etc.

Tutorials for APIs should follow the best practices for writing any kind of step-by-step help. Each step should contain all the information needed at that point—and nothing more. This way users can focus on the task at hand and won’t be overloaded with information they don’t need.

The description of steps should be easy to follow and concise. Clarity and brevity support the learning process, and are a best practice for all kinds of documentation. Avoid jargon, if possible; users will be learning domain-related language and new technology, and jargon can instill confusion. Help them by making all descriptions as easy to understand as possible. 

The walkthrough should be the smallest possible chunk that lets the user finish a task. If a process is too complex, think about breaking it down into smaller chunks. This makes sure that users can get the help they need without going through steps they’re not interested in.

Twilio’s tutorials explain the most-likely use cases with sample apps in a wide variety of programming languages and frameworks. Universal topics

To implement your API, there are some larger topics that developers will need to know about, for example:

  • Authentication. Handled differently by each type of API, authentication (e.g., OAuth) is often a complicated and error-prone process. Explain how to get credentials, how they are passed on to the server, and show how API keys work with sample code.
  • Error handling. For now, error handling hasn’t been standardized, so you should help developers understand how your API passes back error information, why an error occurs, and how to fix it.
  • HTTP requests. You may have to document HTTP-related information as well, like content types, status codes, and caching.

Dedicate a separate section to explaining these topics, and link to this section from each related API call. This way you can make sure that developers clearly see how your API handles these topics and how API calls change behavior based on them. 

Layout and navigation

Layout and navigation are essential to user experience, and although there is no universal solution for all API docs, there are some best practices that help users interact with the material.

Dynamic layout

Most good examples of API documentation use a dynamic layout as it makes navigation easier for users than static layouts when looking for specific topics in extensive documentation. Starting with a scalable dynamic layout will also make sure you can easily expand your docs, as needed.

Single page design

If your API documentation isn’t huge, go with a single page design that lets users see the overall structure at first sight. Introduce the details from there. Long, single page docs also make it possible for readers to use the browser’s search functionality.

Stripe managed to present extensive documentation in an easy to navigate single page. Persistent navigation

Keep navigation visible at all times. Users don’t want to scroll looking for a navigation bar that disappeared.

Multi-column layout

2- or 3-column layouts have the navigation on the left and information and examples on the right. They make comprehension easier by showing endpoints and examples in context.

Clearbit’s three-column layout displays persistent navigation (table of contents) on the left, references in the middle, and code examples on the right. Syntax highlighter

Improving the readability of samples with syntax highlighting makes the code easier to understand.

The syntax highlighter in action on Plaid’s API documentation site.

If you’d like to start experimenting with a layout for your docs, you might want to check out some free and open source API documentation generators.

To learn about the pros and cons of different approaches to organizing your API docs in the context of developer portals, this is an excellent article by Nordic APIs.

Editing

All writing that you publish should go through an editing process. This is common sense for articles and other publications, but it’s just as essential for technical documentation.

The writers of your API docs should aim for clarity and brevity, confirm that all the necessary information is there, and that the structure is logical and topics aren’t diluted with unnecessary content. 

Editors should proofread your documentation to catch grammar mistakes, errors, and any parts that might be hard to read or difficult to understand. They should also check the docs against your style guide for technical documentation and suggest changes, if needed.

Once a section of documentation is ready to be published, it’s a good idea to show it to people in your target audience, especially any developers who haven’t worked on the documentation themselves. They can catch inconsistencies and provide insight into what’s missing.

Although the editing process can feel like a burden when you have to focus on so many other aspects of your API, a couple of iterations can make a huge difference in the final copy and the impression you make.

Keep it up-to-date

If your API documentation is out of date, users will get frustrated by bumping into features that aren’t there anymore and new ones that lack documentation. This can quickly diminish the trust you established by putting so much work into your documentation in the first place.

When maintaining your API docs, you should keep an eye on the following aspects:

  • Deprecated features. Remove documentation for deprecated features and explain why they were deprecated.
  • New features. Document new features before launch, and make sure there’s enough time planned for the new content to go through the editorial process.
  • Feedback. Useful feedback you get from support, or analytics should be reflected in your docs. Chances are you can’t make your docs perfect at the first try, but based on what users are saying, you can improve them continuously.

For all this to work, you will have to build a workflow for maintaining your documentation. Think about checkpoints and processes for the above mentioned aspects, editing, and publication. It also helps if you can set up a routine for reviewing your docs regularly (e.g. quarterly).

Following these best practices, you can build a solid foundation for your API documentation that can be continuously improved upon as you gain more insight into how users interact with them. Stay tuned for part two, where I give you some tips on how to turn good API docs into amazing ones.

Categories: Technology

iOS 11, watchOS 4 to be released today

iPhone J.D. - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 01:11

Today is the day that Apple will release the new iOS 11 and watchOS 4.  Apple typically releases iOS updates between 9am and 10am Pacific, so I typically check for the update around lunchtime here in New Orleans (Central Time Zone).  This year, I won't be trying to update within the first hour — not only because that caused problems last year, but also because I happen to be in trial today.  But I do look forward to updating both my iPad and my iPhone tonight. 

iOS 11 is a major update for the iPad.  With the Files app, the new Dock, multitasking and drag-and-drop, you will be able to get much more work done, much more efficiently.  On the iPhone, I'm looking forward to the improvements to Live Photos, the new Siri, and the new Control Center design seems much more useful. 

On the Apple Watch, there are some nice improvements to the Activity and Workout apps, and the Siri watch face could make the Apple Watch an even better assistant.

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

Why lawyers will love the Apple Watch Series 3

iPhone J.D. - Sun, 09/17/2017 - 23:28

Last week, Apple announced the 2017 version of the Apple Watch, called the Apple Watch Series 3.  Apple started taking pre-orders this past Friday, and it goes on sale this Friday, September 22, 2017.  The latest version of the Apple Watch, like the prior versions, looks like a great device for lawyers.  Lawyers deal with a ton of communications every day from courts, opposing counsel, clients, etc. via emails, text messages, and phone calls.  An Apple Watch can help you to manage (and triage) these communications.  Additionally, an Apple Watch is great for helping you to exercise and stay active — important for those of us who do most of our work sitting at a desk. 

If (like me) you already own an Apple Watch Series 2, then it may not be worth it to upgrade, for the reasons that I discuss below.  But if you have an original Apple Watch or don't have an Apple Watch at all, the Apple Watch Series 3 looks to be a great device for lawyers.

What is new

Let's start with the features that are new as compared to the Apple Watch Series 2 which was introduced one year ago

Cellular.  The main difference between the Apple Watch Series 2 and the new Apple Watch Series 3 is that you can get a cellular version of the Series 3, which supports LTE and 3G UMTS.  You can easily see if an Apple Watch has built-in cellular because there is a red dot on the digital crown.

Previous versions of the Apple Watch need to communicate with the outside world via your iPhone.  If your iPhone and Apple Watch are relatively close to each other, they will use Bluetooth to connect to each other.  If they are not nearby but are on the same WiFi network (for example, your iPhone is upstairs in your house but you are downstairs), the Apple Watch can connect to your iPhone via WiFi.  But if you leave your iPhone at home and go for a run around the neighborhood, your Apple Watch will not give you any notifications until you get back in range of the iPhone.

With the Series 3, even if your iPhone is far away, you can use the Apple Watch to make and receive phone calls (using the same phone number that you use with your iPhone).  You can use the built-in microphone and speaker on the Apple Watch, speaking into your watch as if you were Dick Tracy.  Better yet, you can use Bluetooth headphones such as the Apple AirPods. 

You can also send and receive emails and text messages.  Chat apps like WeChat and Shapchat will also work even when an iPhone is not around. 

The Apple Watch has always been able to control music playback on a nearby iPhone.  You could also play songs that are stored locally on the Apple Watch, but the process of transferring songs to the watch is slow and cumbersome.  If you have a single playlist that you listen to all the time, then perhaps it is not a big deal, but if you want a large, diverse and changing collection of music, this isn't easily possible with older versions of the Apple Watch.  This all changes with the new Series 3 because the watch can directly connect to Apple Music and stream songs.  Apple says that this means that you essentially have 40 million songs right on your wrist — a big step up from the original iPod in 2001 which Apple advertised as giving you 1,000 songs in your pocket.

The built-in cellular radio also means that many other types of apps will work even when you are not near your iPhone. For example, you can see the weather using a weather app, or you can request a vehicle from Uber or Lyft.

This all sounds very cool, and is clearly the way that it was always meant to be for the Apple Watch.  I think that the #1 use case is taking an outdoor run.  It is nice to have access to your music, a phone if there is an emergency, and all of your notifications without having to find a place for your iPhone on your body while running, or deal with the iPhone bouncing around in a pocket.  I can also imagine that it would be nice to be able to go outside and walk your dog without having to find your iPhone first so that you can bring it with you.  On the other hand, if you are like me, and your iPhone is virtually always near you (for example, you work out at home using a treadmill or at a gym with your iPhone nearby), then you may consider cellular to be just an occasional nice perk and mostly unnecessary.

You can also purchase a Series 3 Apple Watch that doesn't have cellular, which saves some money.  But note that the non-cellular Series 3 is only available in the aluminum version.  If you prefer the nicer look of the stainless steel Apple Watch or the ceramic Apple Watch, you need to purchase the cellular version of the Series 3.

Faster.  The original Apple Watch was quite slow.  The Series 1 and Series 2 got faster thanks to updated processors.  The Series 3 uses the new W2 dual-core processor and is 70% faster than last year's model.

Talking Siri.  On older versions of the Apple Watch, you can talk to Siri and see Siri's responses on the screen.  With the Series 3, Siri will respond to your requests more quickly, and you can also hear Siri speak.  Since I have my Apple Watch configured to make no noise at all (it gets my attention for select notifications by tapping my wrist), I don't consider the speaking Siri feature very useful, but I'm sure that having Siri work faster is a nice improvement.

