Looking Back on the Final Working Sprint

Just like that, I am writing the final sprint retrospective for our capstone project working with AMPATH Informatics! I have learned so much about the development process, contributing to open source software, and especially working in a Scrum development team. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with the AMPATH developers, my team, who were extremely helpful and made this experience valuable. I am thankful that the software development capstone has allowed me to contribute to a real-world application, and hopefully make some small difference.

In terms of concrete tasks for this sprint, I took on fewer development stories than in previous sprints, and chose to focus more on documenting and producing tests for what I have already contributed. Other team members were assigned develop tasks, however, and our implementation of an offline login is close to being a shippable product. The main item blocking a pull request to AMPATH is the lack of encryption for the stored credentials. They are currently only encoding in base64, which is about as good as plain text. We are unsure whether a working encryption implementation will be available before time runs out.

One of the development tasks that I took on for this sprint was to update the refresh time of the online tracker indicator on the bottom of the screen. When Dominique added a checkbox element to the user interface, she used a subscription that updated every three seconds. As a result, the checkbox would appear even when the online tracker indicated that the user was still offline. To fix this, I updated the refresh time of the online tracker component to match the subscription of the checkbox.

Another task that was assigned to Dominique and Luigi for this sprint was to implement the backend logic for the checkbox. While there are still some bugs, we should be able to work through them as a team if they are not resolved by the time we meet for review and retrospective. This logic should store credentials in localStorage only when the checkbox is checked.

A task that was assigned to Matt was to document the current status of our offline login implementation. During our in-class meetings, I discussed with Matt how my implementation works and where I made changes to the code in order to allow the user to login offline. I think that we will continue this task into the final presentation preparation sprint, where we all will be documenting our contributions.

Kwame was assigned the task of looking at writing tests for the offline login implementation. While he had some trouble writing tests, I think that this is something that we can all work on in the final sprint as part of documenting what we have done. I think that it might be easier to write tests for the code that we have contributed as individuals, rather than assigning all of the test writing to one person.

As mentioned earlier, we are waiting on an encryption service for the storage of user credentials from another team. While we were able to accomplish most of the requirements for the offline login implementation, the lack of encryption has kept us from submitting much of anything to AMPATH. Storing the user’s credentials in plain text is far too risky from a security standpoint, and I am doubtful that the developers would accept our implementation without encryption.

I am very happy with the progress that we’ve made as a team. I have certainly improved from the beginning of the semester, and it has been great to see other members of the team improve as well. I’m looking forward to the last sprint where we will compile all of what we have learned and implemented into a presentation.

Looking Back on Sprint 5

Before heading into the last working sprint, I would like to reflect on how happy I am with the progress made by all members of the team during the fifth sprint. It would seem that my hope that getting a rudimentary implementation of the offline login pushed up to the team repository did generate some buzz and get other team members pushing code as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the final push.

One of the story items that I was assigned for this sprint was the “Take offline status checking outside of error checking” task. This was not too difficult to accomplish, but did require some investigation into how to make use of a service in TypeScript. While it seems like a relatively basic concept, it was the first time I had ever attempted to use a service. Following the examples set by the AuthenticationService and SessionService, I managed to piece together how services are imported, included as part of the constructor, and then used within the class.

While working on changing my rudimentary implementation of the offline login to use the OnlineTrackerService rather than the error checking logic of the LoginComponent, I discovered a bug. Because I needed the OnlineTrackerService working for my offline login implementation, I chose to investigate and attempt to fix this bug. The bug was not difficult to identify, and I fixed it relatively quickly. After attempting to build the project, however, one of the tests failed. I looked into the failing test, and found that the test was expecting the incorrect value for isUpdating when offline, causing the test to fail when the program was behaving properly. I corrected this test and submitted a pull request to AMPATH. The pull request can be seen here: https://github.com/AMPATH/ng2-amrs/pull/671. Just a few hours before writing this post, the pull request was approved and merged into AMPATH’s master. While this task was not originally assigned at the beginning of the sprint and was done out of necessity, I feel that it was important contribution. For this reason, I added it to the Trello board as a story item, and marked it as complete once the pull request was accepted.

