Getting into Software Part 4: How to prepare for your first job or internship?

The best way to prepare for interviews is to build websites in a similar way to what you would do in the working world.

### Programming skills Basics ###

1. Create a website by following a Node.js, Ruby on Rails, or Django tutorial depending on which Language you are learning JavaScript, Ruby or Python. There are a ton of tutorials any twitter clone tutorial works great.

2. Study Data structures and algorithms
3. Study Object oriented design at a basic level.
1. inheritance
2. polymorphism
3. interfaces

4. Play around with Git or Mercurial — we use version control tools every day at work.
5. Create a real time chat website where users can see each others messages without refreshing the webpage.

### Resume ###
Keep it short 1-2 pages

Place your education, skills and work experience in an easy to find place on the first page.
Not all of your experience is relevant, minimize the less interesting experiences and bring to the front the important experience on your resume.

If you have room for clubs and side activities on the first page you probably are not going into enough depth on your experience.

### Interview Preparation and Advice ###

The employer’s goal in programming interviews is focused around estimating how well you can talk about software concepts, see if you have anything obviously wrong about you that you can’t hide in an interview, and see how you can solve problems under pressure.

Your goal in these interviews is to demonstrate that you are a smart, driven and prosocial person who has the technical ability to contribute to the team. Secondarily, you want to gauge how much you like the team, what kind of person your potential manager is, and get a feel for what hours the team considers normal.

At this point most of the programming problems used in interviews are common knowledge. You can expect questions about data structures, sorting algorithms, graph algorithms and object oriented programming. Fizz buzz and Fibonacci and palindrome questions are also pretty common, I have even gotten a question about designing a file system. There are 10s of websites devoted to ‘interview problems’, including, and You will want to do some of these problems before you start doing technical phone screens. I recommend doing 10-20 problems. Doing more than 20 is unnecessary because the problems are not that different from each other, just make sure you try a combination of easy, hard and intermediate problems.

You want to appear clean, shave if you grow facial hairs, get your hair in relatively tidy and dress appropriately. For programming jobs its hard to go wrong with a blue button down shirt and dark colored trousers. Wearing a suit is pointless most of your interviewers will be wearing t-shirts, shorts and sandals.

Do what it takes to arrive 5-10min early. Find the office and use any convenient bathrooms you come across. Be polite to everyone in the building you never know who works for the company or if the receptionist is also the HR manager.

We will go over in interview strategies in the next section of this series.

Getting into Software Part 3: How can you tell if you have the right talents for a Software Programming Career?

If you have never programmed before, how can you tell if you have the talent needed at the professional level?

Even if you did badly in school there is a chance that as an adult you could be successful as a software engineer. The demand for software engineers is high enough that people without degrees in Software Engineering or Computer Science can get into the field. The real question is whether you can solve programming problems and demonstrate it to prospective employers.

The way I got started in programming was an online C class, and C is not a bad place to start. Although, today I recommend “learning Python the hard way” which is available at The book can be accessed for free online but is also available in other formats that you can pay for.

Once you have gotten introduced to the language and can write simple programs with the book guiding you, take a look at Project Euler.

Go to and do 10 of the problems in python. If you can knock out a few problems in a day or two without any programming experience other than the course you are probably capable of professional software engineering. If it takes you a week to get your first problem and only a day per problem after that it might still be worthwhile for you to push forward with Software Engineering.

The Project Euler problems vary in difficulty from easy to rather complicated. Don’t think that you need to be able to do the hardest ones to get a job working as a Software Engineer. But you will find yourself dealing with similar problems on a daily basis so you need to consider if you can handle that being a significant of your daily life and the skill that you get paid for.

Getting into Software Part 2: What Skills are Important in Software Programming?