Find my friends.  You can use the Find my Friends feature on an iPhone so that you know where select friends or family are located and they know where you are.  With the Series 3, the Apple Watch will take precedence over your iPhone for telling others where you are located.

Elevation.  The Series 3 includes a barometric altimeter to track your elevation, which can be useful for monitoring certain activities such as skiing. riding your bike up a hill, etc.  With earlier versions of the Apple Watch, if your iPhone was nearby, the iPhone could sense elevation.  With the Series 3, elevation is tracked even if you don't have your iPhone with you.

Size.  The Series 3 is just a tiny bit thicker and heavier, but you probably won't notice it.  Apple says that the Series 3 is two sheets of paper thicker than the Series 2.  And importantly, the Series 3 works with all of the same bands as every other version of the Apple Watch.

Models

Just like before, there are two sizes:  the 42mm size and the 38mm size.  I typically see men using the 42mm version and women using the 38mm version, but you can pick whichever one is best for you best on your personal preferences and wrist size.

Just like before, there are three basic types of body finishes:  the cheaper (and a little lighter) aluminum model, the more expensive stainless steel model (which I think is nicer and more professional, especially when you are wearing nicer clothes such as court attire), and the high-end ceramic model.  When the first Apple Watch was introduced in 2015, Apple also sold a super-expensive gold "Edition" model starting at $10,000, but in 2016 Apple changed the Edition model to ceramic — still more expensive than stainless steel, but much cheaper than gold.

Just like before, you can also buy two special versions of the Apple Watch:  the Nike+ version, and the Hermès version.  The primary difference is that those versions come with special bands, but they also come with special watch faces.

Price

Apple is still selling the Series 1 version of the Apple Watch that it introduced last year, and it now costs only $249 for the 38mm version or $279 for the 42mm version.  But it is so much slower than the Series 3, and lacks so many other features, that I do not recommend it to any attorneys.  

There are many different configurations of the Apple Watch Series 3, which means that there are many different prices.  But in general, the aluminum version of the Apple Watch costs $330 to $430, depending on the size (the 42mm version is $30 more) and whether it has cellular (which is $70 more).  Thus, the Series 3 aluminum 38mm costs $329 without cellular and $399 with cellular.  The larger 42m model costs $359 without cellular and $429 with cellular.

In you want the nicer stainless steel case, it only comes in a cellular version, and the stainless steel cellular costs $200-$220 more than the aluminum cellular.  Specifically, the cost is $599 for 38mm and $649 for 42mm.

If you want the high-end ceramic case, it costs $900-920 more than the aluminum cellular.  Specifically, the cost is $1,299 for 38mm and $1,349 for 42mm.

All of these prices assume that you purchase a model with an entry-level band, such as a sport band, which Apple sells separately for $50.  There are other models with nicer bands which cost more.  For example, I love wearing the Milanese Loop with the stainless steel Apple Watch (that's what I wear to work every day and whenever I am dressed more nicely on the weekend), and that model costs $100 more:  $699 for the 38mm version and $749 for the 42mm version.  And while the versions with the Nike+ bands costs the same as the Apple aluminum models, the versions with the Hermès leather bands range from $1,199 to $1,399. 

Additional bands are also available to purchase separately, including the new Sport Loop band which Apple says features a "soft, breathable nylon weave with an easily adjustable hook-and-loop fastener."

Finally, the cellular costs I noted above are only for the Apple Watch itself.  You also have to purchase a data plan for the Apple Watch.  It looks like the U.S. carriers are adding an additional $10 to your monthly fee if you want to add an Apple Watch, although some carriers have discounts for the first few months.

Should you get one?

I noted at the outset the reasons that the Apple Watch is so incredibly useful for lawyers.  Communication is a major part of our profession, and it is so nice to get a subtle tap on your wrist when you need to be notified of something, and it is so nice to just glance at your watch screen to see what is going on instead of having to pull out your iPhone or iPad.  It is sort of like having a personal assistant.  And the Apple Watch works especially well for tracking activity and motivating you to be more active. 

Last year, I wrote about my first year with the Apple Watch, and most everything that I wrote in the "what I love" section in 2016 remains true today.  I also noted in that post the things that I didn't like, and fortunately many of those things have improved thanks to speed increases in updated hardware and interface improvements in updates to watchOS.

If you don't have an Apple Watch yet, this is a great time to get one.  If you are still using the first generation Apple Watch, this is a great time to upgrade to the Series 3.  The most notable improvement (besides cellular) will be a huge speed increase, but you will also get a much brighter screen, GPS, and you can swim with the watch because it is waterproof. 

If you are like me and you have a Series 2 Apple Watch, I think that the upgrade is really only worth it if you plan to go outside frequently without your iPhone, for the reasons I noted above.  As I think back over the 2+ years that I have been using an Apple Watch, it is hard for me to recall more than one time every month when cellular would have been really useful.  So I'm not going to upgrade this year.  Having said that, I am going to be jealous of the speed increase in the Series 3, and I suspect that I will now start to think of even more situation in which it would have been nice to have cellular on my Apple Watch.  So if you find yourself talking to me and I look a little green with envy, don't take it personally; it's just because I see that red circle on the digital crown of your Apple Watch.

On the other hand, if you are ready to buy your first Apple Watch or upgrade from an older model, I actually do recommend that you get the Series 3 cellular version.  First, if you want the nicer stainless steel (or even nicer ceramic) case, then you have to get a cellular version.  Second, even if you want the aluminum case, the $70 price difference is not that much, and then you will have cellular if you ever decide that you want to start using it.  Indeed, as more Apple Watch apps are designed to take advantage of cellular, cellular may be come an even more essential feature.  There is no requirement that you activate the cellular features when you first buy the watch; you can wait to activate the cellular feature until a later date and then start paying the $10/month.

With the upcoming iPhone X, I cannot help but think of how incredibly far the iPhone has come in ten years.  We are now only about 2.5 years into the Apple Watch, and Apple has been doing a great job with the hardware and software improvements.  The Apple Watch is already an incredibly useful device for me today, both in my law practice and in my personal life.  I hope that Apple continues the pace of improvements, and if so, the Apple Watch is going to amazing when it celebrates its tenth birthday.

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

In the news

iPhone J.D. - Fri, 09/15/2017 - 01:41

Early this morning, Apple started to take pre-orders for the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and Apple Watch Series 3.  I'm not getting one of those iPhones because I am waiting for the iPhone X.  And while I'm sure that one day I'll have an Apple Watch with LTE, I don't yet know how useful it will be for me, so I'll probably wait to the Series 4 before I upgrade from my current Series 2.  If you like to run outside and don't want to have to carry an iPhone with you, or otherwise like to leave an iPhone behind and do things with just an Apple Watch, or if you have an older Apple Watch and want the speed increases that came with the Series 2 and which are even better with the Series 3, then the Series 3 Apple Watch may be perfect for you.  And now, the news of note from the week, all of which relate to Apple's announcements:

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

amgr_run_template_agents

Lotus Notes wiki recently added info - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 16:24
Explanation: Allows agents to run in templates with an ".ntf" extension, reverting the behavior to pre6.0 mode. In release 6.0, we added functionality that suppressed running agents in databases with ".ntf" extensions while allowing them to run in templates with ".nsf" extensions. A fix in ...
Categories: Technology

Project Management for Humans

A list Apart development site - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 14:40

A note from the editors: We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Brett Harned's new book, Project Management for Humans, available now from Rosenfeld Media.

I loved the game Tetris as a kid. I played the Game Boy version for hours. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the concept of little shapes coming together in a logical way to clear a goal. The pieces complement one another, yet they all naturally work in different ways. The game has stuck with me since I was a kid (and, no, I’m not a gamer). I now have it on my phone and iPad and find myself playing it when I’m on a flight or bored, waiting for something to happen (which is never these days). Whether I’m playing the game a lot or not, the idea of making tiny boxes fit in neatly and clearing out rows of work is ingrained in my brain. It’s the project manager in me.

But here’s the thing: What project managers do on a daily basis when it comes to managing resources or staffing is similar to Tetris, and it’s a big project management challenge that we all face. The biggest difference between resourcing and Tetris? The team members we’re trying to assign tasks to aren’t blocks. They’re human beings, and they need to be treated as such.

Your Team Are People, Too!

Let’s move away from calling people “resources,” please. We’re really just staffing projects or assigning tasks. We’re not using people to just get things done. We’re asking them to solve challenges that are presented in our projects.

Set the Stage for Organized Resource Planning

The challenge of managing a team is making sure that they stay busy and working on tasks, yet are not completely overbooked. It’s a difficult balance to find, particularly when your projects require a variety of skills at different times, which seem to change all too often.

At the most basic level, you want to set up a system for tracking your projects and your team members’ time on those projects (see Figure 6.1). A simple goal is to ensure that you can confidently commit to deadlines on projects with the knowledge that your team is actually available to do the related work. It seems like a simple goal, but it’s often a difficult one to keep up with due to changes on projects, changes in personal schedules (hey, life happens), and an influx of new work and requests. But it’s not an insurmountable challenge. In fact, a simple spreadsheet could help you, particularly if you’re managing a smaller team. At the core, you want to track these items:

  • Projects (List them all, even the non-billable ones, or the other things that aren’t projects but end up taking a lot of time—like business development.)
  • People (List every person you work with.)
  • Estimated time (Track hours, days, weeks, etc. Make your best guess—based on your timeline or calendar—on how much each person will spend on a project or a task.)
Figure 6.1 Use a Google Spreadsheet, Numbers, or Excel to input your project and team data.