Although I was a bit distracted during the middle of the sprint by the OnlineTracker bug, I got back down to business with our offline login implementation once the bugfix code was submitted to AMPATH. I noticed that the build had failed for the code that I pushed that took the offline status checking outside of error checking, and set out to investigate why. The description given by the testing framework was vague, but I eventually determined that the test was failing because of a missing import in the login.component.spec.ts class. Because I was implementing the OnlineTrackerService in login.component.ts, I also had to import the service in the test class. Once I added this import, the build passed.

The final task that I took on for the sprint was fixing our severely broken team git tree. Because we did not branch for development of the offline-login, our master branch became cluttered with many small, meaningless commits and merge commits. This became apparent when I attempted to submit a pull request to AMPATH for my bugfix. I worked with Matt in class to get all of the commits related to the offline-login in a new offline-login branch. He then developed guidelines for a git workflow for the team repository.

I’m very excited about what we’ve accomplished this sprint. It is rather unfortunate that just as we are getting up to speed and comfortable working with the ng2-amrs application, we are entering our final working sprint. I’m still hopeful that we will be able to make significant progress towards a working implementation in the last sprint.

Looking Back on Sprint 4

I can’t believe that we’ve already completed four sprints! I am happy with the progress and minor breakthrough that we made during this sprint. It took a good deal of researching, trial and error, and investigation to gain the base of knowledge required to implement the rudimentary offline login authorization that I pushed to the team’s repository this sprint. I’m hoping that getting some code pushed up to the repository will be an impetus for driving renewed energy in sprint planning and the next sprint. Other things that we got done this sprint were important for ensuring that we remain on track to integrate our work with the work of the other teams.

Some of the tasks that we completed during this sprint are no longer applicable because of how we have decided to move forward in development. One task that is no longer applicable is the “Locate server code” task. Locating the server code is no longer applicable because we have implemented the offline authentication in a way mimics a response from the server rather than mocking the server itself.

Another task that may or may not be applicable are the “Install PouchDb on AMPATH app” and “Create ‘Mock’ of PouchDB (dependent on PouchDB investigation)” tasks. These tasks were certainly worthwhile even if we do not proceed with implementing the storage of credentials using PouchDB because the offline data storage team appears to be using PouchDB. We will likely move forward with storing the login credentials using localStorage because there is far less overhead and services already written into the ng2-amrs application.

While we attempted the “Contact APMATH team to determine if we are taking the correct approach” task, we have not yet heard back.

One of my assigned tasks for this sprint was “Store user credentials in localStorage so the user can login offline.” I managed to store both the “auth.Credentials” and “user” objects in localStorage once the user successfully logged in online. This user information is then later extracted from localStorage when the user attempts to login offline and used to create a session that authenticates the user.

Tasks that we will be carrying over to future sprints include “Create back end design of new UI using Balsamiq,” “Collaborate with ‘Everyone Else’,” and “Collaborate with ‘Field Idiots’ (Sprint to Sprint).” These tasks will be carried over because they’ll never really be completed, they are ongoing. The design in Balsamiq, for example, will evolve continuously as we add to the application or change the routing of information through the application.

Although many of the tasks for this sprint may end up being no longer applicable moving forward, the team seems to have been productive during this sprint. In planning for the next sprint, I think it will be much easier to assign discrete tasks now that we have a basic implementation on which we can build functionality and add features. I’m hopeful that we will soon be knocking off todo items and have a fully functioning offline authentication in no time.

 

Using Breakable Toys

I am a strong believer in not being afraid to fail. Failure is how we learn and improve. If you are not facing failure, then perhaps you are not pushing yourself hard enough. It is difficult to grow as an individual and certainly as a software developer if you are not pushing your personal limits. Pushing the limits of what you are comfortable with will inevitably mean failure at one point or another. It is important to know that failure is perfectly acceptable, and learning from your failures helps you to grow.

I was relieved to learn that the ideas presented in Hoover and Oshineye’s Apprenticeship Patterns aligned so well with my personal thinking. The Breakable Toys pattern specifically mentions not being afraid to fail, and gives advice on creating a safe environment to try things. Because it would be dangerous and risky to do your experimenting at work, Hoover and Oshineye recommend creating a safe space. What you create in your safe space should be relevant to your work as an apprentice, and similar in toolset but smaller in scope.

