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Monday, May 23, 2016

Afterthoughts - Agile Coaching Camp Finland 2016

I had the great privilege to take part in the first Agile Coaching Camp held in Finland (also known as #accfi). The event was held in open space format apart from the prescheduled workshops. Around forty people showed up for the three day event although there would have been room for more. It would have been a different kind of event then, though.

The venue, Herrankukkaro (Turku archipelago), and the weather (around 20°) were in our favor. I spent a lot of time outside myself and managed to shed my nerd tan (no tan).

The Open Space Format 

There was food. Lots of it.
It was my first experience with the open space format. The idea is that rather than fixing a schedule beforehand, you'll develop it on-site.

This means anyone can announce and contribute a session and become the host of it. In case nobody shows up, you can close down the session and move on elsewhere.

The point is that often the best part of conferences are the informal discussions outside of the main program. If you drop the formal part, or minimize it, then you can skip straight to the valuable portion. That's the key insight here. Letting people to operate within a theme can lead to cool results as sessions are generated on demand.

It's entirely acceptable to move between sessions and figure out what works for you at a given time. The nice thing about the format is that it allows themes to emerge. The topics people find interesting simply have more sessions about them.

General Thoughts

Usual Finland. Not much to see here.
There were roughly eight sessions going on at the best. That was plenty to choose from. This time particularly topics such as nonviolent communication (nvc), mob programming, and testing stood out.

I was prepared to help people get their book projects started on a good note, but there just was no interest. You can still check out the slides if you want, though.

I feel the amount of people (42) was just about right. I've been to those conferences that have hundreds of people but then it gets hard to connect. With a limited amount you have more chance to build stronger connections. I'm not much of a networker myself so this definitely helped.

Systemic Constellations

There was plenty of sea related decoration around.
One great thing about going to conferences is that you will pick up ideas and methods you otherwise would just skip.

Certain methods need live demonstration to truly sink in. Systemic constellations is one of those. It is a way to diagnose personal, professional, and organizational issues.

The idea is that you will model the problem in terms of people. Each will represent one part of it (say "client", "developer", "manager"). You can even have persons as abstract things like "project" or "country" there.

First you will move people into initial positions and directions to represent the issue in question. After that you will begin making changes to the constellation.

The surprising thing is that changing the constellation yields data. You may even notice that it needs more actors. You will discover hidden connections this way and gain empathy towards the situation.

That's the powerful part. Given people are emotional beings, they'll begin to resonate with the problem even if they are completely unrelated to it personally. This is what leads to insights that may be used to solve the underlying issue.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

NVC is a related topic. You could say it looks at the same problem, but from a different direction. The rough idea is that even words can be violent. The words said can be a symptom of an underlying problem that has to do with personal needs and feelings. If you realize this and become aware of the underlying motivations, you can gain empathy needed to get around the problem and resolve it.

Again, the core point is simple. But by recognizing there's something behind what's being said helps to bring perspective to the situation. That's what systemic constellations achieve as well, they provide perspective that allows you to look at what's going on with more objective eyes.

Agile Games

I participated in a variety of agile related games. One of the interesting ones was known as the "social rules game". The game models what happens when you start breaking established norms and perhaps make us more aware that norms exist. It's a discussion game where you agree on a topic and basic rules of interaction.

It all starts out as a normal conversation within a group. It becomes more challenging as each participant is given certain rules to follow. Initially these are simple enough such as "stand up while talking" but eventually they become tough and disruptive like "go against all the rules". It's a great way to challenge the norms and get some laughs without offending anyone too much.

There were also team building games like non musical chairs. We also tried variants like zombie chairs (randomized chair positioning). Simple games such as these are good for illustrating what happens to team dynamics when the environment changes. They are also nice for building team spirit.

Conclusion

Sunrise (yup, slept too late) before breaking myself with some yoga
I think going to the event was worth the price of admission. I would be willing to pay even more now that I know the "product" is solid and I hope to participate again in the future if I get the chance. I guess this spoiled regular conferences for me, though.

If you have an open space conference (or "unconference") nearby, consider taking part. The idea might feel a bit silly at first, but it likely works better than you think.