A couple of notes on how to use a spreadsheet to forecast team availability:

  • This should be set up on a week-by-week basis to minimize confusion (use tabs in your spreadsheet for each new week).
  • Always consider the “nonbillable” things that people must do (like stand-up meetings, internal tasks, sales, etc.).
  • The final cell contains a formula that tallies the hours for you; if the hours go over your typical limit (think of a 40-hour work week), it will turn red to notify you. You’ll want to have a good idea for just how “utilized” someone should be (32 hours/week is usually a good target).
  • You can input the actual hours logged in your time tracking system if you’d like. It could help with future estimating. (If you’re not tracking time, check in with your team on time percentages to get a gut check.)
  • Check your estimates with your team to make sure that the hours actually align with their assessment of the task (This might help with avoiding that red number!)
  • Communicate these hours to the entire team each week. Making sure that everyone “is in the know” will help on any project. Discussing it with individuals will help you understand effort, blockers, and possibly even different ways of working.
Tools

The landscape for project management tools is changing constantly. There are a number of tools in the marketplace for helping you manage and communicate this data. If you’ve working with a team of 10 or more, you might want to abandon the spreadsheet approach for something more official, organized and supported. Bonus: Many of these tools handle more than just resourcing!

Here’s the thing—it’s not just about numbers. The issue that makes estimating a team’s project hours difficult is that everyone works differently. There is no way to standardize the human factor here, and that’s what makes it tough. Forget the fact that no one on your team is a robot, and they all work at their own pace. Think about sick days, vacations, client delays, changes on projects, and so on. It’s a never-ending flow of shapes that must fit into the box that is a project. Be sure to have an ongoing dialogue about your staffing plans and challenges.

Match Resource Skills to Projects

Projects only slow down when decisions are not made. In that magical moment when things are actually going well, you want to make sure that your team can continue the pace. The only way to do that is by connecting with your team and understanding what motivates them. Here are some things to consider:

  • Interests: If you have a team member who loves beer, why not put that person on the beer design site? Maybe you have multiple people who want to be on the project, but they are all busy on other projects. These are the breaks. You’ve got to do what is right for the company and your budget. If you can put interests first, it’s awesome. It won’t always work out that way for everyone, but it’s a good first step to try.
  • Skill sets: It’s as simple as getting to know each and every team member’s work. Some people are meant to create specific types of designs or experiences. It not only has to do with interests, but it also has to do with strengths within those tasks. Sure, I may love beer, but that doesn’t mean that I am meant to design the site that caters to the audience the client is trying to reach.
  • Moving schedules: Projects will always change. One week you know you’re working against a firm deadline, and the next week that has changed due to the clients, the needs of the project, or some other reason someone conjured up. It’s tough to know when that change will happen, but when it does, how you’ll fill someone’s time with other work should be high on your mind.
  • Holidays: People always extend them. Plan for that!
  • Vacations: It’s great to know about these in advance. Be sure you know your company’s policies around vacations. You never ever want to be the PM who says “Well, you have a deadline on X date and that will conflict with your very expensive/exciting trip, so, um … no.” Ask people to request trips at least a month in advance so that you can plan ahead and make it work.
  • Illness: We’re all humans and that means we’re fine one day and bedridden the next. You’ve always got to be ready for a back-up plan. It shouldn’t fall on your client stakeholders to make up time, but sometimes it has to. Or sometimes you need to look for someone to pitch in on intermediate tasks to keep things of track while your “rock star” or “ninja” is getting better.
Align Plans with Staffing

When you’re working hard to keep up with staffing plans, you’ve got to have updated project plans. A small change in a plan could cause a change in staffing—even by a few hours—and throw everything else off.

Save Yourself and Your Team from Burnout

If you’re busy and not slowing down any time soon, you want to keep this spreadsheet (or tool) updated often. If you’re working at an agency, knowing what’s in your pipeline can also help you. Stay aligned with the person in charge of sales or assigning new projects so that you can anticipate upcoming needs and timelines. In some cases, you may even want to put some basic data in your spreadsheet or tool so that you can anticipate needs.

Good Resourcing Can Justify More Help

The value of tracking this data goes beyond your projects. It can help business owners make important decisions on growing a company.

No matter what you do, be sure to communicate about staffing as much as possible. If you’re in an organization that is constantly handling change, you’ll know that it’s a tough target to hit. In fact, your numbers will often be slightly off, but you’ll find comfort in knowing that you’re doing everything you can to stay ahead of the resource crunch. At the same time, your team will appreciate that you’re doing everything you can to protect their work-life balance.

Stakeholders Are Resources, Too

When you’re working on a team with a project, you have to consider the stakeholders as decision makers, too. Let’s face it—no one has ever been trained to be a good client, stakeholder, or project sponsor. In addition to that, they are likely to be working on several projects with several people at one time. Life as a client can be hectic! So do everything you can to help them plan their time appropriately. In general, you should let the stakeholders know they’ll have to plan for these things:

  • Meetings: You’ll conduct a kickoff meeting, weekly status updates, deliverable reviews, etc.
  • Scheduling: You’ll need stakeholders to wrangle calendars to get folks into said meetings.
  • Gathering feedback: This sounds easy, but it is not. You will need this person to spend time with all of the stakeholders to get their feedback and collate it for you to make sure there are no conflicting opinions.
  • Chasing down decisions: There are points on every project where one person will need to make sure there is agreement and decisions can be made to keep the project moving.
  • Daily ad hoc email, phone calls: Questions and requests will pop up, and you’ll need timely responses.
  • Operations: You might need invoices to be reviewed and approved or change requests to be reviewed and discussed. The stakeholders will need to make time to operate the project from their side of things.

This is a lot of work. And just like PM work, it is very hard to quantify or plan. If you’re in good hands, you’re working with someone who has good PM skills. If not, give them the list above along with a copy of this book. But seriously, if you can assist them with planning their time, it might be as simple as including action items or to-dos for them in a weekly email or in your status report. Just remember, they are busy and want the project to run smoothly as well. Help them make that happen.

TL; DR

Managing projects is hard enough, but being the person to manage who works on what and when can be even more difficult. However, if you don’t keep track of this basic information, you’ll likely find it hard to meet deadlines and wrap up projects without major issues. Here are some simple things you can do to make sure your that your team stays busy, yet not completely overbooked:

  • Set up a simple spreadsheet to forecast projects and hours per team member.
    • This data should be based on what’s included in your project scopes and timelines—be sure to double-check that.
    • You may want to check out one of the resourcing tools that are out there now.
  • Be sure to account for a number of factors that you can’t necessarily control in this process—for example, interests, skill sets, moving schedules, holidays, vacations, and so on.
  • Account for your sales process if you’re in an agency and stay ahead of new project requests.
  • Remember that you’re dealing with people here.
Want to read more?

This excerpt from Project Management for Humans will help you get started. Order the full copy today, as well as other excellent titles from Rosenfeld Media.

Categories: Technology

A List Apart volunteer update

A list Apart development site - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 09:08

A note from the editors: A few days ago, we announced a reimagined A List Apart, with you, our faithful readers of nearly 20 years, contributing your talents. The response from this community was humbling, thrilling, and, frankly, a bit overwhelming. If you volunteered to help A List Apart and haven’t heard back from us yet, here’s what’s up.

To the many wonderful souls who have so far volunteered to help A List Apart, thank you very, very much for your emails! And if you haven’t heard back from us yet, please excuse the delay. We’ve been inundated with messages from hundreds of potential volunteers across a wide spectrum of disciplines and potential task groups, and we are going through your messages slowly and carefully, responding personally to each one.

Some of you have written asking if we might be interested in having you write for us. Gosh, A List Apart has always welcomed articles from our community. Guidelines (plus how to submit your first draft, proposal, or outline) are available at alistapart.com/about/contribute. Please check them out—we’d love to look at any topically appropriate article you care to submit. 


But writing articles is far from the only way to support and make your mark at the new (19-year-old) ALA.

Meet the groups!

If you’ve expressed an interested in organizing or hosting an ALA-themed monthly meet-up, or have other ideas that can help grow community, we’ll invite you to join our newly forming COMMUNITY group. If EDUCATION AND OUTREACH is more your thing, we are starting a group for that, as well. There are other groups to come, as well—a list of our ideas appears in the original post on the topic, and there may be more groups to come.

How these groups will work, and what they will do, is largely going to be determined by the volunteers themselves. (That’s you folks.)

As we’re starting the work of supporting and organizing these groups on Basecamp, you can’t just add yourself to a group, as you could on, say, Slack. But that’s okay, because we want to approach this somewhat methodically, adding people a few at a time, and having little written conversations with you beforehand.

Our fear was that if we launched a bunch of Slack channels all at once, without speaking with each of you first, hundreds of people might add themselves the first day, but then nobody would have any direction as to what might be expected—and we might not have the resources ready to provide guidance and support.

By adding you to Basecamps a few at a time, and hopefully identifying leaders in each new group as it begins forming, we hope to provide a lightly structured environment where you can design your own adventures. It takes a little longer this way, but that’s by design. (A List Apart started in 1997 as a 16,000-member message board. Big open channels are great for letting everyone speak, but not necessarily the best way to organize fragile new projects.)

If you are interested in contributing to those projects, or curious about a particular area, and told us so in your initial email, we will eventually get to you and assign you to the right slot. If you haven’t yet volunteered, of course, you can still do so. (See the original post for details.)

Editors, developers, and designers


But wait, there’s more. Developers: if you have standards-oriented front-end development experience and would like to help out on day-to-day site maintenance, occasional minor upgrades, and an eventual redesign, just add yourself to A List Apart’s Github front-end repo: github.com/alistapart/AListApart.

Those with backend experience (particularly in ExpressionEngine and WordPress), you will hear from us as we work our way through your emails.

Editor-in-chief Aaron Gustafson and I have also been going slowly through your mails looking for additional editorial help. We’ve already found and added a few very promising people to our volunteer editorial staff, and will introduce them to you soon. If you’re an editor and we haven’t added you yet, not to worry! It likely means we haven’t gotten to your email yet. (So. Much. Email!)

As might be expected, a majority of those who volunteered offered their services as designers, developers, or both. The number of emails we’ve received from folks with these skills is humbling, touching, and a bit overwhelming. We have not yet begun to dig through this particular pile of mail. So if you haven’t heard from us, that’s why. (But, as I just mentioned, if you’re a developer, you can add yourself to our front-end repo. So do that, if you wish, and say hi!)

We love you

Hope this helps clarify what’s up. We are grateful for every single email we’ve gotten. We will eventually speak with you all. Thank you all again.