While I have made quite a few of my own programs just messing around to gain familiarity with a particular subject or idea, the specific nature of these programs makes them lose relevance quickly. They are abandoned shortly after they serve their purpose of familiarizing me with an idea. I like the solution presented by Hoover and Oshineye to create software such as a wiki, game, blog, or IRC client. These types of software will not lose their relevancy, as they can be continuously used and further developed. New features can be added that not only serve practical uses, but allow for new opportunities for learning and practice.

Creating software for personal use is far less risky than playing around on company time. If you do it right, you may even get something useful in addition to the knowledge you gain from your failures. I am looking forward to attempting to develop one of the suggested tools suggested in the Breakable Toys pattern. While I do not think I will be writing any software that lives up to Torvald’s breakable toy, I can certainly appreciate the value in trying, and also in failing.

The Dangers of Complacency

In a field that continues to rapidly evolve, staying up to date with the latest and greatest tools and techniques is essential. Complacency is simply not an option if one wishes to remain competitive and relevant in the information technology field. Not surprisingly, however, there are certain tools that we become familiar over time, through repeated use and practice. There is nothing wrong with this, as familiarity with certain tools or techniques allows for more accurate estimations about work, and helps to limit risk. In Hoover and Oshineye’s Apprenticeship Patterns, they present a pattern that helps software apprentices deal with the complexities of complacency titled Familiar Tools.

In the Familiar Tools pattern, Hoover and Oshineye start out by acknowledging how valuable it is to have a set of tools that you feel comfortable using. Not only does this make you more valuable to employers, it makes the work easier and more valuable to the developer as well. From increased productivity to more accurate estimates, familiarity is important in the progression of a software craftsman.

Although the word is never explicitly mentioned, this pattern also seems to issue a warning about complacency. Hoover and Oshineye caution apprentices from becoming too set in a narrow range of familiarity, as that puts them at more risk for becoming irrelevant should the popularity or usefulness of those familiar tools fade.

This pattern was pretty easy for me to appreciate, as I already enjoy learning and improving through personal and professional development. Perhaps this desire to stay ahead of the curve is part of the reason that I became interested in the field to begin with. I have always enjoyed staying up to date with the latest and greatest gadgets, trying out beta builds, and experimenting with technology. Although the context is a bit different in the Familiar Tools pattern, the idea is very similar. The quote by Eric Hoffer that is included in this pattern also spoke to me, it is, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to love in a world that no longer exists.”

When entering the computer science program three years ago, it was repeated time and time again that the material that I would learn in college will likely be outdated by the time I am entering the workforce. While this is simply a fact of the computer science field, I feel that I am doing well at keeping myself informed and appreciate the efforts by my educators in keeping my education relevant and valuable in a rapidly changing world.

The Beginnings of my Map

I’m typically not much of a long-term planner. While I have defined some goals and aspirations, they sometimes seem more like rambling dreams than achievable objectives. Although I may know what I want, defining actionable items for getting there is a different and far more challenging accomplishment. I like to make the most of every day, doing the best that I can and hoping that hard work and positivity will take me somewhere amazing, wherever that may be.

Much like the story told by Desi in the Draw Your Own Map pattern in Hoover and Oshineye’s Apprenticeship Patterns, I have begun my Information Technology career in a sort of hybrid role in Systems/Application Administration. The differences between my experiences so far, thankfully, have been far different from those described by Desi. Rather than facing pressure to concentrate only on furthering the interests of others, I am encouraged to create a valuable experience for myself.

While I am well aware that it is not the responsibility of anyone else, employer, professor, or colleague, to give me a hand out, I am extremely grateful for all of the support that I have received in that regard. I feel as though I have a good sense of my career position  and potential options for the future because of the support that I’ve received and the experiences that I’ve had.

Although I see absolutely no need to consider other paths at this time, the Draw Your Own Map and the stories shared by Desi and Chris were somewhat reassuring. It is comforting to know that even if there comes a time when it may feel like it, you are never really stuck. I feel extremely grateful to currently be in a position where my goals and desires for professional advancement are not only heard and considered, but seem to be top priorities. I am in a supportive, flexible environment, where I’m encouraged to set and work to achieve goals for personal and professional growth, development, and learning. Right now, the possibilities and prospects seem to be wide open. The next step for me is to use this opportunity to discover the values that are important to me.

