Tag Archives: programming

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How much code can a coder code?

Lines of code (LOC) is a simple way to measure programmer productivity. Admittedly it is a flawed metric. As Bill Gates famously said “Measuring programming progress by lines of code is like measuring aircraft building progress by weight”. But it is at least easy to measure.

So how much code do programmers average per day?

  • Fred Brooks claimed in ‘The Mythical Man-Month’ that programmers working on the OS/360 operating system averaged around 10 LOC per day.
  • Capers Jones measured productivity of around 16 to 38 LOC per day across a range of projects.
  • McConnell measured productivity of 20 to 125 LOC per day for small projects (10,000 LOC) through to 1.5 to 25 LOC per day for large projects (10,000,000 LOC).

It doesn’t sound a lot, does it? I’m sure I’ve written hundreds of lines of code on some days. I wondered how my productivity compared. So I did some digging through my own code. In the last 12 years I have written somewhere between 90,000 and 150,000 C++ LOC (depending on how you measure LOC) for my products: PerfectTablePlan, Hyper Plan and Keyword Funnel. This is an average of round 50 lines of code per working day. Not so different from the data above.

I also looked at how PerfectTablePlan LOC increased over time. I was expecting it to show a marked downward trend in productivity as the code base got bigger, as predicted by McConnell’s data. I was surprised to see that this was not the case, with LOC per day remaining pretty constant as the code base increased in size from 25k to 125k.

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Some qualifications:

  • I give a range for LOC because ‘line of code’ isn’t very well defined. Do you count only executable statements, or any lines of source that aren’t blank?
  • My data is based on the current sizes of the code bases. It doesn’t include all the code I have written and then deleted in the last 12 years. I have just spent several months rewriting large parts of PerfectTablePlan to work with the latest version of Qt, which involved deleting large swathes of code.
  • It doesn’t include automatically generated code (e.g. code generated by the Qt framework for user interfaces and signals/slots code).
  • I only counted code in products shipped to the user. I didn’t count code I wrote for licence generation, testing etc.
  • All the code is cross-platform for Windows and Mac, which makes it more time consuming to write, test and document.
  • Programming is only one of the things I do. As a one-man-band I also do marketing, sales, QA, support, documentation, newsletters, admin and nearly everything else. I have also done some consulting and training not directly related to my products in the last 12 years.

Given that I probably spend less than half my time developing (I have never measured the ratio), my productivity seems fairly good. I think a lot of this may be the fact that, as a solo developer, I don’t have to waste time with meetings, corporate bullshit and trying to understand other people’s code. Also writing desktop Windows/Mac applications in C++ is a lot easier than writing an new operating system with 1970s tools.

50 lines of code per day doesn’t sound like a lot. But the evidence is that you are unlikely to do much better on a substantial project over an extended period. Bear that in mind next time you estimate how long something is going to take.

If you have data on LOC per day for sizeable projects worked on over an extended period, please post it in the comments. It will only take you a few minutes to get the stats using Source Monitor (which is free).

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Reasons Software Developers Should Learn Marketing

1. Improved career prospects

The intersection of people with development skills and marketing skills is pretty small. Being in this intersection can only help your career prospects.

development marketing skillsAlso an in-depth understanding of software is very helpful when you are marketing software, compared to a marketer who doesn’t really understand software.

2. It’s not rocket science

The basics of marketing boil down to:

  • Find out what people want/need/will pay for.
  • Get people’s attention cost effectively.
  • Communicate what your product does.
  • Choose the right price.

None of these things are as simple as you might think, if you haven’t tried them. But its not rocket science to become competent at them. Hey, if the average marketing person can do it, how hard can it be? ;0)

3. Less reliance on marketing people

If you don’t have any marketing skills then you are completely reliant on your marketing people to do a good job at marketing the software you have poured your soul into. Are you comfortable with that? How do you even know if they’re doing a good job?

4. Number crunching

Developers tends to be well above average in their analytical and mathematical skills. Online marketing tools such as Analytics, AdWords and A/B testing generate vast amounts of data. Being good at crunching numbers is a big bonus for some aspects of marketing.