Monday, April 4, 2016

"SurviveJS - Webpack" - Now Available

Even though my first book about Webpack and React has been a nice success, there's always hunger for more. I came to the conclusion that I must split it in two in order to go forward.

The problem is that if you try to cover too much material in one book, it isn't doing favors to anyone. That lead me to a realization that I could extract the Webpack portion into a book of its own.

SurviveJS - Webpack

This is what "SurviveJS - Webpack" is about. I took majority of the Webpack bits from the first one and packaged them up in a nicer way. The book has a tutorial showing you how to develop an effective development and production configuration. This derives directly from the old content.

There's also material that goes further and discusses more advanced Webpack related techniques. So even if there's old material, there's also something new to keep it fresh.

Just like with the first book, I hope to improve the quality of the offering further as I learn more about the topic and receive feedback. In order to support development of Webpack, I'm giving Tobias Koppers, the author of Webpack, a chunk of profits (roughly ~30%). That's the least I can do to support his efforts.

Conclusion

The buyers of the first book will receive this new book for free as I complete the split. In the meanwhile you can study the free online edition. I also don't mind if you purchase the book, but that's up to you.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

"SurviveJS - Webpack and React" 2.0 - Now available through Amazon

Paper books!
I managed to reach a major milestone with my little book effort. "SurviveJS - Webpack and React" is now available as a paperback through Amazon!

When I started the project, I didn't think it would come to this. But I'm happy with the result. That said there's still plenty of work ahead of me. I hope this is just a sign of things to come.

You can find more information about the release at the book release notes. Remember that you can find majority of the content online if you want to see what the book is about.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Discovery and Quality Services for npm

There are a lots of npm packages around these days (~240k at the time of writing). How to discover the ones you need? Also, how to know which ones are worth using? GitHub stars and forks tell something about popularity, but they don't tell a lot about quality. I've tried to list services I'm aware of in this post:

Discovery Services




Quality Services

I've used Webpack as an example below so you get some concrete data to study:

  • Code Climate
  • bitHound
  • Gemnasium
  • Node Security Project. They provide a tool known as nsp that can be used to check your project against known vulnerabilities.
  • NodeChecker - This tool seems to have stalled. But based on the latest results, roughly only half of all packages have some sort of tests. The real figure might be lower now that npm has grown.
  • allnpmviz3d - This services provides a 3D visualization of npm. You can use it to study dependency graphs in a visual manner.


Mirrors

I managed to find only single mirror. There used to be more, including a EU one. I'm not exactly sure what happened. The current situation is a little worrying at least. Now we are relying on npm infrastructure to work always.


Conclusion

I feel one of the greatest challenges npm is going to face in the near future has to do with discovery and package quality. The amount of packages is growing at a scary pace. I haven't done the math, but it wouldn't surprise me if it broke the limit of 300k packages during this year. It just grows faster and faster.

I hope the lists above help you to evaluate the packages you might want to use in a more objective manner. Spending some time researching can save a lot of time over longer term. Project popularity itself isn't any guarantee of quality. It just tells you that the problem it solves is an important one. Perhaps marketing worked and the project went viral. Maybe more could be done to help the consumers of the packages.

It could be a neat idea to try to combine discovery and quality services in a more concrete manner. I hope we see more innovation in this space as JavaScript keeps getting more and more popular. The quality problem is a very acute one especially as you begin to see JavaScript in the enterprise space.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Afterthoughts on CMADFI 2016

The venue was posh
I happened to find CMAD (Community Manager Appreciation Day) a while ago by chance. As Finns tend to take things more seriously than other people, we've set up an event known as CMADFI (Finnish only) around it. It began with fifteen people a few years ago. This year's edition managed to attract around 275 people in my home town.

Given the event was free and conveniently located, I didn't have any good reason not to visit it. I happen to do some level of community management myself through my SurviveJS effort, so sharpening my understanding certainly doesn't hurt. I think visiting CMADFI was worth it.

Theme - Employee Advocacy

The event was structured around the theme of employee advocacy. Community management, or marketing in general, is something that applies within an organization itself. Especially in bigger organizations people can be absolutely clueless of what's going on at different parts of it.