Looking Back on Sprint 3

During the third sprint, we began digging into the code of the ng2-amrs application and really started to attempt to gain an understanding of the existing implementation. There were quite a few hurdles throughout this sprint, including the cancellation of both the second in-class work day and the in-class review and retrospective day. This made communicating ideas between team members significantly more difficult, and I think this has also impacted our performance for this sprint. I still believe that we are working well as a team, and doing the best that we can given the circumstances. Standup participation was 100% for this sprint, which (I believe) is a first for the team.

For sprint planning this time around, we chose the “Offline Login Service” story from the product backlog, as this most closely aligned with what we had begun researching during the second sprint. We broke this story up into tasks, some of which were assigned to everyone on the team, and some of which were assigned to individual members.

One of these tasks, assigned to Dominique, was the “Collaborate with ‘Field Idiots’ to determine how to decrypt and encrypt user data/passwords” task. I am interested in learning more about what Dominique discovered about the encryption implementation that the Field Idiots team will be using, but am unsure if she was able to do much collaboration because of the cancellations.

The “Collaborate with ‘Everyone Else’ about API for retrieving offline data/user information” task was assigned to Luigi and Matt. Once again, I am unsure whether or not they were able to achieve much collaboration due to the cancellations. This collaboration is critical to our progress moving forward, as we must be aware of the requests that we should be sending to the local storage databases in order to implement an offline login.

The “Investigate session management” task was assigned to myself. The main discovery that I made while investigating how the ng2-amrs application handles sessions is that we may not need to change much about the session itself. If the existing code for session management can be modified for usage offline, this would be a far more effective solution than rewriting an entire session manager ourselves.

The remaining tasks were assigned to all of the team members, and were more for big-picture existing implementation understanding and design strategy. The first task was to “Investigate current logon process,” something that we started as a group on the first in-class work day. While we made some progress, I was hoping to use the second in-class work day to share what I had discovered independently and also hear what others had discovered.

The design-strategy task that we created based on the advice of Dr. Wurst was to “Look into ‘Bridge’ design pattern”. I remember looking at the pattern briefly last semester, but needed to refresh myself. I found some online resources that seemed to give a good overview of the pattern and shared them with the rest of the team in our Slack channel.

The final task shared by all team members was the “Create overall architecture/design of offline login feature using Balsamiq.” This task was started during our first in-class work day by Matthew. The design that he created gives a good high-level picture of what our service should accomplish. While I was hoping to discuss possible additions to our design with the rest of the team, this was impacted by the cancellation of class last Thursday.

While there were certainly some hurdles to overcome during the third sprint, I think that we did a good job of making the best of the situation. We communicated more through Slack during this sprint than in previous sprints, and the quality of information that was shared during the standups has improved significantly. Overall, I am happy with our progress and looking forward to getting more in-person collaboration time in the near future.

 

Money Shouldn’t be the (Only) Motivator

While money is certainly important, and should be a consideration – it should never be the primary motivator for choosing a particular career or even for choosing particular projects or roles in a position. Making decisions based on financial considerations alone is a quick way to end up hating what you do and having little opportunity to improve your situation. Making the correct choices about what you use at motivating factors to drive decision-making can help make software craftsmanship a more rewarding and valuable career. Following some of the advice given by Hoover and Oshineye in Apprenticeship Patterns should allow a new or aspiring software craftsman to identify the motivating factors that drive success in the position and lead to a satisfying career.

It is easy to stay motivated when things are going your way and you are working on projects that you find engaging, fun, and adequately challenging without being overly difficult. The problem that the Sustainable Motivations pattern is hoping to address, rather, is when things get a bit more difficult. Sometimes it becomes difficult to see the passion in software craftsmanship. For example, sometimes in the course of developing the necessary technical skills to become a master craftsman, the aspiring develop will be faced with hurdles such as ambiguously specified projects, or shifting and conflicting demands of customers. It’s times like these, argue Hoover and Oshineye, where the motivation and determination of the aspiring craftsman are truly tested.

While I feel lucky to be actively interested and continuously challenged by my current work, I am sure that my luck will run out at some time in the future. I will be presented with a project that I find tedious, frustrating, and maybe even exhausting. I am confident in my ability to remain focused and motivated on working towards the end goal of becoming a craftsman, however. I feel that as Hoover and Oshineye mention, if I ever begin to have doubts they will easily be overcome by a need to continue earning money or the desire to maintain a reputation as a technologist. These motivators should keep me in the craft until my situation improves and passion returns as my primary motivating factor.

