In the mind of a TechLead : kickoff

[This is the first article of a serie. The next one is here].

I started just a month ago to work as TechLead inside a developers team for a ambitious software project. This role isn’t entirely new to me, since I worked as « Head of Software » for a startup during 2 years (though I was overwhelmed with all operational aspects of the « research and development department » – that is, 90% of the company). This time I can focus on that interesting role.

I would like to take the occasion of this new adventure to share some of my thoughts, trying to explore as many apsects of it as I can. That is, technology, of course. But also, self-confidence, communication, architecture, career paths, mentoring, politics…

(Just a bit of context: I’m 44. I’ve been starting my carreer as an astrophysicist, then switched to software development in 2011, worked for small companies and startups, as well as larger organisation. I did quite a lot of scientific coding, modeling, image processing, but also a professional desktop app, iOS apps, scientific libraries, app components, REST APIs and a front-end webapp. Whatever the details, I’ve eaten quite a few langages, in quite a few contexts, and most importantly delivered in production quite a few products.)

The first idea that come up to me, when I look back to this short month is: a TechLead must have an acute sense of balance. A lot of rational and less rational expectations are put on the shoulders of that role, both from technical and non-technical people. That was particlarly true when I arrived: the project has a team of 6 juniors developers, a scrum master, an architect, two product owners (and a project manager), and was already working since about 3 months. But everybody in the development team and the management around it shared the feeling that the project strongly needed some « seniority », given the contrast between the juniority of the team, and ambition of the project (a subject on its own).

Thus I quite strongly experienced the need of balance between various things. But let’s focus on the most relevant one for this special moment that the few first weeks are.

I mostly felt the need of an acute sense of balance between the urge of fiting myself into the new organisation on one hand, and using my ignorance of the details to challenge existing hypothesis, on the other hand. With a very open-minded management (a thing that I can’t stress more the importance), people are very keen to hear you about what they could have done better or even wrong. This is a power you have during the first weeks, and there is only a very short supply of it. You have to use it wisely to speak out and share your impressions carefuly.

It is also the occasion to provide already what you think will be the overall direction of your action. The latter point don’t make you fit into the role right away, but at least it helps you fill it.

In other words, if you enter a mostly problematic working environment (as it was, in my case), you should rapidly reveal issues (but without exaggerating them!) and draw possible lines of solutions (without imposing them!). That’s a very fine balance. If you insist too much on problems, or appear to be too rapidly emotionaly involved in these problems, it’s easy to understand you might not fit for the role, or that you won’t simply be part of the solution. The risk exists of being pushed out of the project right at the start.

Moreover, if you try to impose solutions, you rapidly loose credit: how can you have a sense of the big picture already now? Problems that haven’t been solved after a few weeks or months are necessarily interconnected with other forces and/or people. People that are certainly of good faith, trying to do their best. You cannot do more than suggesting solutions, and if possible, solutions that are based on hints the management might have given you, more or less explicitely (you are necessarily ‘utilized’ by someone to modify an existing state of things – this is normal).

If you invoke your « huge » experience to try to impose solutions, you appear to justify yourself, and weaken your position already. (Virility demonstrations in tech environments will require its own post.) And you must remain open to solutions suggested by others, and solutions that don’t make you necessarily happy, while at the same time you are still adjusting yourself to a new context, a new place, new people, new tech stack… It’s hard.

In the opposite case of a mostly positive environment, this time is good to draw long-term guidelines of your action too. In both cases, you can earn a large amount of credit if you manage to rapidly acquire trust from the team, and both provide rapid help for existing issues.

How to achieve this sense of balance? There’s no magic. Personally, I can see only two things: listen and sleep, from day one. Listening everything is key. Listen to everybody, pay attention a bit on the body langage, but mostly to confirm impressions, listen in every occasion, meetings, lunchs, listen all the time. This is exhausting. Thus make sure to sleep enough. You’ll probably have time to rest a bit more after a few weeks.


I hope you found this post interesting. It outlines a bit the subjects to come in this serie of posts: how to acquire trust from a team, how to deal with autoritative figures, the balance between being strong, and being a part of something you can’t control… Stay tuned!