The way I see it there are 3 core skills that are important in corporate software engineering environments, understanding logical trees, finding solutions to obscure problems on the internet, and making sure you write the right solution to the problem.
These can be split into:
* Logic
* Reading Comprehension + Persistence
* Communication
**Understanding and Writing logical trees**
Understanding and writing logical trees is the primary filter in programing jobs. If you cannot comprehend and create complicated logical trees you will not be able to do the job. It is less difficult than logical proofs in an introductory discrete math class in university. The difficulty is that logical constructs are what we work with and there are very many of them.
The most popular logic problem used in software engineering interviews is called FizzBuzz. This is a pretty simple problem that is comparable in complexity to problems you will encounter as a software professional.
*Write a program that prints the numbers 1 to 100.
For each multiple of 3 print Fizz instead of the number and for each multiple of 5 print Buzz instead of the number. If a number is a multiple of both 3 and 5 print FizzBuzz.*
While the problem is pretty simple if you cannot work your way through it in half an hour interviewers will confidently assume that you are not capable of doing the job.
**Finding solutions to obscure problems on the internet.**
The second big skill is, “finding solutions to obscure problems”, luckily for the modern day programmer 95% of all problems have a solution on the internet. Whether that problem is accessible via google or hidden on github and is something you will have to figure out.
Sometimes finding that solution may take hours of trawling the internet and reading through the source code of dozens of dependencies. A software engineer needs to be able to persist through the search despite there being no apparent progress and the high probability that the actual issue is a small oversight that you thought was irrelevant and then forgot about.
These problems tend to be either compiler errors or figuring out how to get a library to do what you want.
**Making sure you write the right solution to the problem.**
The last big skill is making sure you write the right solution to the problem. Typically, software is used to automate internal business processes or to sell products to customers. The people who currently perform these processes manually or sell to customers are not software experts. They are business process or sales experts. Its our job as the Software Engineers to interpret the requirements of the business and turn them into explicit logical steps that fulfill the business need. This is a difficult problem and people who can do it well are rewarded.
One of the big problems in corporate software development is that the people who can deal with logical trees and have the persistence to struggle with a compiler all day are not abundant in the skills required to understand what the business wants or needs. And since extracting the business requirements in sufficient detail can be an arduous process companies will often hire Project Managers and Product Owners to deal with it.
We have gone over the most important skills for a corporate software engineer, dealing with logical puzzles and trees, searching for obscure answers to problems and building the right solution to the business problem. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what is needed to be a successful Software Engineer.

Getting into Software Part 1: Why would you want to get into Software Programming?

In an age where Software is gradually taking over everything starting from your computer and spreading to your fridge or your car it might seem late to get into software, but it is not. Companies are going to need more and more software developers and engineers to write the code needed to run everything. What are some good reasons to work in software?


An excellent reason to get into software is because of the hours. The expected hours vary greatly between software companies. You could work for a small boutique firm that is constantly pushing 80 hour weeks or for a megacorp where you work for 10 of the 40 hours you are in the office each week. It really depends on what you want and how good you are at interviewing. You might find that mid-sized companies are a good fit for you or that you prefer aggressively growing startups. The important things to consider are how many hours are you working and what are you trading in return for those hours. For example you might be working double the hours for double the salary, thats great if you are prioritizing money, but your hourly pay might be same as someone making half your salary.

Working Conditions

The working conditions in software engineering are usually good. We work indoors at desks and the heaviest thing you are likely to lift is a 3 lb macbook. In my workplace every desk is a standing desk and I try to take advantage of standing a little each day. Constantly leaning forward is the biggest issue I face with occasional hand issues taking second place.

Programming can be enjoyable

Some people enjoy programming, it can be a cerebral experience. There is little chance to it, just man against machine in a cathedral to the inner working of men’s minds.

Good compensation

Salaries in the Software engineering field may fall into a binomial distribution, but the lower end is still high compared to other fields that require a bachelor’s degree or less.

What are your top reasons to get into Software Engineering?

Remote Work Revisited

About a week ago on a particularly cold morning with fresh snow and ice on the streets, I decided to try working from home again. While I don’t hesitate to bike or walk to work in 20 or 30 degree weather, 3 degrees is too cold.

