A few words can make a difference

A couple of weeks ago, the Rensselaer Polytechnic (the RPI student newspaper) published a couple of op-eds in regard to the situation at RPI.  (My friend, Greg Moore, wrote a piece a while back related to this issue.)  In response to the op-eds, I decided to respond with my own letter to the editor.

This morning, a friend posted to my Facebook that my letter, to my surprise, was garnering some attention.  I won’t say that it’s gone viral, but apparently, it’s caught a number of eyes.

I should note that my donations haven’t been much.  I was only a graduate student at Rensselaer, not an undergrad, so the social impact on my life wasn’t quite the same, and other financial obligations have kept me from donating more of my money.  That said, I’ve donated in other ways; I’ve been a hockey season ticket holder for many years (going back to my days as a student), I’ve attended various events (sports, cultural, etc.) on campus, and I’ve donated some of my time to the Institute.

Although my donations have been relatively meager, more importantly, I wanted to spread the word that I was no longer supporting RPI, and exactly why I was discontinuing my support.  How much I was contributing isn’t the issue; the issue is that I am stopping contributing.  For the first time in years, I have no intention of setting foot in the Field House for a hockey game during a season.  I wanted to make clear exactly why.  A large number of alumni have announced that they were withholding donations.  I wanted to add to that chorus.  It wasn’t so much how much I was donating; rather, I wanted to add my voice, and hopefully encourage other students and alumni to take action against an administration that I deem to be oppressive.

One of RPI’s marketing catchphrases is, “why not change the world?”  It looks like I’m doing exactly that with my letter.  Don’t underestimate the power of words.  Indeed, with just a few words, you can change the world.

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SQL Saturday #797 — I’m coming to Boston

Happy Monday, all!  </sarcasm>

This is a reminder that I am speaking at SQL Saturday #797, Boston (actually, Burlington, MA) this coming Saturday, Sept. 22!

I will be doing my (still relatively new) presentation about networking, entitled “Networking 101: Building professional relationships” (or, the presentation previously known as “Networking: it isn’t just for breakfast anymore”).  We will discuss why networking is critical for your career, how to go about doing it, and some resources to check out.  You will even have an opportunity to do some networking within the confines of our room.  You might even leave this session with new networking contacts you didn’t previously have!

I’ll see you in Burlington this Saturday!

Comment your damn code!!!

“Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand.”
— Martin Fowler

When I was a computer science major in college, I had professors who used to dock points if my code wasn’t documented.  It didn’t matter how well-written my code was, and it didn’t matter how well my code worked.  If I didn’t include comments to describe my code, what my variables were, why I used certain functions and coding techniques, a project that could’ve gotten an A grade instead got a B.

That memory came back to me this evening at our SQL user group meeting this evening.  Our guest speaker was Jen McCown, who gave a presentation called “T-SQL’s Hidden Support Feature.”  (A description of her sessions can be found here, and I found a SQL Saturday link to it here.)  Her presentation talked about a feature included with T-SQL (and just about every language imaginable).  It is guaranteed to improve how people handle, develop, and maintain code, and it costs nearly nothing to implement.

What is this miracle feature, you ask?

Code comments.

Simply commenting code can save developers lots of headaches and development time.  It can provide an explanation of how and why code snippets were used.  It can describe variables, what they’re for, and how they’re utilized.  It can describe program structures that help in debugging and maintenance.  I even remember a comment to a SSC forum post by Jeff Moden who mentioned the return on investment of commenting code.  It also reminded me of Steve Jones’ article about how important it is to comment code.  I believe Jen’s presentation should be required for anyone who writes code.  The benefits for commenting code are endless.

Commenting code is probably one of the simplest and most useful, yet most underutilized, methods of documentation.  I’ve mentioned time and again about how documentation gets no respect in technology, and yet too many developers still refuse to do it.  Jen’s presentation was a reminder of how important it is to document code; in fact, she also mentioned some points that didn’t occur to me.  For example, documents such as Word, Wikis, or Confluence can get lost, misplaced, or buried.  Code comments, however, stay with the code; it cannot get lost or separated from the code.  (There were several other points she mentioned as well, but it’s her presentation, not mine, so I don’t want to take away from it.)

When I was in school, I was docked points when I didn’t comment my code.  Sometimes, I think developers should be docked pay if they don’t do so.  Commenting code is the simplest, yet most effective tools around.  So you want to be a better developer?  Then comment your damn code!

Speaking near Beantown

sqlsaturday-logo

I got an email last night announcing that SQL Saturday #813 Boston — BI Edition has been scheduled for March 30, 2019.  I went ahead and submitted my presentations.

Because the Boston Microsoft office (despite the name, it’s actually in Burlington, MA, about twelve miles northwest of Boston) is a smaller facility, events such as SQL Saturday tend to be smaller; it’s more difficult to be accepted as a speaker, and a wait list for attendees is not uncommon.  Nevertheless, if I am accepted to speak at SQL Saturday #813 (far from a sure thing), that is potentially three trips I’ll make to Burlington within a span of seven months.  I am already scheduled to speak at SQL Saturday #797 on September 22 (a week from this Saturday as I write this) and at a New England SQL User Group meeting on February 13.  SQL Saturday #813 would make it trip #3.

Despite the fact that the Boston area tends to be hostile territory for a Yankee fan like me, I look forward to my upcoming trips.  I’m hoping to make it three trips in seven months.

Hope to see you there!

To paper, or not to paper?

After trying to implement updates to one of my documents.  I realized that I was having problems trying to visualize how to incorporate a number of needed changes.  After staring at my document on the screen for a period of time, I decided to print out my table of contents to better visualize the document structure.  The table of contents serves as a de facto document outline, enabling me to get an idea of the document’s structure.

However, the mere fact that I had to print out the table of contents got me thinking: is paper still relevant in this digital age?

These days, it seems like everything is digitized.  An increasingly number of people are reading books on e-readers and tablets.  Even I, a longtime New York Times reader, stopped buying hardcopy newspapers a long time ago and started maintaining a digital subscription.

That said, there’s something to be said about savoring a good book — a real book, with paper pages to flip, and a dog-eared cover.  Even though I maintain a digital Times subscription, every once in a blue moon, I’ll pick up an actual newspaper and sit myself down in a comfortable chair in a Starbucks, flipping through the pages and getting my fingers dirty with newspaper ink, while enjoying a cup of mocha.

(I’ll also confess to being a little biased, since my wife works in the newspaper industry.)

While viewing documents entirely on a screen seems to be the way of the world these days, I’m finding that there are some instances where there is no substitute for paper.  For starters, I recently wrote that, as a tech writer, I sometimes come across mental blocks in my work.  Viewing a document as a hardcopy, as opposed to on a screen, sometimes helps to break the stalemate.  With paper, I can take whatever individual sheets I need, place them on a table, and skip through whatever I need to edit.  I am able to better visualize document structure and hierarchy so I can better understand where things need to go.  I also have the advantage of being able to pick up a pen and scribble any notes wherever I need them and wherever I please.  Try doing that on a computer screen.

Paper copies could also help alleviate eye strain.  (I am not an expert in this, so for all I know, I might be off-base here.)  I sometimes find it easier to look at material in print than I do on a screen.  I say this, despite the fact that the old tube-style CRT monitors have gone the way of the dinosaur.

By no means am I advocating that we should go out and kill more trees; on the contrary, I am all for taking steps to protect the environment.  All I am saying is that paper is not completely dead.  Although most documentation these days is digitized, I believe that the imminent demise of paper is somewhat exaggerated.