Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A Manager’s Perspective - Why Attend Progressive.NET Tutorials?

SkillsMatter are organizing another series of their Progressive.NET tutorials this May. I’ve heard from several people who would love to attend but are struggling to convince their managers that it’s worth the money (and to justify the time out of the office) – so I’d like to take this opportunity to go on the record, as a software manager, to endorse these tutorials.

If you’re in a hurry, here’s the quote:

I’m Dylan Beattie. I’ve been programming professionally for over 10 years, I’ve run a software team for 5 years. I believe that the SkillsMatter Progressive.NET tutorials offer more knowledgeable speakers, more relevant content, and better value for money than any other paid training course I have ever attended – and I believe that the skills learned at these tutorials will almost immediately result in improved productivity and better-quality software.

Progressive.NET is not a dry textbook lecture delivered by some professional trainer who doesn’t care what happens after you leave the room. It’s enthusiastic, passionate experts, who hate wasting time and money as much as you (and your boss) do, sharing lessons they’ve learned the hard way, and demonstrating tools that will help you build better software faster.

I manage a team of Web developers, who build software on Microsoft platforms – Windows, IIS, SQL Server, ASP, ASP.NET, MVC, and every kind of data access framework from good old ADO through ADO.NET, Linq to SQL, Castle ActiveRecord and Fluent NHibernate. Between us we’ve built and shipped software using almost all these platforms. We’ve spent painful hours and days tracking down obscure bugs in seven-year-old VBScript code, and we’ve seen how smoothly everything happens once you have unit tests, continuous integration and a decent development environment in place.

Over the years, my team & I have been on various “proper” developer training courses, including a five-day Microsoft-certified ASP.NET course that cost thousands of pounds and was basically a complete waste of time.

Three of us attended the SkillsMatter Progressive.NET tutorials last year, and found the event to be very, very good. The hardest thing about adopting a new technology like NHibernate or Castle is working out where it can help, and what it can do – and the best way I’ve found of getting this “guided tour” of a project’s capabilities is to spend a few hours with an expert like Ayende or Hammett showing you how it works and how it all fits together. One of my team also said that it was the first time he’d really spent time out of the office thinking about how to write better software – and he’s right; it’s hard to find the time when you’re at your desk day in, day out, to really take a step back and think “could I be doing this better?”

From a team lead / management perspective, the lessons learned and insights gleaned from the sessions at last year’s tutorials have made it much easier to base new projects on tools like NHibernate – and this has resulted in genuine time savings. We’re delivering better code, we’re delivering it faster, we’re not wasting time writing stored procedures and SELECT statements. We have less bugs. We have better release processes. We are more productive because we are inspired by learning new techniques, we’re using the right tools for the job, and we feel like part of a larger community.

More importantly, having sat in a room full of people sharing the same interest in software and software development, we don’t feel like we’re going off on some crazy hippy open-source tangent. We’ve talked IoC and ORM with people who write e-commerce systems, insurance software, finance software and major enterprise systems for healthcare organisations. It’s a radically different perspective from trying NHibernate because you read about on some guy’s blog. It’s given me, my team, and our business stakeholders confidence in these tools, and access to a rich network of fellow users and experts who are happy to advise and help out when we get a bit lost.