After making the decision I opened slack and typed “WFH” into our office channel. Then about 30min later, after getting coffee, I hopped back online to address my first intern request for clarity. I played some music and connected my external monitor to my laptop while debugging some docker networking issues. For some reason, nearly all of my issues with docker involve the network.

For lunch I walked over to Safeway and picked up some sandwich materials. Then I took a quick nap. At work despite having an hour for lunch, I don’t have any where to nap even if I have time.

Then it was back to debugging docker and answering questions from the team. Overall, this working from home experience was much better than last time when I stayed at home due to the cold. This time was more peaceful and I did not miss the office.

Certified Kubernetes Administrator!

I had the opportunity to take the [CKA](,
‘Certified Kubernetes Administrator’ exam because my employer is trying to get ‘Certified Kubernetes Service Provider’ status, which requires 3 certified administrators. Now, why would Certified Kubernetes Administrators or service providers be valuable for your company? The CKA is good because it certifies a base level of knowledge and ability in kubernetes administrators. Things you would expect from CKAs are the ability to debug clusters, perform upgrades, bootstrap clusters and application deployment tasks.

What and how does the exam test administrators? The exam tests your ability to perform operations against the kubernetes api. The entire exam period is spent in the command line with kubectl on a standard linux shell. The test validates your ability to ‘get things done’ in the kubernetes environment.

Overall, I have a very positive outlook on the exam. I spent about a week preparing. I read a lot of the documentation, ran through ‘kubernetes the hard way’ three times and had worked with kubernetes on the application side previously. I passed on the first try, but I did need all of the exam time and had to skip a few of the hard problems.

I don’t think that the CKA is essential for devops or kubernetes admins, but it is a good exam and great for filling some of the gaps you might have in your knowledge.

Getting a website up in 2017

I launched two websites in 2017, and This post goes over how I did it, what went well and where the weak points were.

### Hosting:
Google Cloud Platform’s GCE is the hosting provider I chose. I think GCP has the best user interface of the public clouds and its no effort persistent use discounts make things simple for me. The cloud shell google offers is excellent and lets you ignore the SSH keys you would have to keep track of for AWS.

I will probably keep using GCP for my projects next year. Although, I am interested in testing’s bare metal hosting.

### Setup
My websites are a ghost blog and a Django+Postgres web application. My blog uses nginx for the frontend and SSL encryption with ghost’s nodejs implementation as the backend. uses a nginx frontend for ssl and gunicorn for serving the django webservice.

Let’s Encrypt is a big win for my websites. The integration between nginx and certbot,, is excellent making it easy to setup SSL in minutes. The main issue I have had with it is when my DNS was not pointing at my public IP in google cloud.

### Domain names
I use Namecheap for my domains and DNS provider. The pricing is decent and their DNS configuration support handles my use case well. Namecheap has two factor authentication, but its SMS based and somewhat wonky to use.

### Analytics
I am still using Google Analytics for user tracking. Its free, provides a first class UI and is very easy to setup. I gave a few free and private options a cursory glance, but they did not look like things I could setup in an hour.

### Conclusion
Its pretty easy to setup a website these days. Let’s Encrypt and Nginx integration make SSL quick and easy to get going. And the public cloud is great for small websites that do not use a lot of resources.

What I learned from a year of Devops

In 2017 I had the opportunity to spend a year working as a devops or platform engineer. I have mainly worked as a software engineer before so moving in to an automate and operate role was a bit of a leap. This was a fully remote engagement where I was embedded with and helped bootstrap the client’s first platform team.

The project was building out continuous integration and delivery for a client of ours that had no AWS experience. Before they brought us in they ran all their systems in their own datacenters in a windows and .Net environment. We came in to assist with the move into the cloud and to help transition the company from .NET to Java, javascript and microservice development.

