As a proponent of perpetual learning, I like to periodically take the time to reflect on what I have learned. Looking back at this past year, I definitely expanded my understanding in a number of areas based on my experiences at work and at home.
My most significant growth was in the area of personal productivity: I read and implemented the organizational system described in the book Getting Things Done : The Art Of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. I have found this system very useful both at work and at home, and wrote an article describing my experience implementing the system.
This last year I switched to a four day work week, and have found it to be a significant improvement over the normal five days. I even figured out how to do this without a drop in pay.
One area of software development I have explored a lot this year has been change and release management: specifically the process of promoting application or infrastructure changes into a production environment. Both my experiences at work and my experiences running this website have made me appreciate the necessity of having a defined process. The amount of process that is necessary depends on the types of changes being made and the complexity of the environment. As I wrote in my article on deploying application changes, it is easier when the application is packaged and deployed as a single unit. When this is not possible - like for database changes - then more process is necessary. Adding too much process, however, can be just as harmful as having too little - a proper balance must be maintained.
Over this last year I have spent a lot of time thinking about application reliability. Ensuring a system is highly reliable is a surprisingly difficult task, and one of the major culprits is complexity. I have found myself arguing more strongly for simpler, more reliable solutions as a result. My most recent focus has been on error handling. My article on the fail fast and degrade gracefully approaches to error handling contains some earlier thoughts on this subject, but I have not yet written up my latest ideas. I have come to believe that the degrade gracefully approach, while more difficult to implement, is the best for creating highly reliable software. I have unfortunately encountered a third approach to error handling: ignore errors. This leads to silent, undetected failures whose negative effects go unnoticed for an arbitrary length of time.
I have also learned a number of lessons from running this website, including improving my knowledge of web design, promotion, and on-line advertising. I have found the process of writing my weekly articles to be a great learning aid. Writing forces me to reflect on and clarify my thoughts and ideas on a particular subject. It is no coincidence that I have provided a number of links above to articles I have written this past year. I tend to write about topics that are currently in my focus of attention, and the act of writing about them helps clarify and solidify the learning I have done.
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