Jeffrey

 

Categories: Technology

Why lawyers will love the iPhone 8 and iPhone X

iPhone J.D. - Wed, 09/13/2017 - 02:12

Yesterday, Apple introduced the 2017 versions of the iPhone.  There are three models.  The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are incremental but nevertheless nice upgrades from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.  The iPhone X (pronounced "10") is a radical new design, featuring a gorgeous, edge-to-edge screen that is larger than the screen on an iPhone 8 Plus even though the device itself is closer to the size of an iPhone 8.  If you are a lawyer or other professional who uses an iPhone to get work done, these are amazing devices.  Here are the details of each model that stood out to me.

iPhone 8

I'll start by discussing what is new compared to the iPhone 7, but I know that many of you will be upgrading from older models, so I'll discuss that too.

Like the iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 features a 4.7" screen.  And at 5.45 inches x 2.65 inches x .29 inches deep, the iPhone 8 is virtually the same size as the iPhone 7.  The main improvements in the iPhone 8 are that it is faster and has wireless charging.

Faster.  The iPhone 8 uses Apple's new A11 processor, which can run 30% faster than the A10 in the iPhone 7 — and even faster for apps that use multiple processors at one time.  The A11 will also let the iPhone 8 work better with artificial intelligence applications, such as augmented reality.

Wireless charging. The size of the iPhone 8 is essentially the same as the iPhone 7 — so much so that cases designed for one will work with the other.  But now, the front and back of the iPhone 8 is covered in glass (50% more durable than the iPhone 7), and there is an aluminum band around the side.  The design looks really nice.  With this new glass casing, the iPhone can now be charged by any device that complies with the Qi (pronounced "Chee" and based on the Chinese word for natural energy).  Qi is not an Apple design; it is a standard that has been out for many years now.  Thus, you can already buy many products featuring a flat top; just put the iPhone 8 on top of that surface, and it starts to charge.

Apple itself plans to its own Qi charger next year called the AirPower, which will let you charge an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods just by placing them on the AirPower.

I can see it being nice to have a Qi device on your desk at work or on a counter at home.  Just set down your iPhone and the iPhone will charge while it is sitting there.  Having said that, it's not like it is that hard to plug in an iPhone to a Lightning cord or a dock.  Eight years ago, you could purchase a Touchstone for wireless charging of a Palm Pre.  Qi technology has also been around for a while.  And yet, wireless smartphone charging has not been a big thing yet.  Is that just because the iPhone didn't support it?  Or is that because it is only a slight convenience and not work the extra expense?  I honestly don't know, but with wireless charging available as an option for all of the 2017 iPhones, I guess we will find out soon enough.

By the way, I believe that wireless charging will work even if your iPhone is in a case.  Apple says that all of its new iPhone cases work with wireless charging, so I presume that this will also be true for third-party cases.

Faster charging.  Apple hasn't commented on the speed of wireless charging, but I presume it is slower than using a cord.  I've mentioned in the past that you can use a USB-C charger to charge an iPad Pro much faster.  With the iPhone 8, you can use a USB-C charger to get up to a 50% charge in only 30 minutes.  Thus, my guess is that the iPhone 8 gives you easy-and-convenient wireless charging, faster USB-to-Lightning charger, and even faster USB-C-to-Lightning charging.

True Tone display.  Like the iPhone 7, the iPhone 8 features what Apple calls a Retina HD display.  The iPhone 8 adds True Tone, a technology that automatically adjusts the display based on the light around you.  True Tone makes the screen look better and easier to read, whether you are in bright sunlight or in a dark room.  (True Tone is already on the iPad Pro.)

Better camera.  The new A11 processor has an image signal processor which allows the camera to take even better pictures, especially in low light.  And if you want to take 4K video, you can now do so at 60 fps instead of 30 fps on the iPhone 7.  The flash is also better.

Bluetooth 5.0.  While the iPhone 7 included Bluetooth 4.2, the iPhone 8 has the new Bluetooth 5.0 standard.  While Bluetooth 4.2 has a range of up to about 30 feet, Bluetooth 5.0 has a range of up to about 260 feet.  It is also faster, making it possible to send higher quality audio over Bluetooth.  And it can work with two devices at once, which I suspect means that two people could use wireless headphones such as AirPods with a single iPhone, or you could have two wireless speakers connected to one iPhone.

Price.  A year ago, the iPhone 7 came in 32 GB ($649), 128 GB ($749) and 256 GB ($849).  This year, the iPhone 8 comes in 64 GB ($699) and 256 GB ($849).  You can either pay the full price, or you can make monthly payments either with the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program (which gets you a new iPhone every year) or an installment plan with a carrier.

Worth the upgrade?  If you are currently using an iPhone 7, the new features such as the faster processor and wireless charging will certainly make the experience of using an iPhone even better, but it is probably not a major upgrade.  But if your iPhone is two or more years old — such as if you are using an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s — the iPhone 8 is a major upgrade.  The processor speed increase will be even more dramatic for you, meaning that your new iPhone will seem even more responsive.  The Retina HD screen first introduced with the iPhone 7 looks much better.  Unlike the iPhone 6s and earlier models, the iPhone 8 is rated IP67 for water resistance, which means that you get complete protection against dust, and in theory the iPhone could be up to 1 meter deep in water for up to 30 minutes and it would still work.  I don't encourage you to drop it into water, but if it gets a little wet, it should be fine.  And you will also get much better speakers, a much better camera, and other new features.  It will be a great upgrade for you.

iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 Plus includes all of the features of the iPhone 8, but it is larger:  6.24 inches x 3.07 inches x .30 inches deep.  (It is also heavier, at 7.13 ounces versus the iPhone 8's 5.22 ounces.)

For me, the larger size of the Plus model has been a disadvantage; I have always found the larger size holder to hold and fit in a pocket.  Thus, I have never purchased a Plus model.

But if you can live with the larger physical size, you get to appreciate the Plus advantages:  (1) a larger 5.5" screen, (2) a second lens for the camera, which not only gives you an optical zoom feature, but also lets you take pictures using Apple's cool portrait mode (which blurs the background much like an SLR camera), and (3) longer battery life.

The camera on the iPhone 8 Plus is better than the iPhone 7 Plus in one way:  you can now use what Apple calls Portrait Lighting to adjust the lighting on a person's face when you take a picture.  This is a digital effect using the more sophisticated A11 processor and the dual-lens system — it's not like there is actual flash producing the different lighting effects — but even so, this feature looks powerful and useful.  Andrew Orr of The Mac Observer did a good job of describing the different Portrait Lighting modes:

One of the highlights of the new cameras is called Portrait Lighting. This emulates professional studio lighting by using facial detection and depth maps. These are combined into Portrait Mode to present five different lighting options: Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light, Stage Light, and Stage Light Mono.

Natural Light is what you’d expect. It takes a portrait of your subject with a blurred background and the face in focus. Studio Light brightens up the face more. Contour Light gives your subject’s face more dramatic shadows and highlights. Stage Light gives a chiaroscuro effect that puts an artificial black background behind your subject. The subject’s face is sharply lit as if a light were shining on them. Finally, Stage Light Mono is the same as Stage Light, but in black and white.

The iPhone 8 Plus costs $100 more than the iPhone 8.  Thus, you can get a 64 GB model for $799, or a 256 GB model for $949.

iPhone X

I've always thought that folks like me who have been jealous of the larger screen, better camera and better battery life of the Plus models, but who didn't want a larger phone, had unreasonable expectations.  After all, how you can you get a bigger screen without getting a bigger phone?

Apparently, the answer is that you remove virtually all of the bezel on the phone — including the bottom part of the iPhone which has featured a button since the very first iPhone was introduced ten years ago.  With this beautiful new edge-to-edge screen, you get an iPhone which is only slightly larger than the iPhone 8, but which features an even larger screen than the iPhone 8 Plus.

The new screen is not a complete rectangle.  There is a slight notch at the top center, which Apple uses for a bunch of cameras and other sensors.  (More on that in a moment.)  But you get much more screen space to get your work done.

With the iPhone X, you get all of the features of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, plus the following additional features:

The screen.  On my goodness, the screen.  I've already mentioned that is larger, so you will be able to see even more of your emails, your documents, your spreadsheets, etc. allowing you get get even more work done even on a small device.  The 5.8" screen is even larger than the 5.5" screen of the iPhone 8 Plus. 

I remember when the original iPhone came out and BlackBerry users worried about the lack of a physical keyboard.  Of course, the reason that the iPhone design was better is that it is wasteful to devote half of the front of the device to a keyboard that you don't need to use all of the time.  Similarly, the iPhone X eliminates the waste of a bezel around the phone, replacing it with an edge-to-edge screen.  It took ten years to get here, but the iPhone X seems like the design that the iPhone has always wanted to be.

The screen also looks better, featuring what Apple calls the new Super Retina HD display.  This is first iPhone to use an OLED HDR screen, which means that blacks look darker and colors look brighter.  The iPhone 8 has a 1400:1 contrast ratio; the iPhone X has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.  The folks who were able to see it in person yesterday said that it looked fantastic.

Face ID.  By replacing the bottom part of the iPhone, which used to have the home button, with more screen, Apple needed to come up with alternatives to the home button.  One change is that instead of pressing the button to see your apps, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see your apps.  Another change is that instead of holding down the home button to bring up Siri or double-tapping the home button (on the lock screen) to bring up Apple Pay, now you hold down the (larger) side button to bring up Siri and double-tap that side button to bring up Apple Pay.

But Apple also needed a way to replace the Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the home button, and Apple decided to instead use Face ID, which authenticates that you are really you by recognizing your face.  The TrueDepth camera analyzes more than 30,000 (invisible) dots on your face to create a precise, 3D depth map of your face.  After you teach the iPhone X what you look like, you can simply look at the screen to unlock the phone, or to authenticate yourself to use Apple Pay.