The first few months we focused on building out the CI/CD with Jenkins pipelines and a great deal of AWS cli scripting. Once we got the basics working teams started to come out of microservices training and began developing against it. This was the start of operational support for us and started a bit of a scramble while we tried to balance new features and the stability of the platform with hiring and onboarding.

We used jenkins pipelines, docker and cloudformation to provide our users with a solid customizable pipeline solution. Using our default templates development teams could easily bootstrap their pipeline with CI/CD from dev to canary deploys in production. If they needed more than a stateless microservice we enabled them to provide cloudformation templates in their github repository that would be run with each deploy to ensure the AWS environment was bootstrapped for their needs.

We started out with the intention of using Jenkins pipelines with ansible to automate things, but the client’s team was more experienced with CloudFormation and as a result I ended up writing most of our initial CI/CD code in a combination of groovy and AWS cli calls. This proved unwieldy and eventually led us to using Groovy + Cloudformation for nearly everything. Cloudformation works but it is locked into AWS and its programming model is a somewhat awkward. Cloudformation’s saving grace is the first class integration and editor. Next time I would recommend starting with a commitment to Terraform or Ansible.

In the 3rd quarter we started work on implementing Canary deployments. Our solution ended up being a combination of a customized client side load balancing http client and jenkins pipelines. I started us off with a proof of concept that proved easier to write than we expected which put us on good footing for the rest of the project. One of the client’s employees took advantage of the space we had to rewrite the shared jenkins pipeline library in more idiomatic language which turned out to be a great improvement.

We went live in Q4 and I moved on to another project. I am moving back into application development, I ended up doing 100% automation scripting instead of the 50-50 split I was expecting. So it will be good to get back to writing applications.

Team Skill Shaping

When running a team you need to balance bus factor and performance.

On an average software team of perhaps 10 people, you will naturally have people develop expertise in a particular part of the codebase. One developer will be an expert in the frontend, another in the SQL queries, the next in the controllers, etc. What you want to avoid is a bus factor of 1. Some teams try to keep every developer knowledgeable in every area of the system, this is a waste. If you have to work on every part of the system you will not be able to master any single part. To get a bus factor of n by rotating developers through different parts of the system you give up the efficiency from letting a developer master a subsystem. My solution is that you should focus on getting a bus factor of 2 for each major subsystem. Have people focus on the two subsystems that they are interested in or are available and leave things there. Just try to avoid having two developers working on the same two subsystems. You are unlikely to have two developers get hit by the ‘bus’ at the same time.

Aim for a bus factor of 2 while trying to avoid a lot of overlap on subsystems, then leave things there.

Changing KPIs — A tale of moving from individual contributor to team lead.

Changing KPIs — Moving from individual contributor to team lead.

The biggest change after my move to team lead is that my KPIs (key performance indicators) have changed significantly. I still troubleshoot bugs, create architecture, discuss and persuade teammates of architectures. I get to write some code here and there. But the work that I am evaluated on has changed significantly. Instead of being evaluated on my ability to get coding done, to resolve bugs and be a good team member, I am evaluated based on the team’s performance. Was I able to keep everyone on the team from being blocked this sprint? Was I able to keep people on the team coordinated such that they didn’t duplicate code or write incompatible interfaces? Do we have the architecture and stories hashed out far ahead enough to keep working towards the release?

Its been kind of a shock to me because I will be giving my update in standup, trying to remember what I did yesterday and its something along the lines of “I sat in on a couple meetings, reviewed PRs and helped classify several bugs.” I worked all day and am exhausted now, but I didn’t commit any code or make any progress on the story I assigned to myself. It feels like I’m not getting anything done, what happened, I used to be good at my job.

But despite feeling like nothing is getting done, I am still hitting my KPIs as a team lead. My bosses are happy, the team seems happy enough with my work, the scrum master has what he needs, etc. Its not that I am not getting any work done, its that my ‘work’ has changed to something different. I am focused more on coordinating the team’s effort and planning what we need to do next, keeping abreast of the features coming down the roadmap, keeping track of technical debt and the maintenance work we need to do.