Thank You Hal Helms

As many might remember, Hal Helms backed out of his speaking engagement at CFUnited 2009, but offered to make it up for free. Understandably, that caused comments by many, but, hey, Sarasota is just an hour-or-so away, so I was happy to hear it.

Having trekked over the Skyway bridge and back a couple of times now with Alex, I can say that I am really glad things worked out the way that they did. In total, eight of us converged upon the office of CityMind to meet with Hal and bask in his wisdom.

Ben Nadel is a better source to learn about Hal's commercial Real World OO classes, but this weekend was somewhat informal and focused a good deal on philosophy and business practices - with some CF Object Oriented Programming and jQuery examples and discussion thrown in for good measure. For me, this was very timely, as I have just finished reading The Passionate Programmer and have been contemplating some of the non-technical details of my career.

Towards that end, we started with some unsolicited, but appreciated career advice. The big takeaway from that is to not wed oneself to a particular programming language. To some that might seem like heresy, especially if one is inclined to describe himself as a ColdFusion developer or a .Net developer, a Java developer, or whatever. Labels are definitely important and if you consider yourself as a {Insert language} developer, I think the inclination is to try to fit into that role - and to defend it. Both fitting in and defending may be good things, but they should be reasoned ones. If you see yourself as an e-commerce developer, instead of a ColdFusion developer, it gives you the freedom to honestly look at the available tools because you haven't already made the choice of tools. Of course, ColdFusion is often the best choice, but it ought not be the only one. Anyway, to make a short story long, the idea itself isn't terribly profound. Introspectively looking at yourself and trying to redefine yourself is tremendously profound.

Also dealing with the trade aspect of programming was dealing with difficult customers. In these exercises, we looked at some customer archetypes and tried to figure out how to assuage the unreasonable. So this was fun because I got the first one wrong and was rewarded by getting to participate in the first role-playing. At least I learned that you set the tone of the relationship with a customer (and even an employer in different, but somewhat similar ways) with the first negotiation/interaction. My mistake was a willingness to give a bully a hollow victory if it meant I could get what I wanted out of the deal. Chastened, however, I definitely can see how making concessions relating to the value of the work, even trivial ones, encourages the customer to continue to question the value and the price. Several archetypes were considered and accompanied with some interesting discussion. In the end, I think the real power in any negotiation is in the ability to say "no". At some point there are going to be people with whom an accord can not be found or where the effort to get a fair shake would amount to something of a Pyrrhic victory. Life is too short, I think.

And the last major thing we discussed, as it relates to non-technical, were a series of thought provoking situations. What would you do if you were going to lead a team of 6 developers in 6 months? How would you prepare to handle a multi-million dollar project? Some others as well. There may have been a crowd-sourcing component to the questions, but they are thought provoking and I know that I was genuinely interested in the responses that were offered. It also seems like a good exercise to introduce to the local, Tampa area web development Meetup group.

Oddly, I find myself among groups of web developers as the only one actively using Flex, so I was happy to have the opportunity to share enthusiasm for the framework. Of course, now that I am droiding, the pain of not having Flash on mobile is starting to come home. And I hate having to concede that, no, Flex isn't a good choice if you need to support iPhones, Blackberries and kick-ass Android devices.

Anyway, let this be a thank you to Hal for sharing his time - it is definitely appreciated by me.

BTW: Hal provided me with the anecdotal evidence I need to firm up my belief that the iPhone is a gateway drug to all other things Apple. It's why I stayed away.

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