Blocked by Design? Get Into a Design Flow with Story Triage

In the years since we’ve been providing integrated design and development on agile teams, we’ve noticed something that seems to emerge naturally on projects that are going particularly well. While we always set out to design our products in small releases, refactoring along the way (i.e. “the smallest whole“), often designers find themselves quickly under a ton of pressure from the developers, who are looking for well-defined stories to work on, sometimes after only a week of product definition.

Needs Design

Even once the overall product design is in place, each week brings a handful of new features that developers are eager to start. In addition, sometimes a teammate will throw a story into the backlog that is just an idea, not even ready for a designer to elaborate. At times it can feel like our team is a fiery coal-burning engine (our product manager and developers) starving for fuel (the design).

Without time for a complete set of wireframes (let alone visual designs) designers sometimes have to get a little creative. Not every story can get the same level of definition, and a one-size-fits-all workflow (e.g. design, build, deploy) doesn’t really make sense for every feature. We’ve found a set of activities useful when the team feels “blocked by design.” I like to call it Story Triage.

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What CODE2040 Teaches Us About Building Community

CODE2040 Fellows celebration

Recently, we joined the CODE2040 community for a celebration of the 2014 Fellows. The evening started with a career fair where Marc, David and I had the chance to talk with the Fellows about what was next.  A few of us had met some of the Fellows at previous events and we had briefly meet Estefania as she works with one of our clients, Good Eggs.  But the career fair was a rare opportunity to speak with them one-on-one.

CODE2040 is addressing a real need to close the gap between the vast opportunities in the technology space and the lack of diversity in the workforce. Right now, the program is focusing its efforts on a Fellowship program for high achieving Continue reading

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Building a Real-time Scoring System for the NPGL

This Tuesday in Madison Square Garden, the National Pro Grid League will have its first regular season match. Three months ago, we started building the real-time scoring system that backs its events. Here’s how we did it:

MSGMadison Square Garden

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Using Objection with UIViewControllers and Storyboards

I have used Objection in several iOS projects as a lightweight Dependency Injection framework.  If you’re not familiar with it, take a look.  One pain point has been how to inject dependencies for UIViewControllers that are in storyboards.  Your controllers are likely instantiated through segues or by calling instantiateViewControllerWithIdentifier on a storyboard instance.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Objection inject the declared dependencies from its context on these controllers?  There is a simple way to accomplish this – subclass UIStoryboard and override instantiateViewControllerWithIdentifier.  This technique is based on a stackoverflow post for how another DI framework, Typhoon, can be integrated with storyboards.

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Node.js in Production

When running a node application in production, you need to keep stability, performance, security, and maintainability in mind. Outlined here is what I think are the best practices for putting node.js into production.

By the end of this guide, this setup will include 3 servers: a load balancer (lb) and 2 app servers (app1 and app2). The load balancer will health check and balance traffic between the servers. The app servers will be using a combination of systemd and node cluster to load balance and route traffic around multiple node processes on the server. Deploys will be a one-line command from the developer’s laptop and cause zero downtime or request failures.

It will look roughly like this:

Photo credit: Digital Ocean

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Posted in Ops, Web | 25 Comments

An Incremental Migration from Rails Monolithic to Microservices

Your Rails application has become a monolith. Your test suite takes 30 minutes to run, your models grow to several hundred (or thousand!) lines, and feature development slows to a crawl. New members of your team must read through massive amounts of code before they can feel confident making changes. You’ve watched Uncle Bob’s Architecture the Lost Years, Matt Wynne’s Hexagonal Rails and read Martin Fowler’s Microservices and are convinced that the time has come to start breaking things up into smaller, simpler, faster components – but you’re unsure of where to begin.

In this article, I will demonstrate an approach to breaking a monolithic-style Rails application apart into microservices using plain Ruby classes and a simple RPC framework – all deployed to Heroku. I’ll show you how to work through this migration incrementally; you’ll be able to decompose things down as far as makes sense for your codebase. As a special bonus, I’ll show you how you can use Barrister RPC to alleviate much of the pain associated with documenting and creating API clients for the components of your now-distributed system. I’m skipping the advocacy; if you’re here it’s because you already love yourself some microservices but don’t know how to implement them yourself.

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Posted in Everything Else, Microservices, rails, ruby, Web | 13 Comments

New Hat Meets Old: Polyglot Distributed Systems with Barrister RPC

Connecting the components of a distributed systems is no easy feat. Should I use REST? An RPC system like Apache Thrift? Protocol Buffers? SOAP? How do I document these components’ APIs? What’s the best way to write client bindings? The Internet offers a wide array of possible solutions, all of which I’ve found to be either incompatible with my needs (to, at minimum, work in a web browser) or heavy (XML sucks).

For the last few years, I’ve enjoyed great success using a an RPC framework called Barrister. Barrister RPC provides a variety of language bindings (Python, Ruby, browser-based JavaScript, Node.js, Go, Java, and PHP), which means that I have no problems connecting my Backbone application to a Ruby web service, or Node.js image processor to Spring MVC. Barrister separates API design from transport – so I can experiment with HTTP or SMTP or Redis queues… all without changing my API. Remote calls are encoded as JSON, so I can debug using Firefox and all the other tools I’m already familiar with. Imagine SOAP, redesigned for developers who build modern, dynamic, cloud-deployed web apps, don’t work at banks and have no stomach for enterprise service busses or XML. Continue reading

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The Junior Jump – A Retrospective

One of our goals here at Carbon Five is to play a bigger part in mentoring the growing community of junior developers. Last week, we took a big step toward that goal by hosting our first ‘Junior Jump’ event in our Santa Monica office. The event, a follow up to this blog post, was centered around helping junior developers learn more about working in a professional process, and giving them tools that they would be using on day one of a real product team.

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Posted in Everything Else, Mentorship | 1 Comment

A Lack of API Documentation Considered Harmful

As someone who consumes many web service APIs – both internal and external – the recent trend in the web development community to forgo writing API documentation has got me worried. While I do understand that publishing and maintaining documentation can be a hassle, APIs with no documentation can quickly become a bottleneck in a team’s workflow, inhibiting the team’s ability to scale, outsource, or distribute themselves geographically. In this article, I’ll walk you through a partially-fictionalized version of a disastrous experience I had working on distributed system whose APIs were largely undocumented.

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Roll Your Own Asset Pipeline with Gulp

I’ve found myself using Gulp for just about everything involving HTML/CSS/JS these days. It’s super fast, quick to write scripts for and flexible. I’m at a point now where I have a ton of projects I can just cd into, run gulp and be up and running. It’s the best solution I’ve found for delivering static assets whether for local development or production.

If you haven’t used a tool like this before, you might be thinking that your cobbled together scripts (or Asset Pipeline) work just fine. The value of using Gulp is not within its ability to concatenate files, minify files or any of that. Gulp’s true value lies in its ability to compose these things well. Using disparate components might make it easy to concatenate JS, but mixing that in with Rev will immediately compound the complexity of your home-grown scripts. It’s value compared to Asset Pipeline is that it is still flexible.

If you’ve been on Rails’ Asset Pipeline, or on a totally different stack, Gulp should offer you a great solution to static asset compilation. Here’s how:

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Posted in Web | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments