Dan Appleman: Kibitzing and Commentary

My personal blog

Writing About the Apocalypse (just kidding)

I recently began a series of articles focusing on the issues of the day – primarily the COVID-19 Coronovirus, the economy, and their impacts now and going forward. I decided to publish on LinkedIn – it’s a nice publishing platform, and easy to use. I also have friends who work there 🙂

On one hand it feels a bit conceited to think that I have anything new, uniquely perceptive or meaningful to say on topics that are being covered relentlessly elsewhere in the media. But that’s OK – I think most of us are just looking for something we can do to deal with the uncertainty. Some people stock toilet paper. Some people stay home as much as possible. I write. (OK, I also have a bit extra toilet paper and stay home, but that’s not important). Whether my articles help others or not, I can only hope. But writing them and sharing them gives me a sense of doing something, so I will continue, and invite you to come along for the ride.

Articles:

A Tale of Just-in-time and IT

A Tale of Just-in-time and IT

I’m a big advocate of just-in-time learning. I talk about it often – it’s one of the key principles in my Pluralsight course “Learning Technology in the Information Age“. And while I usually think of it in terms of software development, it clearly applies to all technology – including Information Technology. And I made good use of that principle over the past week or two.

I host a number of blogs – the main ones being this one, searchtheforce.com, advancedapex.com, and teenleadershipbook.com. I know there are plenty of blog hosting sites, but I do it old school – I run my own server (virtual, of course) and host my own WordPress multi-site installation. I’ve done this all along, partly out of habit, partly out of the desire to have complete control over the sites, and partly because I’ve always wanted to keep at least that level of IT within my skill-set. I think it’s good for developers to know something about the underlying systems their code is running on.

These blogs have been around for a long time. Most were running on a Windows 2012 server on WordPress 4. A couple of weeks ago I received a request to upgrade searchtheforce.com, which was running on Ubunto 14.04 with nginx to SSL, which I did (more on that in a minute). But it occurred to me the other blogs were living on borrowed time. Windows Server 2012 is a few years away from end of extended support. WordPress 5 was out, but the themes I was using weren’t compatible with it. The sites were not responsive for mobile users and they didn’t support SSL encryption. Clearly it was well past time for an update.

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Teaching Truth and Objectivity

Whether it is “fake news”, biased media organizations, or manipulated social feeds, it is increasingly difficult to figure out what is true and objective. There are many people working constantly to expose and promote the truth, but it is also essential for everyone to have the ability to look critically at charts and data and figure out if, how and where they might be lying.
I’m pleased to announce my own small contribution to that effort. My new Pluralsight course “Objectivity in Data Visualization” will teach anyone how to become a smarter consumer of charts and data. You’ll learn how charts can lie. You’ll learn how data can be manipulated. And you’ll learn the subtle power of storytelling to distort facts, even if they are 100% true.
Using real world data and examples on some of today’s most controversial topics, after taking this course, you may never look at a chart the same way again.
Remember, anyone can get a free trial on Pluralsight – so there’s no excuse not to check it out 🙂

Building a Culture of Learning

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my latest Pluralsight course: “Culture of Learning: Executive Briefing“.
I’ve authored a other courses related to learning such as – “Learning Technology in the Information Age” and “Keeping up with Technology“, but both of those are more targeted to individuals who are seeking a strategy for learning and keeping up.
In “Culture of Learning: Executive Briefing“, I take things to a higher level – looking at how to apply learning strategy to an entire team or organization by establishing a learning culture. This is critically important for organizations in addressing the technology gap – the difference between the technical skills and resources an organization has available, and the skills and resources that they actually need.
The Executive Briefing series on Pluralsight are short (30 minute) high level courses on specific topics – I think you’ll find it very much worth the time. Plus, it easily fits into a Pluralsight trial subscription 🙂

Learning Edge Skills (it's not necessarily a waste of time)

