Monday, December 22, 2008

Leaving the Comfort Zone

A week ago I held my first talk since university. It was the first talk in my life I held in English, and I was scared like hell. It felt like living through those exam days back at school all over again - just that this time I thought I'm old enough to realize that it'll all be okay. I'm obviously not.

I acted just like I did back in school. Or worse. I waited for the last possible moment before I started preparing the talk. When I finally started with the slides, a little perfectionist devil Manuel sat down leisurely on my left shoulder, telling me that this crap is just not up to my own standards. I worked long hours the night before the big day, and woke up early just to be able to rehearse the whole play before entering the stage.

Of course everything worked out just fine. Well, besides me saying basic-a-lly all the time. So why was I so freaked out? Well, I was obviously leaving my comfort zone.

Now the interesting thing beneath all that personal drama I'm ranting about is that I suddenly realized for how long I did not really step out of my safe little comfort zone. Granted, applying at Google is not the most un-stressful experience I ever had. And obviously starting a new job with all those bright people around me did not exactly make me fell warm and cozy.

But at that very moment I stood there, my peers gazing absent-mindedly into their laptops, my hands slightly sweating, I suddenly realized that ever since I started working I was doing everything exactly in the way I was most comfortable with. And that was kind of a shock.

Of course after giving the talk I felt great. I had known that in advance, but I realized that without being nudged enough I'd probably have tried to wiggle out somehow.

Lessons learned:

  1. It's easier to step out of the comfort zone when somebody kicks your ass.

  2. It's a long way from leaving your comfort zone once to real change.

  3. I must learn how to leave my comfort zone on my own.

Do you know tricks that make it easier to leave the comfort zone?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

One Day In My Life As A Googler

Disclaimer: this is a personal entry. Which means that if you are here for technical revelations or to gather super secret information about Google, go away, or I'll bore you to death. Seriously. Don't tell me I didn't warn you.

6:00 am: The iPod station starts playing and lifts me gently from the land of dreams.
Stanford"... Don't run away the time is now the place is here ..."
Sasha's swinging voice finally makes me cautiously open my eyes: another sunny day in Mountain View. The weather gadget on my iPod informs me that the temperature is currently 11 degree Celsuis, probably rising to a comfortable 21 throughout the day. I realize that I still don't know how to convert Celsius to Farenheit without accessing the Internet.

6:40 am: Armed with a gbike and a helmet I finally leave the apartment, trying to get warmed up for my workout on the 3 mile ride to work. While I pass the sporadic early jogger I can see the first rays of sunlight painting the landscape in warm colors. Pushing the pedals gets my pulse up to 150. Sweet.

6:55 am: The gym is wonderfully empty at this time of the day. With just a handful of Googlers around me I enjoy a quite workout. Today I'm torturing my upper body.

7:45 am: I end my workout with an easy 50 minute run along Mountain View's beautiful shoreline.Jogging Track Squirrels pass my way while two chatting women overtake me. I realize that I've got a long way to go before I will become a decent runner. Well, at least I can program computers.

8:50 am: Breakfast time. I get myself some freshly made scrambled eggs with crispy bacon, two chocolate croissants, some healthy orange juice and a steaming cup of coffee. Throughout the next view minutes some of my colleagues from the build tools team arrive, and a discussion about espresso machines, barbecue grills or why we don't want to discuss Agile evolves. The day can come.

9:10 am: Time to do some work! And, no, that doesn't involve foosball. Or ping pong. I'm actually writing code. Unfortunately I am not allowed to chat about what we do, or even how we do it. So just imagine me typing. And talking to people. And typing again. More talking. More typing. You get the idea.

Lunch at Pintxo12:10 pm: The hardest question at lunch time is which cafe to choose. I just run with the crowd of people working next to me. Today we're heading over to Pintxo. One thing that constantly surprises me about food at Google is that I actually like the dessert. Chocolate cookies, sliced fruit, hot brownies, some chocolate cream topped with strawberries. Take your pick.

1:00 pm: Work, work, work. Getting some coffee. Work, work, work. More coffee. Work, work, work. Grabbing a snack, which leads to some discussion about pair programming and the state of the world in general. Work, work, work.

7:30 pm: Going to Charlie's to get my usual treat for the evening: a self-designed burger and a coke. This certainly feels like America. I meet Nicolai and his friend, who doesn't work for Google. I learn that we're allowed to bring visitors to dinner one or two times a month. We talk about real estate prices and I realize that living here is even more expensive than Munich. Dang!

Mountain View Shoreline8:15 pm: I finally arrive at the apartment. I kill half an hour by starting Yet Another Blog Post. I want to write something about unit test size that features some modestly comical adult references (go figure). After some time I realize that I don't have enough high energy content for this entry. I'll finish it eventually. Blogger's shortest joke.

9:00 pm: A new episode of House starts. For some strange reason the ability to watch a show that doesn't run in Germany yet makes me feel childishly happy. This probably reveals things about my personality I don't even want to think about.

10:00 pm: The favorite part of my day is talking to my wife. And this is PRIVATE! ...

10:30 pm: Another day at Google passed. I do some reading and eventually fall asleep. Just for the reference: my dreams are private, too. Just in case you'd hoped for something. Good night!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Editor Independent Unittest Executor

Since I got test infected I'm somehow unable to write a single line of untested code without feeling uneasy. When I just want to write a tiny script containing a few lines of code in whatever text editor is installed in a system, it seems to be a daunting task to set up a programming environment that allows you to execute unit tests with a single click. But this single click is what makes writing unit tests unobtrusive enough to keep doing it.

So I'm quite fond of using a simple script to execute my script's unit tests whenever I save it. This concept is not new, and certainly not an original idea in itself, but the simplicity of an editor independent unit test executor in 10 lines of code has a certain appeal for me:

stat_command="stat -c '%Y'"
while true; do
current_modification=$( $stat_command $file_name )
if [ "$current_modification" != "$last_modification" ]; then
$file_name --test
sleep 1

This script stats the script file until it detects a change. Whenever a change is detected, the script is called with --test, which is my personal way to tell a script that it should just execute it's unit tests and exit. See my blog post about integrating unit tests in Ruby scripts to learn how this can be done in Ruby. A very similar approach is possible for Python:

import unittest
import sys

if sys.argv.count("--test") > 0:

Now I can simply call the test bash script, giving it the script under test as parameter:

./ ./

The beauty lies in the simplicity of the solution: Even when I remote edit a script on some server with vi, I can simply launch a new console and execute, watching the test results whenever I type ":w".

Update: The "sleep 1" really helps to keep I/O load down. Thanks to Philip for pointing this out. And yet another nice example of how hard it is to write 10 lines of bugfree code without a test.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Integrating Unit Tests In Ruby Scripts

When I write ruby scripts I like to use a single file, containing the program and all unit tests. It took me some time to find out how to add a command line switch to my ruby scripts that makes them run in script mode with full access to the Test::Unit command line arguments, while being able to run the script without the test framework interfering in the execution:

#!/usr/bin/ruby -w
require 'test/unit'

if ARGV.include?("--test")
Test::Unit::run = true
puts "Running..."

Now you can simply run the program by typing

$ ./testme.rb

or run the tests with

$ ./testme.rb --test
Loaded suite ./testme

Finished in 0.0 seconds.

0 tests, 0 assertions, 0 failures, 0 errors

The nice thing is that only the first "--test" will be removed, so you can still leverage the Test::Unit command line argument interface.