Apple said yesterday that Touch ID had an error rate of 1 in 50,000, whereas Face ID has a error rate of 1 in 1,000,000.  That certainly sounds good, and I look forward to seeing how it works in practice.  Apple says that Face ID is smart enough to keep working if you put on glasses or makeup, grow facial hair, etc.  Apple warns that if you have an identical twin, or even a sibling who looks a lot like you, Face ID may make mistakes.  (So Apple joked yesterday that if you have an evil twin, you might want to use a passcode instead of Face ID.) 

Face ID currently only works with one face.  I have one of my wife's fingerprints stored in my iPhone 7 Touch ID, and she does the same for me, so that we can pick up and quickly use each other's phone when necessary.  With the iPhone X, that won't work.

I think of Face ID as a way to get around the lack of Touch ID so that you can have the bigger screen.  Nevertheless, I'm intrigued to see if Face ID might be even better than Touch ID.  Whenever you pick up your iPhone to use it, of course you are going to look at it.  If the act of looking at it also unlocks your phone, saving you the trouble of using your fingerprint, that sounds great.

The Face ID technology appears to have some other advantages.  For example, if the iPhone senses that you are still looking at the screen, it can be configured to keep the screen lit.  This technology can also improve the camera, so let's turn to that next.

Better camera.  If you have never used a Plus model iPhone, the iPhone X camera will be a big improvement because of the dual lens system on the back, including a telephoto lens.  I'm really looking forward to that.  But the iPhone X is even an improvement over the iPhone 8 Plus because the telephoto lens has an f/2.4 aperture instead of an f/2.8 aperture, which should allow you to take sharper pictures with less blur even with less light.  And unlike the iPhone 8 Plus, both lenses on the iPhone X have optical image stabilization, resulting in sharper pictures and less shaky videos.

Not only is the camera on the back better, but the front-facing camera is also better — I presume in part because this camera needs to be good for Face ID to work.  As a result, you can now take portrait pictures using the front camera.  Now only does this mean that you can have better selfies, but it also allows for some new technologies.  For example, Apple showed off a demo of impressive Snapchat filters which can digitally change your face in real time.  And Apple is also updating its Clips app so that the new front-facing camera can immerse you in 360º animated landscapes.  And you can now create an animated emoji which apple calls an animoji; the iPhone analyzes more than 50 muscle movements in your face and then mirrors your expressions on panda bear, cat, alien, unicorn, rabbit, or even the poop emoji.

Better battery.  Even though the iPhone X is close to the size of the iPhone 8, Apple says that the battery lasts about two hours longer.  Thus, you can enjoy additional battery life without having to use the much larger Plus model.

Price.  The iPhone X costs $300 more than the iPhone 8 and $200 more than the iPhone 8 Plus.  Thus, you can get the 64 GB model for $999, or a 256 GB model for $1149.

Availability

You can place pre-orders for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus as soon as Friday, September 15, with the first devices shipping a week later on September 22.  But Apple needs a little more time to finish the iPhone X, so pre-orders don't start until Friday, October 27, with the first units shipping a week later on November 3, 2017.

My guess is that Apple will have far more demand than supply for the iPhone X, and that very few folks will get an iPhone X on or close to November 3.  I hope that I am wrong, but I predict that getting an iPhone X during the 2017 holiday season will be almost as hard as getting a Cabbage Patch doll during the 1983 holiday season.

Conclusion

One of the reasons that I love using a 12.9" iPad Pro is that I love using a high-quality large screen to read and annotate documents, look at exhibits, or even just surf the Internet or look at photos and videos.  Having a larger and better screen helps me to be more productive, and have more fun, with my iPad.

Using that same logic, I've always understood the appeal of the Plus model of the iPhone, starting with the iPhone 6 Plus introduced three years ago.  But in practice, that Plus-size iPhone just felt too big in my hand and against my face when on the phone — making me feel like Maxwell Smart using a shoe phone to place a call. 

Thus, for me, the iPhone X seems like the perfect solution:  all of the advantages of a larger Plus model, but in a size that is much closer to a non-Plus model, which I have been using for many years.  Add to that the best screen that Apple has ever shipped with an iPhone — and I suspect that best screen that has ever shipped with any smartphone — and this device seems fantastic.  Yes, it costs $300 more than the iPhone 8 (or $200 more than the Plus model), but it seems very much worth it to me to have the best possible screen for a device that I am going to look at every single day, multiple times a day, both to get work done and also for entertainment.

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

Patterns and Purpose, an Excerpt from Animation at Work

A list Apart development site - Tue, 09/12/2017 - 09:59

A note from the editors: We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Rachel Nabors's new book, Animation at Work, available now from A Book Apart.

So we can use animations to tap into users’ visual systems and give them a cognitive speed boost, terrific! But before animating every element of our designs, we must learn when and how to use this new tool: with great power comes great responsibility, and so forth. And as animation must vie with many other concerns for development and design time, it makes sense to spend our resources where they’ll go the farthest.

This chapter sets you up with some core animation patterns and shows you how animation applies to a greater system. Then you’ll learn how to spot cognitive bottlenecks and low-hanging fruit, maximizing the impact of the animations you do invest in.

Common Animation Patterns

If you’ve looked at as many examples of animation on the web and in app interfaces as I have, certain patterns start to emerge. These patterns are helpful for identifying and succinctly verbalizing the purpose of an animation to others. Here are the categories I’ve found myself using the most:

Transitions take users from place to place in the information space, or transition them out of one task into another. These tend to have massive impacts on the content on the page, replacing large portions of information.

Supplements bring information on or off the page, but don’t change the user’s “location” or task. They generally add or update bits of additional content on the page.

Feedback indicates causation between two or more events, often used to connect a user’s interaction with the interface’s reaction.

Demonstrations explain how something works or expose its details by showing instead of telling.

Decorations do not convey new information and are purely aesthetic.

Let’s have a look at each of them and see how they impact the user’s experience.

Transitions

The web was originally designed as a series of linked documents. Clicking on a link caused the browser to wipe the screen, often causing a telltale flash of white, before painting the next page from scratch. While this made sense in the context of linked text-based documents, it makes less sense in an era where pages share many rich design elements and belong to the same domain. Not only is it wasteful of the browser’s resources to be recreating the same page layout over and over, but it also increases users’ cognitive load when they have to reorient and reevaluate the page’s content.

Animation, specifically motion, can facilitate the user’s orientation in an information space by offloading that effort to the brain’s visual cortex. Using a transition between changes in task flow or locations in information architecture ideally reinforces where the user has been, where they are going, and where they are now in one fell swoop.

For example, on Nike’s SB Dunk page, when a user clicks a navigation arrow, the current sneaker moves out of the way while the next sneaker moves in from the opposite direction (Fig 2.1). These transitions clearly show the user how they are navigating along a linear continuum of sneakers, helping them keep track of their place and reinforcing the spatial model of perusing a real-world row of sneakers.

Fig 2.1: On this Nike page, transitions are used to navigate forwards and backwards along a linear continuum of sneakers. (Watch the accompanying video.)

On another shoes site, fluevog.com, transitions move the user from task to task (Fig 2.2). After a user starts typing in the search field, the results are animated on top of a darker backdrop. This transitions the user from the browsing context to refining their search results, streamlining their focus while also reassuring them that they can get back to browsing without much effort.

Fig 2.2: On Fluevog’s website, transitions move users from the browsing context to the searching context. (Watch the accompanying video.) Supplements

While transitions move the user from state to state, supplemental animations bring ancillary information to the user. Think of times when information complementary to the main content of the page appears or disappears in view: alerts, dropdowns, and tooltips are all good candidates for a supplemental animation on entry and exit.

Remember that these animations need to respect the user’s Cone of Vision: will they be looking directly at a tooltip appearing next to their cursor, or will their attention need to be directed to an alert on the side of their tablet?

When a user adds a product to their shopping cart on glossier.com, rather than taking them to a whole new shopping cart page, the site merely updates the user as to their cart’s contents by popping it out as a sidebar (Fig 2.3c). While a transition would snap the user out of browsing mode, this supplemental animation lets the user dismiss the shopping cart and continue shopping.

The shopping cart sidebar uses an additional supplemental animation to quickly and subtly attract the user’s eye: a progress meter gradually fills to show how much the user needs to spend to get free shipping (Fig 2.3d).

Fig 2.3: Glossier.com uses supplemental animation to show and hide the user’s shopping cart, keeping them in the shopping context longer without forcing them into the purchasing context. (Watch the accompanying video.)

This shopping cart process has a third animation pattern going on: the Add to Bag button gains a spinning icon when clicked, which gives the user feedback as to its loading state (Fig 2.3b). Speaking of feedback…

Feedback

Animation can give users direct feedback about their interactions. A depressed button, a swiping gesture—both link a human action to an interface’s reaction. Or the flip side: a loading spinner on a page indicates that we’re waiting on the computer. Without visual feedback, people are left wondering if they actually clicked that “pay now” button, or if the page is really loading after all.

On the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s site, hovering over a button causes its color to fade from red to blue, indicating that the element is interactive and ready to react to user input (Fig 2.4). Button hovers are classic examples for this kind of animation, partly because the gain of giving users visual feedback on buttons is so measurable and important to business.

Fig 2.4: On the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s site, hovering on a button triggers an animation that gives the user feedback that the element is interactive. (Watch the accompanying video.)

Design studio Animal’s site uses a bar of color across the top of the page as well as an animated version of their logo to indicate the page’s loading and loaded states while providing interest and reinforcing their “wild” branding (Fig 2.5).

Fig 2.5: Design studio Animal uses a progress to let users know how much of the page has loaded, and an animated logo to indicate when it’s fully loaded. (Watch the accompanying video.) Demonstrations

Demonstrations are my personal favorite use of animation. They can be both entertaining and insightful. These animations put information into perspective, show what’s happening, or how something works. This makes demonstrative animations perfect partners for infographics. One thing all demonstrative animations do is tell a story, as you’ll see.

“Processing…” pages are an opportunity to explain what’s happening to users while they wait. TurboTax makes good use of these processing pages (Fig 2.6). After users submit their US tax forms, it banishes any remaining anxiety by showing them where their information is headed and what they can expect—all while reinforcing their brand’s friendliness and accessibility. (It also helps that the animation distracts users from a rather lengthy page load with something visually engaging!)