When we talk about learning technology, the focus is almost always on core skills – keeping up with technology, or becoming competent in a core new technology stack. I talk a lot about this in my various Pluralsight courses like “Learning Technology in the Information Age” and “Keeping up with Technology“.
I also talk about “Just in time” learning – learning things as you need them, but mostly that’s also in the context of core technologies – things you NEED to know to do your job.
But what about things you just want to learn – that are hard to justify?
Now I have a confession. I love creating things. I’d be an artist, except – that I don’t have any particular talent there. And of all of the art I’ve dreamt of creating, nothing is more exciting to me than animation. I’ve tinkered with it. If you’ve watched my courses you’ve seen some of my experiments – mostly PowerPoint animations, and my “So You Want to be a Billionaire” video from “So you Want to be an Entrepreneur“. I’ve experimented with various easy to use programs, but in the back of my mind I’ve always know that what I really needed to learn was Adobe After Effects.
After Effects is the gold standard for the kind of effect animation I wanted to do. But the learning curve intimidated me – how could I justify the time?
But this year I found my excuse. Authors of Professional development courses on Pluralsight are challenged to use video, animation and other approaches in their courses. So in developing my upcoming course on “Building Trust and Commitment on Teams” (coming soon), I decided to bite the bullet and learn After Effects.
But to make it work, I had to learn as efficiently as possible – remember, this is an edge skill for me – it’s not like I’m going to build a business on animation, or even turn it into a major hobby.
Fortunately, I’m not just a Pluralsight author – I’m a user as well. So my first thought was “What might Pluralsight have on the topic”. I ended up starting with Jeff Sengstack’s “After Effects CC Fundamentals“. It covered pretty much everything I saw myself wanting to do, at least starting out, and while I certainly didn’t absorb everything in the course, it left me feeling confident that I could actually accomplish something. I was no longer intimidated by the program. Next I took on Jeff Hurd’s “After Effects CC – Creating Your First Animation“. I took that one slowly, following along with all of the examples. I finished that course feeling ready to tackle some real work. From then on, it was learning “on the job”, and while I made some mistakes, overall I was pretty happy with the results, and look forward to my next challenges.
I use Pluralsight in various ways in my own work, but this really brought home the value – that I could leverage my access to the library to learn the edge skills – skills that I may only use once, or for which I can’t justify a major investment in time or money. Skills that I might pick up just for fun.
If you have a Pluralsight subscription (or even if you pick up a free trial), I encourage you to do the same – take some time to find something that you don’t need to learn, that may have no practical value whatsoever. You never know, you might create something you never expected.
For those interested in getting a free trial on Pluralsight, you can find more information here or from any course.
 

How do you keep up with technology?

If your first thought on seeing that question is to think of the techniques you use to keep up – books, courses, videos, experimentation and so on, then you’re probably doing it wrong – or at least, could do it better.
Find out why in my new Pluralsight course “Keeping up with Technology“.

New Course: Building Software That Lasts – A Guide to Maintainable Software

Will your software outlast the original developers? Almost certainly yes. But will you be able to maintain it?
That’s one thing about being in the software development business as long as I have – you gain a very healthy respect for the value of maintenance. Sure, the studies all show that maintenance costs 50%-80% of the total life-cycle cost of software, but there’s nothing like living through the entire life-cycle of multiple software projects to really understand that.
You spend a lot of time thinking about what you might have done earlier on to make life easier now.
Which is why my latest Pluralsight course, Building Software That Lasts – A Guide to Maintainable Software, is perhaps the most important course I’ve published. If not the most important, it’s certainly the one with the greatest potential to have a real impact on the cost of software.
This is not a theoretical course full of recommendations that sound great, but never put into practice. This course was born from pain – and the sure knowledge that in many cases, especially in today’s fast paced development world, maintenance and maintainability is the last thing on anyone’s mind, or in anyone’s budget. So while yes, I do discuss best practices, I spend a lot of time focused on processes and practices that are simple and cheap – and that might actually get done even when budgets are tight and speed is of the essence.
So I invite you to check it out and tell your friends. Even if you just pick up a few ideas, they’ll be worth it – that’s the thing about maintenance: a small investment now can save you a fortune in time and effort later on.