You can easily end up with silos. Silos tend to lead to wasted effort and unnecessary friction. Employee advocacy can help in this regard as it aims to lower boundaries of communication.

Event Format

I found the event format somewhat refreshing. Rather than having to sit through hour long lectures, event talks were fixed to 15 minute slots on a single track. I think this worked quite nicely. This allows you to get exposed to many ideas.

Even if some talks are a bit weaker or not so relevant for you, not a lot of time is wasted. It would be very interesting to extend this model so that the audience could vote which topics to discuss in a greater detail on a second day of an event.

I think it was a great move by the authors to compile a single page with all the slides (Finnish only). It would be even better to include presentation videos there (perhaps that will be done). I hope more organizers would do something like this as it's usually quite a chore to hunt down the slides.

Thoughts on Talks

Overall the quality of the talks was alright. Some might have felt a bit too commercial for my tastes. I understand that's the cost of the free entry, though. As a technical person I would have loved to see more technical talks. Now the issues were covered on a high level without providing deeper level understanding.

Aspects, such as Twitter automation and bots, would have been fine additions. Topics, such as growth hacking or analytics, would have fit the event nicely as well. But given it was only a one day event, there's only so much you can cover.

Given there were so many talks, I've tried to condense some of the main points I got from them below.

Can information be used to alter behavior? by Vilma Luoma-Aho

There was a message wall that got trolled by
terrorist propaganda bots
  • Information alone isn't enough. You have to be in a receptive mode for this to happen. The information has to be packaged in the right format and fit the pattern. Perhaps the core point here is that you need to understand your target audience well.
  • A lot of default filters can be bypassed by going through emotion. Incidentally this is something that internet trolls and disinformation factories rely upon.

How to Make Sure Your Audience Finds Your Content Interesting? by Sanna Jokiniitty

A conference without a Venn isn't a real conference
  • A community manager is somewhere between of the community, marketing, and business. The goal is to align all these.
  • The clients get influenced from many directions. Your influence is just a small part of that all.
  • Understanding this process can lead to a better understanding of topics to cover. Just having content isn't enough. It has to be timely and interesting.
  • Content ideas can be gained through analytics, client feedback, and simply by following the ongoing conversation.

Content-DJ by Janne Gylling

Obligatory sponsor slide
  • A good DJ has focus on three things: artists, record collection, and dance floor. The idea of this split is that you need those guys that produce the content, the content itself, and you need to know your audience so you know what to play and when.
  • Each of these three has demands of its own. Artists needs understanding, equipment, time, examples, audience, and feedback. These guys will fill the record collection, but in order to do that they will need training and they need to be committed. I think the point here is that if you aren't an artist to begin with, it can be tough to become one. Any of this doesn't matter if you don't know your audience.
  • You have to be able to play your records at the right volume. It's fine to play the same record many times. You just have to be a little careful not to crank it up too loud or else your audience might end up getting a tinnitus and leave you behind.
  • In order to stay in the game, a good DJ should be able to follow the trends as you probably want to produce as many hits as possible. Analytics can help. Taking your artists to a tour can be beneficial as well. Reward success and connect your artists with wider audience.
I liked this presentation as it gave a good analogy for content related work. The analogy works well for larger organizations where you want to get the people involved in content production. But the same ideas are valid even if you work alone.

Community Managers at the Crux of Organizational Development by Liinamaria Hakola

This talk was about Liideri, a goverment driven program that helps companies to help renew their business. The themes of the program are participation, newer ways of working, and leadership. I guess it's nice to have these kind of programs around.

I suppose the question is why aren't the businesses interested in doing this type of work without external funding? Improving operating efficiency leads to better profits after all.

The Power of Visual Communication in Marketing a Brick and Mortar Store by Viivi Heinänen

Buns. Me like.
Even if you happen to have a tiny brick and mortar store middle of nowhere, it can still be fun to get noticed. This is what the talk was about. Harjun Paperi, a local paper product shop, has managed to do this somewhat effectively.

The strange thing is that they don't actually have a web shop at all. You literally have to visit the shop in order to buy something. This doesn't seem to be a problem, though.