Fig 2.6: TurboTax both informs their users and masks long page loads by demonstrating what’s going on after the user submits their US tax forms. (Watch the accompanying video.)

Coin famously uses demonstrative animations to explain their consolidation card’s value proposition to curious visitors as they scroll through the site (Fig 2.7)—no need to press play and sit through a video ad or wade through paragraphs of expository content. This page is the very essence of “show, don’t tell.”

Fig 2.7: As visitors scroll through Coin’s site, the company’s value proposition plays out in front of them. (Watch the accompanying video.) Decorations

It’s not hard to mistake decorative animations for demonstrative animations. But there is a key difference: where demonstrations bring new information into the system, decorative animations do not. They are the fats and sugars of the animation food pyramid: they make great flavor enhancers, but moderation is key.

The best way to spot a purely decorative animation is to ask, “What can a user learn from this animation? Does this guide them or show them something they wouldn’t know otherwise?” If the answer is no, you might have a decorative animation on your hands.

Even though they get a bad rap, decorative animations can help turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Revisionist History’s site uses decorative animations judiciously to bring flat illustrations to life. The animations add just enough interest to allow for the visual content on the page to be more austere, letting users focus on the podcast (Fig 2.8).

Fig 2.8: Revisionist History’s site uses decorative animations to add visual interest to non-visual media. (Watch the accompanying video.)

Polygon.com epically used animated illustrations to create centerpieces for a series of console reviews. These decorative animations may not have added new information, but they crucially reinforced the Polygon brand. They also helped each console review stand out from the competition, which at the time sported indistinguishable photographs of the same devices.

Fig 2.9: Polygon uses decorative animations as a showstopping feature to stand out from the competition. (Watch the accompanying video.) Want to read more?

This excerpt from Animation at Work will help you get started. Order the full copy today, as well as other excellent titles from A Book Apart.

Categories: Technology

IBM zPDT 2017 Sysplex Extensions

IBM Redbooks Site - Tue, 09/12/2017 - 09:30
Redbook, published: Tue, 12 Sep 2017

This IBM® Redbooks® publication describes the IBM System z® Personal Development Tool (IBM zPDT®) 2017 Sysplex Extensions, which is a package that consists of sample files and supporting documentation to help you get a functioning, data sharing sysplex up and running with minimal time and effort.

Categories: Technology

New iPhone (and more) to be announced today

iPhone J.D. - Tue, 09/12/2017 - 01:25

Today at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern, Apple will give a keynote presentation at the brand new Steve Jobs Theater, part of Apple's brand new Apple Park campus in Cupertino, CA.  We will definitely see the 2017 versions of the iPhone, and we may also see a new Apple Watch, new Apple TV, and more.  Apple loves to make surprise announcements, so anything is possible today.

It appears that, a few days ago, a rogue Apple employee tried to ruin some of the surprise by intentionally leaking some of the details of today's announcements.  I cannot comment on the content of those leaks because I decided not to read the stories this past weekend.  I think that it is more fun to see how Apple itself decides to announce its new hardware and software.

You can visit this page on Apple's website to watch a live stream of the event.  If you cannot watch it live, Apple typically posts a recording of the video a few hours after the event.

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

IBM z/OS DFSMS: Transparent Cloud Tiering

IBM Redbooks Site - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 09:30
Redbook, published: Mon, 11 Sep 2017

This IBM® Redbooks® publication gives a broad understanding of storage clouds and the initial functionality that was introduced for mainframes to have Transparent Cloud Tiering.

Categories: Technology

iPractice on an iPad -- excellent online course on doing more with an iPad in your law practice

iPhone J.D. - Mon, 09/11/2017 - 01:08

I'm often asked if I can recommend a good introductory course for using an iPad in a law practice, and for a while now, I haven't had a great answer.  For example, the book iPad in One Hour for Lawyers by Tom Mighell was very good when it came out in 2011, but it is now outdated.  Fortunately, now I have an excellent recommendation:  a new online course created by Brett Burney called iPractice on an iPad.  Brett Burney started out as a practicing attorney, but then shifted his career towards helping other lawyers use technology.  Brett really knows his stuff, and is a past chair of the ABA TECHSHOW.  He also publishes the excellent Apps in Law website and podcast.  Better yet, Brett is an excellent presenter; I have been impressed both when I have seen him give presentations, and also when he and I have co-presented.

The online course that Brett created has numerous video lessons and associated materials.  In total, there is about three hours of video.  In the videos, Brett uses both slides and live presentations of iPad software to make it easy to follow all of his advice.  And you can pause the video or go back and watch a section again so that you can learn at your own pace. 

Brett gave me a sneak peak of his entire course, and the parts that I watched were incredibly informative. The focus of this course is on file management & PDF annotation, and Brett tells you everything that you need to know to store and annotate tons of documents on your iPad.  He recommends great apps, and shows you how to use them in your law practice.

You can get a good sense of what the course is like by viewing this video preview of the course:

You can also get much more information about the course on the main website for the course

The cost is $197, and that includes the ability to watch the course as much as you want and watch any updated sections in the future.  Brett offers a 30 day money back guarantee (see his website for details) so you can be sure that you are going to find value in this program.

Brett was also nice enough to offer a discount for a limited number of iPhone J.D. readers.  If you are one of the first 10 people to use the coupon code "20iphonejd" when you sign up, you will receive a $20 discount.

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

In the news

iPhone J.D. - Fri, 09/08/2017 - 01:00

Next week, on Tuesday, we will find out what the 2017 version of the iPhone looks like.  Rumors are that we will see a traditional upgrade to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, plus a third model with an edge-to-edge OLED screen and authentication by scanning your face instead of Touch ID.  My prediction is that Apple will call the new model the "Pro" and will use a naming scheme like iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 8 Pro.  (California attorney David Sparks is thinking the same thing.)  But whatever they call it, I cannot wait to learn about the new features, especially new features that have not yet leaked or been guessed by the press.  And now, the news of note from the past week:

  • Florida attorney Katie Floyd provides technology tips for preparing for a big storm.  Good luck to everyone in Florida who is preparing for Hurricane Irma right now.  As an attorney in New Orleans, I know first-hand what you are going through.  Be prepared, and be safe.
  • In an article for Above the Law, Washington, DC attorney Matt Kaiser gives some advice for what attorneys should do with their smartphones when they cross international borders.
  • Time magazine has a fantastic series of articles called Firsts, about amazing women who were the first to do something in their field.  The articles and videos are inspiring, but I mention them today because the cover photographs were shot by photographer Luisa Dörr using an iPhone.  In this interview by Kira Pollack, Dörr discusses the advantages of using an iPhone to take her incredible pictures.
  • If you are a member of Costco, John Levite of iMore reports on some great savings on iTunes gift cards.  For example, you can get a $100 card for only $84.49, and a $200 card for only $164.99.  You only get this discount on the online Costco store.
  • In the the process of (slowly) going through the catalog of James Bond movies with my kids.  (We are currently in the Roger Moore years.)  The older movies are dated, but still have some really fun moments in them.  Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter say that both Apple and Amazon are bidding for the rights to James Bond so that they can develop future TV shows, movies, etc. based on the character — not unlike what Disney is in the process of doing with the Star Wars franchise.  I look forward to seeing Q give 007 a tricked-out iPhone along with other gadgets to use to save the day.
  • Michael Potuck of 9to5Mac discusses the new ElevationDock 4, an adjustable dock for iPhone and iPad that looks really nice.
  • HomeKitty is a new crowdsourced website that seeks to list every accessory that supports Apple's HomeKit protocol.
  • Christian Zibreg of the iDownloadBlog discusses some nice improvements to Readdle's apps such as Spark, PDF Expert and Scanner Pro coming with iOS 11.
  • David Pierce of Wired writes about the new, more human-like Siri voice in iOS 11.
  • And finally, although what Apple announces on Tuesday is sure to be interesting, where Apple is doing so is just as interesting:  the new Steve Jobs Theater at the Apple Park campus.  Dancan Sinfield recently took some drone footage of the Steve Jobs Theater and it is in this video.  Of course, you cannot see much because only the entrance to the theater is above ground level, but it is still neat to get a peak:

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

New A List Apart wants you!

A list Apart development site - Thu, 09/07/2017 - 10:00

As A List Apart approaches its 20th anniversary—a milestone in independent, web-based publishing—we’re once again reimagining the magazine. We want your feedback. And most of all, we want you.

We’re getting rid of advertisers and digging back to our roots: community-based, community-built, and determinedly non-commercial. If you want to highlight local events or innovations, expand your skills, give back, or explore any other goal or idea, we’re here to support you with networking and backing from the community.

In recent years, we’ve seen our rich universe of diverse, creative blogs and sites implode—leaving fewer and fewer channels available to new voices. As more content centralizes into a handful of all-powerful networks, there’s a dreary sameness in perspective and presentation.

This creeping monopolization is a sad echo of how media worked in the 20th century. It doesn’t reflect 21st century diversity and empowerment. It’s not the web’s promise. It’s not how it’s supposed to be.

We have no beef with networks like Twitter or Facebook, or with companies like Apple and Google that currently dominate our communal digital space. We just think diversity is about expanding and speaking up—not consolidating and homogenizing.

Define the next decade with us

A List Apart has always been more than a publisher; we’re an ecosystem of practitioners who are passionate about our craft. We’ll keep finding and sharing great articles—we’re just taking it to the next level.

Two ways to pitch in

If you want to put your favorite skills to use, expand your professional experience, or have a goal or idea for A List Apart, we’re here to listen. And if you’d like to support us in some other way, we’ve made that easy, too. Currently there are two ways to pitch in:

Teams

Use the email address at the bottom of this message to let us know if you want to create or join a team that “owns” some area you’re interested in, such as:

  • Design & development
  • Community service and local meetups/events
  • Education and entry level/advanced resources
  • Book/resource coverage and reviews
  • Editorial: Editing, acquisitions, and email
  • Social media, SEO, or marketing
  • Project management
  • Your suggestions!
Membership

If you don’t have time to volunteer but still want to support us, you’ll be able to offer other forms of help—for instance, making a small, monthly donation via Patreon to help cover our expenses. This will also grant you membership benefits. (Details at Patreon.)

