Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Managing Programming Projects: Don't Lose Sight of Reality

If you're a project manager who came from a programming background it's amazingly helpful to dig back down into code for a day just to remind yourself of how the process really works. Regardless of the approach to project management (Agile, Waterfall, etc.), at the most basic level the development process remains an exercise in code / test / repeat. It's a very satisfying exercise, but it makes you appreciate that there is a lot of detail behind each feature or requirement.

It's my belief that the greatest productivity gain for programmers individually is to have as rapid a code / test loop as possible. This is one of the biggest advantages of interpreted script languages (e.g. JavaScript) over compiled languages. There are obvious productivity benefits to being able to see your work quickly and there are psychological/motivation benefits as well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Obtaining the PMP Credential

While between jobs Nov/Dec/Jan 2010/2011, I prepared for and passed the Project Management Professional exam to obtain the PMP credential (#1385079). One of the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide's (PMBOK Guide) best practices is writing up a "lessons learned" as part of closing a project or phase. What follows are some notes and lessons learned from my experience.

I felt it would be valuable to obtain the PMP to broaden the number of positions that I could apply for and that has definitely panned out to be a benefit. The credential did not significantly enhance my earning potential, but for many project managers it may do so. I enjoyed the process as a review/capstone of the project management I've done over the years.

NJ One-Stop Center

Part of unemployment support in New Jersey at the present time includes possible retraining grants. There are evidently a bunch of different programs and the "One-Stop" counselors understand the details. I found them to be very helpful.

There are a series of orientations I had to attend and visits I had to make to put the grant in place. I've been to the One-Stop probably a half-dozen times now. On the plus side, I've always found the staff helpful and even most of the people you encounter there are OK. Lots of tension/frustration/fear is present of course. I approached the situation with compassion for others as well as myself.

Training Hours Requirement

I took an online Project Management Certificate course at Rutgers. There are other options, but I liked being able to put a recognized name on my resume and Rutgers knows the process with the One-Stop grants. I also wanted a certificate for my resume, though the PMP is the thing obviously. Rutgers was helpful. I had to make one in-person visit there, but otherwise have done everything via email and phone.

The online course was somewhat time consuming, but you really need to spend the time to absorb the material. The PMP exam is a lot of terminology and even having managed projects for years I learned a good deal and would not have passed without immersing myself in the content.

I usually set aside 2 to 3 hours in the morning for course work. I knew the November/December months would be slow for the job search anyway. I used the afternoon and evening for job search. Closer to Christmas I put in a few two-session online learning days. That was enough for my brain. Online lessons are audio with basic question types. Nothing fancy, but the quality was pretty good. There are some optional lessons (3 are required) that were not as good, but they are phasing those out. SkillSoft is the courseware provider that Rutgers used.

In addition to the online course work there was a book report (I did mine on Scrum) and a Project Charter document required. Rutgers assigns an individual instructor for the course that is available to help and assigns and reviews the book report and project charter.

PMP Process

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has the PMP process laid out in a PDF you download from their website.

The PMP application requires documenting 4,500 hours of project management experience. You can go back up to 8 years, and you need to have at least 3 years of history. I pulled mine together from three different companies. PMI has you categorize the hours on the application in an online form. I put together a Word document with the project description, hours claimed, and sent the document to my reference for each project before applying to make sure each reference was OK with it. I was not audited, but I was prepared for it if it happened. The decision on whether you will be audited happens after you pay the application fee.

Once approved, I scheduled the PMP for about 10 days out and took a practice test (200 questions) with minimal prep a week in advance and got a 79%. The Rutgers course and the Head First PMP book did prepare me well. The PMBOK Guide is a reference and not a study guide. I took another practice test a couple of days before the exam (82%).

I took the exam at the Curtis Center (Prometric) in Philly. The exam has 200 questions, of which 25 are seeding for future tests and don't count. Web search turned up 106 out of 175 as passing (61%). I found the exam to be harder than the practice tests, so I'm glad that I had some cushion. My exam results showed three categories better than average and three categories average. Pass is all that matters though. My name showed up at the website registry after a few days, but PMI says you can use PMP by your name right away.

Expenses for the PMP included Rutgers course ($2,600), PMI membership ($129), exam fee ($405), and miscellaneous books and study materials ($150) for a total cost of roughly $3,300.

It took me about two focused (1/4 time or so) months from start to finish.

Useful Links

The Project Management Institute:

PMP Headfirst Practice Exam:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

JibberJobber: Career Tool

If you're on a job search or looking for a tool to help manage all the bits and pieces of information you have related to your network of contacts check out Spreadsheets can be used for tracking, but quickly become unwieldy after a month of intense networking around a job search.

JibberJobber keeps information in Network (contacts), Companies, and Jobs and lets you interlink between them easily. It's SaaS, has good import/export capabilities, and a way to add log entries by copying to an email address. I also like that it has a free option so you can keep your information around between transitions.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Have you done Agile?

Have you done Agile is a common interview question these days if you're applying for a position related to software development. A few quick thoughts:

When C++ came along many of its features formalized practices that skilled C programmers were using already. For example: encapsulation. Of course C++ introduced many new concepts.

Similarly, Agile (however you define it) formalizes some practices that development groups had been using before the term Agile was coined and added more. For example, timeboxing of releases was a common practice at Dolphin (1984-2005). The concept of a daily build was in use at Microsoft as described in the book ShowStopper (Windows NT development). Zero defect milestones were described by Jim McCarthy in The Dynamics of Software Development. Pair programming was around before XP was coined.

The point is that Agile builds on the past and many of us have done Pre-Agile in various forms and should use this experience to adapt to Agile in whatever form it takes in your development shop.

For more thoughts on Agile check out my posting on the book Agile Project Management with Scrum.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NSBasic App Studio for HTML5 Prototyping

A great product for prototyping HTML5 apps. It's oriented around the Visual Basic metaphor and has an active development community. A fun way to experiment with HTML5 mobile development:

The "ns" stands for "nice and simple". I've kept in touch with the product since I used it for an NCLEX exam prep Palm prototype project back at Dolphin.