The v0.8 software malediction (and resolutions for 2019)…

Life in Software-land follows the rhythm of version updates. And big jumps in numbers is usually reflecting what happens under the hood (except for the Linux kernel sometimes): big changes, big rewrites, big decisions, all of them at the same time. Long ago in my own Astro-Software-land, I was developing my famous macOS app: iObserve, which remained in the swamp of the beta phase for a long serie of months. (The beta phase is this period of time before the confidence on the capability of the mentionned software being actually useful reaches an « acceptable » level for the developer.)

iObserve never reached the v0.9. I had to stop development, rewrite a big part of the app, and jump right into 1.0 (I then submitted it to the Mac App Store).

v0.7.16. That’s the current version of arcsecond.io (see the changelog). Arcsecond.io was meant to become my new flagship software for the years to come. Still, I hit the v0.8 malediction. I hit it hard. I feel that a lot has to be rewritten. The good news is that the backend is solid, I’m very happy with it.

But I need to not only rewrite lots of the front-end, but actually rethink the whole shape of the webapp I intend to build. Too many things in the pipeline, but at the same time, nothing really finished. Damn.

I don’t know why it always happens around the v0.8. A kind of teenager crisis for a software. The time where you have exhausted your young energy, and start to think this isn’t the right direction, and something must change.

It’s hard to convince a developer he didn’t develop the right thing. But when this developer is yourself, and you invested a big chunk of a whole year into it, it is rough. At least, I must say I am not denying it anymore. It took quite a few months to really ask for feedback, but I did it, and the results of the votes are clear: I must continue to build new versions of iObserve…

Everything’s inside the meaning of « new versions »… This is where it is interesting to think as a product maker. What is iObserve ? An app that embedd into the same « workspace » a bunch of finely-crafted algorithms and visualisations combined with professional archival data, to let people think and prepare better their astronomical observations.

(Okay, okay! I heard it. It must work offline too.)

Fine. Let’s do that. But the success of iObserve is also the result of a few unplanned features nobody asked for. Say, I have a few in my pocket.

Resolutions for 2019. Actually, only one, which encompasses all others: focus. Really focus on the right thing, and nothing more.

Clear skies to everyone!

Arcsecond.io 0.6: Team Size Doubling + iObserve on the web !

This is a milestone for Arcsecond ! I am happy to announce that Eric Depagne, currently astronomer at SAAO/SALT has agreed to join his forces to arcsecond.io. His expertise with Python will help a lot on the backend, but I don’t expect him to remain within the boundaries of it!

Moreover, we releases iObserve on the web ! Not as feature-rich as the macOS app yet. But already new features that will belong only to Arcsecond: Night Logs (in prep) and Data !

Freely regsiter in www.arcsecond.io and tell us what you think !

iObserve on the web is coming

Well, winter is already there, anyway. So now, iObserve is coming … on the web. #GameOfCurves

For those who don’t know yet, iObserve on the web is called arcsecond.io. You can already checkit out here.

I am very proud of the progresses. But there is a lot to iron out (I had to work on various API endpoints to make it work: /observingsites, /observingruns, /nightlogs, /observations, /users, /telescopes).

But I can’t wait to share with you a (debug) screenshot of the current state of it on my machine. Feel free to spread the word!

My blog is my code (quick updates)

I should take the time to annouce a bit more often the releases of my various softwares. But software is a mean of expression by itself, in my humble opinion, when practiced everyday. Don’t you read software? … My blog is my code, and this blog is my secondary blog, talking about the first one.

Anyway, please be aware that arcsecond.io is progressing well. It isn’t still ready for a full-blast communication pushed into professional tubes though. But time will come.

In particular, note the fusion of the Objects and Exoplanets page (which are kinda of object, aren’t they?…). It makes the navigation a lot easier. Moreover, Exoplanet Transits have been also added. Pretty nice. Screenshot below, but judge by yourself directly in this example.

 Yes, I usually look for icecream colors for the beta banner... Don't you like this Strawberry-Pistache ? Yes, I usually look for icecream colors for the beta banner… Don’t you like this Strawberry-Pistache ?

Moreover APIs are slowly maturing, and some API endpoints are now in pretty good shape. Obviously that includes /observingsites, /objects and /exoplanets. I am working full-speed on /observingruns and /nightlogs right now. But /datasets is also pretty nice already (although not yet complete).

To follow all the progresses see my third blog… the arcsecond.io changelog!

In the meantime, I also released a small update of SwiftAA (v2.0.1) to fix some warnings, making sure it is fully compatible with latest Xcode, and applied a small bugfix about the visibility of a special method (that should be kept internal for that matter). Check it out on GitHub!

I am also busy with new adventures for real professional activities this time. But I tend to usually mutualise the benefits, to increase the pace of releases.