5. It’s interesting

When I started out as a professional developer some 30 ago, the thought of being involved in the sordid business of marketing would have appalled me. But, as I have got more and more involved in the marketing side of things, I have found it really rather interesting and creative. There is a lot to learn, including: pricing, positioning, customer development, segmentation, partnerships, email marketing, SEO, AdWords, social media and conversion optimization. I think of development as hacking computers and marketing as hacking humans.

6. Diminishing returns on development skills

The more time you spend as a developer, the better you are going to get at it. But you will run into diminishing returns. E.g. you won’t improve as much between your 9th and 10th year of programming as you did between your 1st and 2nd year. Learning a completely new skill avoids diminishing returns.

7. You’ll need it if you ever start your own software business

If you ever start your own software business you will quickly find that marketing skills are at least as important as development skills. So it’s a huge plus if you already have some marketing chops. Even if you have a VC sugar daddy who is going to give you enough money to hire marketing staff, you’ll still need some marketing skills to know who to hire.

If you are employed as a developer full time, I recommend you jump at any chance to get involved in marketing or go on a marketing course. I also run a training course for people wanting to start their own software business that includes a lot of material on marketing.

Lifestyle Programming

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” ― Bob Dylan

I am a lifestyle programmer. I run a one-man software product business with the aim of providing myself with an interesting, rewarding, flexible and well paid job. I have no investors and no plans to take on employees, let alone become the next Google or Facebook. I don’t have my own jet and my face is unlikely to appear on the cover of Newsweek any time soon. I am ok with that.

“Lifestyle business” is often used as something of an insult by venture capitalists. They are looking for the “next big thing” that is going to return 10x or 100x their investment. They don’t care if the majority of their investments flame out spectacularly and messily, as long as a few make it really big. By investing in lots of high-risk start-ups they are able to reduce their overall risk to a comfortable level. The risk profile is completely different for the founders they invest in. As VC Paul Graham admits:

“There is probably at most one company in each [YCombinator] batch that will have a significant effect on our returns, and the rest are just a cost of doing business.”

Ouch. The odds of being the ‘next big thing’ are even slimmer (of the order of 0.07%). As a VC-backed start-up the chances are that you will work 80+ hours a week for peanuts for several years and end up with little more than experience at the end of it.

But high-risk, high-return ventures are sexy. They sell magazines and advertising space. Who can resist the heroic story of odd-couple Woz and Jobs creating the most valuable company in the world from their garage? So that is what the media gives us, and plenty of it. Quietly ignoring the thousands of other smart and driven people who swung for the fences and failed. Or perhaps succeeded, only to be pushed out by investors.

If you aren’t going to be satisfied with anything less than being a multi-millionaire living in a hollowed out volcano, then an all-or-nothing, VC-backed start-up crap shoot is probably your only option. And there are markets where you have very little chance of success without venture capital. But really, how much money do you need? Is money going to make you happy? How many meals can you eat in a day? How many cars can you drive? It doesn’t sound that great to me when you read accounts of what it is like to be rich. Plenty of studies have shown that happiness is only weakly correlated with wealth once you can afford the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing). Hedonistic adaption ensures that no amount of luxury can keep us happy for long. Anyway, if you are reading this in English on a computer, you probably are already rich by global standards.

Creating a small software business that provides a good living for just yourself, or perhaps a few people, isn’t very newsworthy. But it is a lot more achievable. The barriers to entry have fallen. You no longer need thousands of dollars of hardware and software to start a software business. Just an idea, good development skills and plenty of time and willpower. Many lifestyle businesses start off with the founder creating the product over evenings and weekends, while doing a full-time job. I cut my expenses and lived off savings until my business started generating enough income for me to live on (about 6 months). I only spent a couple of thousand pounds of my own money before the business became profitable. There is really no need to max out your credit cards or take any big financial risks.

So how much money do lifestyle businesses make? Of course, it varies a lot. Many fail completely, often due to a lack of marketing. But I know quite a few other lifestyle programmers who have made it a successful full-time career. I believe many of them do very nicely financially. Personally, I have averaged a significantly higher income from selling my own software than I ever did from working for other people, and I made a good wage working as a senior software engineer. Here is a comparison of my income from my last full-time salaried employment vs what I have paid out in salary and dividends from my business over the last 7 years.

lifestyle business incomeBear in mind that the above would look even more favourable if it took into account business assets, the value of the business itself and the tax advantages of running a business vs earning a salary.