Sharing is caring

More about all of this will soon be revealed. Meantime, if you have feedback or questions about what we’ve shared so far, kindly fire away in the comments. (Hey, how’s that for an idea? A comments section that’s positive and not divisive.)

As we imagine the next 20 years of web design, there’s a lot we don’t know—other than a strong hunch that accessible, semantic HTML will continue to be the bedrock of it all. But one thing we do know: the web, in its reach and its potential, is too important to be left to the mercies of a few powerful companies, however well-intended they may be.

If you’ve a mind to do so, please help us keep our little corner of the indie web alive and well. Help the open web stay open. Help us build the future. To get involved, email us at contact@alistapart.com—or share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

The independent content producer refuses to die!

 

Jeffrey Zeldman, Publisher
Aaron Gustafson, Editor-in-chief
& the gang

 

 

Categories: Technology

High Availability for Oracle Database with IBM PowerHA SystemMirror and IBM Spectrum Virtualize HyperSwap

IBM Redbooks Site - Thu, 09/07/2017 - 09:30
Redpaper, published: Thu, 7 Sep 2017

This IBM® Redpaper™ publication describes the use of the IBM Spectrum™ Virtualize HyperSwap® function to provide a high availability (HA) storage infrastructure for Oracle databases across metro distances, using the IBM SAN Volume Controller.

Categories: Technology

Review: Canopy by Studio Neat -- case and stand for the Apple Magic Keyboard

iPhone J.D. - Tue, 09/05/2017 - 22:59

I don't use a keyboard with my iPad all the time, so for me, it is overkill to have an iPad case with a keyboard built-in.  There is no reason to add extra weight to my iPad all of the time.  But when I do use a keyboard, I want it to be a good keyboard so that I can type just as easily as if I was using the PC in my office or my Mac at home.  For a long time now, Apple has made one of the best Bluetooth keyboards for the iPad.  First, Apple made the Apple Wireless Keyboard.  On October 15, 2015, Apple retired the Apple Wireless Keyboard and replaced it with the thinner and lighter Apple Magic Keyboard.  Perhaps one of the reasons that these keyboards are so good is that they are not designed to just be iPad keyboards; these are the same keyboards that Apple has sold with its desktop computers such as the iMac. 

Apple's keyboards don't come with any sort of a case.  If you are carrying them around in a purse or briefcase, this means that it is possible for something to get under a key cap and break off a key.  It has never happened to me, but I know other attorneys who have met this fate.  Thus, it makes sense to have a case for the keyboard.

Back in 2012, I reviewed a great keyboard case called the Origami Workstation for iPad by Incase.  That product provided a cover for the Apple Wireless Keyboard, and as a bonus also folded into a stand so that you could prop up an iPad while you used the keyboard.  But Incase did not update that product in 2015 when Apple released the Apple Magic Keyboard.

Studio Neat filled that void by creating the Canopy, a product that works with the Apple Wireless Keyboard and is even better than that old Origami Workstation.  Studio Neat sent me a free review unit of this $40 product, and I have been trying it out for the last few weeks.  It works really well.

A case

The Canopy works great as a case.  It uses micro-suction pads – not glue.  They keep the Apple Magic Keyboard firmly in place.  But you can remove the keyboard from the Canopy without leaving a mark, and these suction pads don't lose their stickiness when you remove the keyboard.

To protect the keyboard, just fold up the Canopy around it, and snap the button.  It would be virtually impossible for something in your briefcase or purse to damage the Apple Magic Keyboard when it is inside of the Canopy.

One of the nice features of the Apple Magic Keyboard is that it is thin and light.  Fortunately, the Canopy is as well.  The exterior is a synthetic canvas which is strong but light.  And it has a nice professional look to it as well.  I will often walk around my office to go to a meeting room with my Apple Pencil in a shirt or coat pocket and my iPad Pro and the Canopy (with keyboard) in one hand.  With that combination, I can use my keyboard to type notes as if I want to type, or I can use my Apple Pencil to write or annotate whenever that makes more sense for whatever work I am doing.

Moreover, because the Canopy and keyboard are so thin and light, you can just keep them in a briefcase, purse, messenger bag, etc. all of the time.  That way, you have the keyboard for whenever you need it, but it is out of the way if you don't need it.

The interior of the Canopy is a soft microfiber, so it won't scratch the keyboard when you fold the Canopy around it.

A stand

When typing with an external keyboard, you will usually want the iPad screen to be propped up.  I use an Apple Smart Cover for my iPad, and it folds up into a stand that props up my iPad at a nice angle.  But with enough pressure, the Smart Cover-as-stand will collapse.

In contrast, the Canopy is very strong when it is being used as a stand.  You simply unfold the Canopy and use the leather strap and stainless steel snap to create a sort of a tent to act as the stand.  The snap is very secure, so the stand is very secure as well.  I have been using the Canopy with my iPad Pro 12.9" and even though this larger version of the iPad Pro is wider than the Canopy itself, the Canopy has no trouble holding this larger and wider iPad. 

And by the way, if — like me — you used to use the Incase Origami Workstation, the Canopy is much better.  Unlike the Origami Workstation which used Velcro straps which wore down over time, the snap is very strong.

I've used the Canopy with my iPad Pro over the last few weeks both when I have been in a meeting in a conference room in my office, and also when I was traveling and relying on my iPad to get all of my work done.  Whether I was in my office, at a meeting outside of the office, or in a hotel room catching up on work at the end of the day, the Canopy worked really well.

I didn't try smaller iPads with the Canopy, but I'm sure that they would work just as well.  I did try an iPhone, and that also worked — although I only rarely have a need to use an external keyboard with an iPhone.  The Canopy is specifically designed for the Apple Magic Keyboard, so I doubt it would work with any other keyboard.  But you can put any size iOS device in the stand, so even if you currently use an older 9.7" iPad and you plan to update to a 12.9" iPad Pro, the Canopy will continue to work great with different iPad sizes.

An iPad (or iPhone) just sits right behind the keyboard on the Canopy when it is in its stand mode.  It works really great on a table.  But if you are planning to put the Canopy on your lap, I didn't find that very stable with my iPad Pro 12.9".  It works just OK if you are laying back on a couch or bed.  Thus, the Canopy works best when you are at a table.

Although my second-generation iPad Pro 12.9" is still running iOS 10, I also have a first-generation iPad Pro 12.9" which is running the beta version if iOS 11.  In iOS 11, you need to swipe up from the bottom to make the dock appear when you are in another app, and you need to swipe up from the bottom to make the Control Center appear.  Those functions worked great on an iPad Pro 12.9" even when the iPad was sitting in the Canopy stand.

I don't have access to a new 10.5" iPad Pro running iOS 11, but I know that the 10.5" iPad Pro has an even thinner bezel.  I mention this because I don't know if the thinner bezel will make it harder to swipe from the bottom of the screen in iOS 11 while it is sitting in the Canopy being used as a case.  I'll update this post whenever I have a chance to test that out.

Conclusion

This is the third product I have reviewed from the folks at Studio Neat, and every single one of them has been excellent — featuring a clever design, high-quality materials and nice construction.  (I previously reviewed the Material Dock and the Glif + Hand Grip.)  These guys know what they are doing.

The Apple Magic Keyboard is a great external Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad, but the Canopy by Studio Neat turns it into a much better and more useful product.  The Incase Origami Workstation was a pretty good product for its time, but the Canopy + Apple Magic Keyboard combination is better in every way:  smaller, lighter, more stable, and longer-lasting thanks to the use of a snap instead of Velcro.  Indeed, the Canopy works so well that it makes me want to use an external keyboard with my iPad even more, and this is good timing for that because iOS 11 will have even better keyboard support when it comes out this month.

Click here to the Canopy from Studio Neat ($40).

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

Conducting the Technical Interview

A list Apart development site - Tue, 09/05/2017 - 13:41

I vividly remember my first interview as a manager. My hands were shaking as I led the candidate up the stairs to the conference room I had booked. When we got there, I went into a panic. What if I don’t ask a vital question? How do I even know what the vital questions are? What if I hire him and he’s completely unprofessional? How can I tell if he really knows JavaScript? Wait a second—does he have a prosthetic leg? Did I just take a candidate with a prosthetic leg up the stairs? Oh no, I’m failing this interview already!

Even if you’re familiar with the basics of interviewing, technical interviews can be nerve-wracking. Whether you’re a new team lead or you’ve been in leadership for years, concerns and insecurities like the ones I had in my first interview can haunt you, and even well-established interview processes can fail to adequately screen candidates.

Interviewing for technical positions is, in many ways, a balancing act. You look at past, present, and future; you look at soft skills and hard skills; you have to think as both a buyer and a seller; you even have to worry about company image and reputation management. There are some basic things you can do to keep that balance and best represent your company.

Define the ideal role

I’ll admit, for my first round of interviews, all I was looking for was someone who could tick off all the technical skills on a checklist. As I progressed in my management career, I started to learn that I never looked for the same person twice—each time I had an opening, the team had different needs, and I had to take those into account when hiring someone. Even though the job description for a front-end developer didn’t change much each time, my expectations for the ideal candidate did. That gap between the job description and the ideal role tripped me up for a long time.

Before you start interviewing, you’ll need a solid written description of what you’re looking for in an ideal candidate, beyond what job postings typically go into. The job posting may say Senior Front End Developer, but if you need someone to be your CSS animation specialist and help define standards and best practices—whether now or in eight months—you’ll need to take that into account when hiring.

Be future-oriented with your description: ask yourself what happens when the employee outgrows his or her role. Could this person be a supervisor, or would they even want to be? Is there an opportunity to be a technical leader or architect at your company, if that’s the route this person chooses? Could this person one day replace you? (Remember, you’re probably not getting promoted until there’s someone to take your place.) If you have no answer to the question of what happens when an employee outgrows the role, the answer is usually found at another company.