Oh by the way, I am preparing a link between arcsecond.io and iObserve ! It’s time for iObserve’s users to submit new observatories and observing sites not in the app but rather in arcsecond.io. They will further be importable inside the app. It will be great. The benefit is that: it is not manual anymore (which is good for me), but is directly accessible and shared with everybody !

iObserve v1.6.1

iObserve v1.6.1 just submitted to the Store. I couldn’t really find a fix for the rdar problem mentioned earlier. I did modify a little thing in the code that could possibly help. But Apple didn’t respond to my inquiry on the subject. I have a user report saying that the problem went away apparently on macOS High Sierra (10.13).

Batch of small updates from the software dpt.

I may not update this blog very often, but things keep moving forward!

First, I’ve fixed an important bug in SwiftAA, the iOS/macOS framework of astronomical algorithms. There was a confusion on ecliptic coordinates, which was then propagating to other coordinates, and making impossible to have reliable times of Rise, Transit and Set for celestial objects. What a pity if you couldn’t compute these times with SwiftAA! It is now fixed. Check the release. Even if it takes time, I keep moving forward to reach the 2.0 milestone.

The other updates are about arcsecond.io. I made progresses in many compartments: Datasets, Night Logs, Observing Runs, Profiles. Objects page, Publications etc etc. The new root page now has a Google-like search field. For the exoplanets side, I’m working on something very cool, but it isn’t ready yet (planned for v0.3).

You can check the changes and the improvements brought by every release in the dedicated Changelog page.

As for iObserve, I keep receiving new observatories. Thanks to all. I may consider an update of iObserve to use observatories in arcsecond.io once back from vacations. Better not promise anything though, I know how it goes… 

 

Making an auxiliary app about Observing Sites…

… on the road to iObserve 2!  

As you certainly know if you read this blog a bit, here and especially here, I am preparing, slowly, a version 2 of my famous app for astronomers: iObserve. One key thing about it are observatories, over and over again. The problem of managing different places, being able to record your own places, possibly sharing them etc, exists since the inception of the app, when it was only in a widget form… 

In the course of the years, I’ve developed a lot of things about it and never found it entirely satisfactory. Then came arcsecond.io

Arcsecond.io was first intended to be the backend for a much lighter iObserve client. But it appears it can solve a lot of things! And the first thing it can solves is to be the one-place-to-go for everything about observatories in the world. 

Hence, one of the primary mission of arcsecond.io is to record, store, share, make available all the information about such places.

And the only way to correctly develop, test, bullet-proof the observing sites at arcsecond.io is to build an app, using the arcsecond.swift and SwiftAA sdks. So here it is, for the visible part:

Of course, as soon as it gets ready to edit and display useful things about all observatories, and you can add your own etc, you’ll get your hands on it! 

 

 

One small step for a developer…

… but quite a milestone in my master plan (see previous post). After about a year of (discrete periods of intense) work, I’ve decided that SwiftAA, the best collection of astronomical algorithms on Swift, hit the 2.0-alpha stage.

SwiftAA is intended to be the underlying code framework of all scientific computations of the next version of iObserve. With it, I’ll be able to provide tons of details about many objects, and especially about Solar System objects, which are clearly missing in the current app.

It’s an alpha stage, of course. It means a lot of details need to be polished: iOS version polishing, more unit tests, a more consistent handling of numeric types etc. But all of the C++ code is wrapped in Objective-C(++) code, and all that old-style code mimicking the original AA+ one is now « Swifted ». That is, it has been elevated to a lot higher level of expressive formulation.

Complexity remains, since the solar system isn’t quite easy to simplify. Hence, when one has the goal of minimizing the amount of lines of code, to extract the most of it, things aren’t easy to read at first. 

But there is a Swift Playground for those interested to learn. I wish I had more time for making this Playground more « ready to use ». But as for now, you need to dive a bit into the thing and the project to actually understand it. But time will come, I’ll prepare a better one.


In my website stats, I noticed that some people keep talking about iObserve, which is great. One post however mentioned the wish to have a Linux version of it. Those interested in what happens here @ onekilopars.ec probably understood that it is also part of the master plan. But current web-based technologies to make cross-platforms apps are difficult to put in place. I’ve tried about 6-7 times. But I don’t give up! 


I’ve received about 30 new observatories to be included in the next version of iObserve. That’s really great, as it is the sign of a strong usage of the app (more than 15k downloads so far). They are all in my list of to-dos, but I must say that it is sometimes hard to be motivated to finish this new new version, and I am late. But it will come!