The goal of their marketing is to create a positive outlook for their company. I got the feeling they know their target market well. I'm not that interested in Facebook or Instagram myself, but it seems like it's working out for them. Given they sell paper products, this works well with marketing that has its focus on visuals. Just increasing sales isn't their only goal, they want to make their followers feel good.

They've managed to activate their following by encouraging them to share pictures of the products at their home. In addition, they've run competitions where this theme seems to be prevalent. A good example of this is a "taping competition" where you were supposed to make something fun by taping, then take a picture of that, and finally share it under a certain hashtag.

I think by not branching into web fully, they might be missing out on some business. But this may be a conscious choice. Maybe not providing a web shop is a way to make the business more personal as you are actually forced to visit their shop to buy something.

Thousand and One YouTubes by Sanna Rousi

Especially millennials have picked up YouTube. In Finland YouTube is more popular amongst young people than traditional TV channels. The older generations rely on older mediums still and don't understand what the buzz is amount, but apparently this is changing as people get older.

If you are targeting younger people, running a right kind of campaign through YouTube can be highly effective. This is particularly true if you can tie it to some already popular figures by getting them on your campaign.

Traditional marketing approaches don't work on YouTube. You have to be more subtle and go through meaningful content. The brand can exist there, but that's not the main point.

Engaging Staff in Content Production by Merja Heinonen

The red cap caught my eye
A local energy company known as Jyväskylän Energia decided to improve its social media outlook in 2014. Before that they ran it in a rather ad hoc manner. That's not good for business.

They started by introducing Yammer to their organization. It's a tool that is useful for internal communication. I don't have any personal experience with it, but it sounds like a sane starting point. Before you can even begin to organize any bigger effort, you need some communication channel to reach the people.

This development lead to the development of a social media strategy and guidelines. Through small steps and with some collaboration with the local universities, they've managed to establish a proper presence at the social media. As a part of their efforts, they've managed to crystallize their brand promises. It's not possible to guide marketing efforts properly without this type of work after all.

They still have a lot of work ahead of them as they need to learn to measure the effectiveness of their efforts, figure out how to reach their target market better, and improve the collaboration between marketing and sales for instance. But overall, it seems like making a conscious decision to establish a proper social media presence worked well for them.

As a Employee Ambassador at the University by Janne Simonen

Yammer and Skype. Booyah.
At least in my experience one of the biggest problems of Finnish universities is that they consist of small cells, silos, that are separate to each other. There's a lot of potential in the organizations through sheer size alone, but they lose a lot of it through rigid structures that don't promote collaboration. Janne's talk was exactly about this.

Marketing isn't just something that's done from an organization towards outside. It's something that can happen within it. Especially in the case of an organization like an university, it could be beneficial if the others knew what you were up to. This is why Janne has been running Yammer in various organizations.

For this to work, it is highly important to get leadership involved as that increases transparency and makes it worth for employees to use the system as well. Janne achieved this by performing queries on employees to prove the need for more effective communication. You need that leadership buy-in to push something like this forward.

For an individual researcher, marketing can make a huge difference in terms of opportunities. Given that a lot of university research is funded through public, it also makes sense to make it accessible. The results belong to everyone.

Welfare from Work by Minna Janhonen

A lot of the slides were blue. Coincidence?
According to Minna employee ambassadorship can replace marketing. Rather than having a dedicated marketing department, the role can be more embedded to an organization. I guess this can be true up to an extent. You may still want a marketing specialist around, but it's true everyone might have something to contribute.

As shown by earlier talks, developing proper communication channels and enabling employees to participate in content production can be beneficial to an organization.

Leadership in Social Intranet by Jussi Sivonen

Blue again!
The core points of Jussi's talk were close to earlier talks. If you cannot get the leadership involved, it's hard to get buy-in from others no matter how fancy technology you might use in your intranet. This goes back to the silo idea. The first step towards dismantling the silos is to build connections.

This leads to visibility that helps in developing trust towards the organization. No doubt this helps with employee engagement and motivation as it changes the situation towards something more equal.

As a Leader in Social Media by Juha Harju

Green!
Juha made a few interesting points:
  • Leadership is essentially about interaction.
  • When in growth mode, it's hard to manage the growth. The best you can do is to enable it. This is where communication comes in.
  • Social media helps you to communicate values of your company.
  • You can choose in which mediums you participate.