Looking Back on Sprint 2

The second sprint was a bit more open ended, with far fewer discrete tasks to complete than during the first sprint. This meant that rather than working independently during class to complete individual environment set up tasks, we worked as a team during class to discuss the user stories contained in the Google Doc. I feel that once again the team worked well together and everyone contributed to achieving the goals for this sprint. There are a few places where I see room for improvement, and this was discussed during our in class retrospective meeting.

One of the first tasks that I personally completed this sprint was looking at the mockup tool, Balsamiq. While I was a little unsure about this at first, seeing some of the mockups that other teams did later on in the sprint helped me to better understand the tool. I think that for the next sprint, using Balsamiq as a team to visualize our ideas will be extremely helpful.

Although I had already completed the build ng2-amrs and connect your ng2-amrs to the server tasks, these tasks remained on the sprint backlog because not everyone on the team completed them during the first sprint. By the end of sprint 2, however, all members of the team had completed both of these tasks and they were moved to the completed board. This was important because these tasks are essential to beginning actual development, which will likely occur as early as the next sprint.

Another task that was left over after the first sprint was learning how tests work in Angular. Although we were told at the end of last sprint that this task was probably not essential, we decided as a team to include it in the second sprint because the majority of the team had already completed it. Members of the team who had already looked at resources on Angular testing shared their sources with those who had not yet completed the task.

The most significant tasks for this sprint had to do with generating design ideas from the user stories shared by the AMPATH team through the Google Doc. We met as a team during class time and began by reading the user stories together as a group. Although much of the team had already read the user stories independently before class, I feel that talking them out was helpful in providing clarification. Members of the team shared their individual understanding of different parts of the document, and asked questions where understanding was lacking.

After we felt we had a general understanding of the user stories, we looked as a team to the tasks that were listed further in the document. We then brainstormed ideas in a document for the first task on the list. This is the task that addresses offline login and offline data storage. We collaborated with the group directly behind us to share our thoughts and also get a better idea of how they were planning on going about development.

I think that we as a team are becoming more comfortable collaborating with one another, and also with sharing our ideas with among the other teams. I think that in future sprints we need to continue to attempt to clearly communicate our intentions with other teams so as not to do overlapping work. Although the effects of duplicated work were not very severe during this sprint, it could result in a lot of wasted effort in the future. I am looking forward to continuing to work with my team in the third sprint and using what we have learned to work effectively and efficiently.

Software Development as an Art

Hoover and Oshineye make some excellent points that I strongly agree with in the Craft Over Art design pattern in Apprenticeship Patterns. Although I had never thought about software development in terms of art, I found their discussion of art versus fine art to be interesting and well supported. While it is relatively simple to argue that software development is a craft, I would imagine that claiming that it is art would generate a bit more controversy. In my opinion, Hoover and Oshineye do an excellent job of supporting their claims that software development, by nature of being a craft, is also an art – but not a fine art. The distinction that they make between craft and fine art has to do with purpose. Because software development’s purpose is to make a useful product for customers, it can be seen as utilitarian in a sense. The purpose of producing fine art is purely for beauty.

The important caveat that Hoover and Oshineye introduce in the Craft Over Art pattern is that the craft of software development may produce something beautiful, but it must produce something useful. This may mean that craftsmen must choose utility over beauty when it is necessary. Considering the interests of the customer over personal interests and balancing conflicting demands is important in building and maintaining strong relationships with the customer.

This pattern applies in a couple of ways to my current undertakings. The importance of creating software that addresses real problems for real people is something that is somewhat new to me. Writing code for AMPATH Informatics is exciting because of the real-world significance that my contributions have. The other place where this pattern applies is in my independent study web development project for Massachusetts HOSA. While the customer-development relationship is a bit different in both of these cases, many of the same tips from the Craft Over Art pattern apply. While I may not be paid for my services, I still have expectations placed on me by the instructors and organizations involved in these projects. Understanding and carefully considering my responsibility to deliver a product that is first and foremost useful will help me to foster strong relationships with the collaborators on these projects.