Also ask what happens if the team continues to grow. Does this person have the aptitude to pick up new skills and responsibilities as needed? How will this person respond to change? What if you have to put this person in front of a client? At a healthy company, growth is inevitable, both in size and scope. Your definition should describe someone who can grow with you and not get left behind.

Define not only the technical skills, but also the soft skills needed for the role you have in mind. If you need someone to take the lead on collaborating with the Creative team, you’ll need to define what would make an employee successful in that role and hire for that. This can actually be more important than the technical skill requirements. Technical skills can be easily trained—soft skills cannot.

When you do all of this, you’ll have a list of expectations for a role that probably won’t fit in a job posting. When appropriate (don’t make promises of growth), test those waters with the people you’re interviewing. Even if you determine a person would be good as a trainer, they may not want to do that, which can be a nasty surprise if you hired the person with the intent of them growing into the role a year down the road.

Once you know what you’re looking for, the next step is getting them to want to work for you.

Sell the job

The saddest interviews for me are the ones where I find that ideal candidate I envisioned and they get away. Sometimes, they just get a higher salary somewhere else; but sometimes, they decide that they don’t like the company and want to keep looking. Both are sad, but either way, getting candidates to like your company is always in your best interest.

Remember, when you’re interviewing someone, they’re also interviewing you. Don’t ever assume that your company is the only place a candidate is interviewing. It’s true that some people walk in the door with their minds made up, but many are still deciding whether they want to work for your company—and the better the candidate, the more options they’re going to have, so the more you’re going to have to sell to win them over.

So how do you sell a job? A salesman will tell you it starts with knowing three things really well: the product, the competition, and the customer. The product is your company: benefits, compensation, culture, type of work, amount of work, and even location. The competition is any local business that hires similar types of people, and you’ll need to know the same things about them that you do about your own company. The customer is the job applicant. Knowing each of these things well and being able to compare them is key to winning the best candidates.

Do your research not only into your own company, but your local competitors. What are your competitive advantages? What are theirs? (If you think a ping pong table is a competitive advantage, you’ll probably need to dig a little deeper.) Sometimes it’s not about what you have so much as what the competition doesn’t. If you’re seeing a lot of interviewees from a competitor, find out why and see if you can use that factor to sell your company.

Learn what prospective employees are looking for in a job. There will likely be some commonalities. If you’re losing top talent because you don’t offer a benefit or they don’t like your processes, you’d be wise to revisit those. Just like the technology in our industry is constantly changing, the expectations and needs of our employees are also changing. Don’t fall behind with what you offer to your employees.

Almost every candidate will have questions about what the work environment is like. You should have a little elevator speech to sum up your answer and sell your company in a minute or less. You may actually want to lead the interview with that speech to get those questions out of the way and get the candidate excited for the position before you start finding out about them.

Lastly, be authentic with your interviewees. Don’t try to spin a weakness as a strength, because most people will see right through that. If you don’t believe in your company enough to be totally honest about it, why should they believe in it enough to work for you? You don’t need to hand them a comprehensive list of everything that’s wrong with your company, but don’t shy away from questions along those lines, and don’t try to reframe a shortcoming as a strength. As an example, if your company has a reputation for burning some people out, that’s important, but you can talk about the type of people who do well there rather than the people who don’t. It’s better that people find that out in the interview than after three months of training.

Hire a person, not a code machine

In my five years as a supervisor, I only had to fire two people. Want to guess how many of those were because they lacked technical skills? Zero. In both cases, the employees didn’t work out for non-technical reasons.

There are a number of non-technical factors to look for in a candidate: personality, fit with the team, communication skills, openness to change, leadership potential, and a host of others. (That’s the real reason you’re conducting an interview and not just asking for test results.) These details don’t magically reveal themselves in the technical portion of the interview—you need to ask about them.

Create a list of standard questions for candidates. Questions should be open-ended and answered with a story. Examples include:

  • Tell us about a time when your good communication helped to solve a problem.
  • Tell us about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor and what you did about it.
  • Tell us about a time you successfully described a technical concept to a non-technical person.
  • How would you explain inheritance to a junior developer?
  • Tell us about a recent time you learned from a mistake.

Order is important: ask the non-technical questions first. The technical portion of the interview can make some people nervous, and you won’t get a good gauge of who the candidate is if their thoughts are fixated on the technical questions they missed.

Putting thought into screening for soft skills is vital. But remember that this is a technical interview—you have to put just as much thought into screening for technical talent.

Stick to the standards

And I’m not talking about web standards. If you’re not asking all developers the same questions, there’s a good chance you won’t get a fair comparison, which means a greater likelihood that you’ll fall back on biases like similarity or likeability.

Develop a standard set of technical questions, and a written test. The questions should allow for some discussion, but have a clearly-defined right answer. Examples of these questions are everywhere. You’ll probably want to customize your list so that people can’t just look up the answers online before the interview, but lists like those will get you most of the way there.

(And don’t feel like you need to come up with this list on your own. If you have technical experts at your disposal, utilize them. You’ll probably want one in the interview, too.)

The written test can make or break an interview. It should not be easy, nor should it be mandatory to get every question right. When an applicant is writing out code by hand from memory, leniencies must be given for syntax—give points for partial answers and ideas. Remember what Stephen Wolfram, creator of the Wolfram Alpha answer engine, said on the subject: “One thing I’ve noticed is that in almost every area, the people who go furthest are not the ones with the best technical skills, but the ones who have the best strategy for figuring out what to do.” You’re trying to get a feel for the candidate’s problem-solving strategy, not their ability to memorize every minutia of coding syntax.

There should be at least a few “fix this code” sections to see how sharp their debugging skills are. Again, you shouldn’t focus on trick questions or ridiculously obscure syntax problems—you just want to measure the candidate’s ability to think through and solve a technical problem.

Questions should be relevant to what the job entails—if they’ll be expected to create custom CSS animations, make sure to ask about that—but they should avoid niche- or process-specific knowledge unless it’s vital to the position. Rule of thumb: if your company does something differently than the rest of the industry, don’t quiz them on it.

Once you have the questions and test prepared, run the questions by some of your existing team members to see how they fare. If your entry-level developers get all of the questions right—probably a bad sign; if your senior developers all bomb the test—also a bad sign.

In the questions, there should be some clear delineation between roles. What are the must-answer questions for mid-level developers? For seniors? There can be some flexibility here, but you should have a pretty good idea what a senior test looks like and what a mid-level test looks like.

If a candidate aces your standard interview questions, you can hire them with confidence. But when the technical portion of the interview doesn’t go well, you need to know how to handle that too.

Know when to move on

The most awkward interview I ever conducted was with a PHP developer who freelanced and was looking for his first agency job. When we began the technical questions, I quickly realized he didn’t know as much as he thought he did. Of the 22 technical questions, he got about 2 correct. He got more and more distressed with every tough question—especially when I corrected his wrong answers—and by the end of the technical portion, he looked like he’d been punched in the stomach.

That guy was not qualified for the job, and both of us knew it from question 3. This was pretty early on in my management career, so I just plowed through the entire list of questions, knowing he would fail them. Learn from my mistake: don’t do that.

Let interviewees fail gracefully. Don’t interrupt them with the right answer to the question they’re struggling with, and don’t correct them if they get the answer partially right. If they get the question wrong, just move on without showing judgment. If they really can’t get a question, just tell them you’re moving on.

If a person bombs the verbal questions, don’t make them sit through the written test (which will probably be much harder). Feel free to tell them right then and there that they’re not a good fit for your particular position and wish them well in their quest for work. If you think they could be a good fit for another position in your company, or if you’d like to see them back once they get a better grasp on the fundamentals, go ahead and let them know. But there’s no point in leading them on with a vague non-answer if the answer is definitely no.

Conclusion

Screening for technical talent can be tricky. Having a holistic view of both the role and the candidate is key to making the right hiring decision. Remember to take careful notes, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. And good luck!

Categories: Technology

[Sponsor] Lit Software -- TrialPad, TranscriptPad and DocReviewPad apps for the iPad

iPhone J.D. - Mon, 09/04/2017 - 21:19

Thank you to Lit Software for sponsoring iPhone J.D. this month.  This company produces three of the very best iPad apps designed for attorneys:  TrialPad, TranscriptPad and DocReviewPad.  TrialPad (my review) was first released in 2010 — the same year that the iPad itself debuted — and has seen numerous major updates over the years.  If you want to present evidence to a jury, judge, or other audience, the app gives you powerful tools for displaying and annotating documents, including the Callout tool that most jurors expect to see nowadays.  There is a recent post on the Lit Software blog explaining how Arlington, TX attorney Chase Ware uses TrialPad.

In my own litigation practice, I spend a lot of time working with deposition transcripts, such as preparing for a motion for summary judgment.  Thus, TranscriptPad (my review) is the Lit Software app that I use the most.  Whether I am drafting a motion, or I am in a subsequent deposition and I want to quickly see all of the relevant testimony on a subject during prior depositions, TranscriptPad does exactly what I need.  On several occasions, other attorneys have watched me use TranscriptPad and then remarked that they need to get an iPad.  When an app is so useful that it is a reason for attorneys to buy an iPad, you know it is a good app.  There is a recent post on the Lit Software blog explaining how Virginia attorney Brandon Osterbind uses TranscriptPad (and TrialPad).

DocReviewApp (my review) is the newest app from Lit Software.  This is an app that you can use to review and annotate documents on your iPad, so this app is especially useful during the request for production of documents process.

Thanks to Lit Software for sponsoring iPhone J.D. this month, and more importantly, a big thank you to Lit Software for doing more than any other company when it comes to designing fantastic iPad apps specifically for attorneys. 

Click here to get TrialPad ($129.99): 

Click here to get TranscriptPad ($89.99): 

Click here for DocReviewPad ($89.99): 

Click here for the Ultimate Litigation Package (all three apps) ($299.99): 

Categories: iPhone Web Sites

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