DigiSyke - Digital Heartbeat to Industry by Timo Rainio and Jari Jussila

DigiSyke is a scheme which helps the industry to become more digital. It joins various government sponsored organizations and allows them to help modernize Finnish industry. This is done through training and collaboration. The main goal is to improve productivity and employee satisfaction.

So far the progress on the field has been somewhat tool oriented. Even though tools help, it's not enough. You will need to get them to use. This reminds me of Jussi's talk and the importance of leadership buy-in.

Given the Finnish economy is going through somewhat rough times at the moment, modernization efforts like this are valuable. At worst we'll lose our market positions even further. If we manage to improve, however, there might be something to gain. We can either set the trends or try to follow them. Even though I hope for the former, I remain skeptical.

Case Outward Bound Finland by Jaana Nyström

Jaana's talk was one of the more practical ones. She went through a variety of tools she uses to manage her client cases. There were plenty of familiar ones there, such as Buffer or TweetDeck.

Personally I expected she might rely on even more automation. You can automate Twitter content discovery and follower management after all. Not everything can be automated, but a surprisingly large part can.

Case: Community Management with Sitra and Sasky - How to Encourage and Manage a Community at the Same Time? by Pauliina Mäkelä

Pauliina's talk focused mainly on Facebook Groups. Even though they are apparently fairly easy to set up, there are still aspects you should be careful about. Pauliina suggested setting up a separate group for admins. You might need to manage the group after all. The admin group is perfect for that.

Besides that, it's important to put time and effort in figuring out proper descriptions for the groups, deal with members (accepting, sharing content), and measuring progress (growth). Group size can be used as a part of marketing efforts. Larger groups tend to attract even more people to join. This is just the way networks effects work.

It can be beneficial to develop an onboarding process. Sometimes this may take some physical work depending on your target market. Running a workshop is one way to get more people to join, especially if they are newbies.

Explain with Graphics by Lari Kemiläinen

Infographics is one of those things that a lot of people tend to get consistently wrong. At best they can make hard to understand aspects easier to understand. At worst they mislead. Sometimes that can be purposeful and twisted to suit some specific viewpoint. You might have seen diagrams like that.

Lari made an interesting point about mindmaps. The default form we all know isn't memorable. If we drew mindmaps literally as maps instead of trees, we could benefit from spatial memory. We have a tendency to remember locations well after all.

The great thing about crafting infographics is that they force you to understand your subject matter well. I would say this applies to any teaching. You simply can't explain it, if you don't understand what you are doing.

Infographics allow us to be flexible when needed. According to Lari, good infographics should be clickable, shareable, truthful, and contain attribution (source). You will want to keep them simple enough while being provocative enough so that people actually click them. Simplicity is important because that encourages sharing.

Lari linked to Information is beautiful. It's a site filled with good examples to study. For me Lari's presentation was one of the highlights and I could have easily listened for another 15 minutes or more about the topic.

How to Build a Community on Snapchat? by Ville Kormilainen

Snapchat is one of those services I have never used. And I don't have much incentive to do so. Still, it was interesting to hear how to grow a little community there. Ville Kormilainen did so through absurdity.

As it happens, teens find absurd images funny. That helped Ville to amass a big following through some support from big names. Getting the content right and exposure for that worked well for Ville. This is something that applies to these platforms in general I think.

Conclusion

You can find illustrated notes (Finnish only) at Linda Saukko-Rauta's blog (three parts)
Overall CMADFI was definitely worth visiting. I picked up a couple of tips and tricks here and there. I will have to rethink a few things in the future and the conference contributed to that quite well.

As with free conferences often, there were quite a few "no-shows". It's possible to solve this problem through a tiered registration (you have to confirm or you lose your spot) or by implementing a fee for not showing up. I would be happy with both. I could easily pay a bit of money to participate even. I wouldn't mind if an event like this lasted for 2-3 days and had some workshops in it.

I liked the format of 15 minute talks. That forces people to simplify and you get exposed to a lot of topics in a short period of time. I might have cut two talks from the program and implemented a panel discussion instead. That would have given a better chance to participate than the current setup. But overall it worked quite nicely.