Sure, I could hire employees and leverage their efforts to potentially make more money. Creating jobs for other people is a worthy thing to do. Companies like FogCreek and 37Signals have been very successful without taking outside investment. But I value my lifestyle more than I value the benefits of having a bigger business and I struggle to think of what I would do with lots more money. I might end up having to talk to financial advisers (the horror). I would also end up managing other people, while they did all the stuff I like doing. I am much better at product development, marketing and support than I am being a manager.

If you can make enough money to pay the bills, being a lifestyle programmer is a great life. I can’t get fired. I make money while I sleep. I choose where to live. I don’t have to worry about making payroll for anyone other than myself. My commute is about 10 meters (to the end of the garden). I get to see my son every day before he goes to school and when he comes back home. I go to no meetings. I have no real deadlines. No-one can tell me where to put my curly braces or force me to push out crappy software just to meet some arbitrary ship date. When I’m not feeling very productive I go for a run or do some chores. I can’t remember the last time I set an alarm clock or wore a tie.

My little business isn’t going to fundamentally change the world in the way that a big company like Google or Facebook has. But it has bought me a lot of happiness and fulfilment and, judging by the emails I get, improved the life of a lot of my customers as well. And some of those really famous events you hear about in the news (which I don’t have permission to name-drop) plan their seating using PerfectTablePlan.

Of course, it isn’t all milk and money. The first year was very hard work for uncertain rewards. I recently happened across this post I made on a forum back in August 2005, a few months after I went full-time:

“I work a 60-70 hour week and pay myself £100 at the end of it (that’s less than $200). I could make 3x more working for minimum wage flipping burgers. But hopefully it won’t be like this forever…”

I still work hard. I’m not lying under a palm tree while someone else “offshore” does all the work. And I don’t get to spend all day programming. If you want to have any real chance of succeeding you need to spend plenty of time on marketing. Thankfully I have found I actually enjoy the challenge of marketing. But, because I don’t have employees, I have to do some of some of the crappy jobs that I wouldn’t choose to do otherwise, including: writing documentation, chasing invoices, tweaking the website and doing admin. And I answer customer support emails 364 days a year. I take my laptop on holiday, but it really isn’t that bad. Customer support is frustrating at times. But it is very rewarding to know that lots of people are using my software. Overall, it’s a great lifestyle. I don’t miss having a 9-5 job. I wouldn’t even swap my job for running a bigger, ‘more successful’ company.

Interested in starting your own lifestyle software business? Check out my ‘start your own software business’ training course.

Code Club – inspiring a new generation of programmers

code clubYesterday I, and fellow software developer Oliver Balmer, ran the first session of our new programming club at the school our children attend. We weren’t sure what to expect, but it went very well. The children really enjoyed it and so did we. I am just putting a few notes here in the hope that it piques the interest of other software developers.

  • Code Club is a United Kingdom based network of volunteer-led, after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11.
  • scratchThe first 2 terms are based on the free Scratch programming language developed by MIT. This is an excellent tool for teaching children programming. Programs are constructed by snapping together colour coded blocks – there is no syntax to learn and very little typing. Within an hour all 9 children went from nothing to having created a simple example game with graphics and sound.
  • Later terms progress on to HTML/CSS and Python.
  • If you want to set up a Code Club you need to get a DBS criminal records check (previously called a CRB). We did it through STEMnet. It was free and painless. We had to attend an evening course, but this gave us some useful information about the education system and dealing with children.
  • Code Club provides all the teaching materials, including print-out worksheets for each session.
  • There must be a qualified teacher in the room at all times with the volunteers, so you need to get buy-in from the school staff.
  • The process we went through was:
    • Registered with the Code Club website
    • Discussed it with the school
    • Wrote a proposal to the Headmaster
    • Got our criminal record checks
    • Went into the school and did a presentation to recruit interested children
    • Ran a competition for any children who wanted to join
    • Liased with the school IT co-ordinator to get Scatch on the school PCs.
  • The school has been very supportive and helpful throughout.
  • The proposal isn’t required by Code Club, but we thought it was a good idea to make sure everyone understood exactly what we wanted to do. One of the school governors (who is also a Deputy Headmaster at another school) helped us to write it. It was only a couple of pages long.
  • We showed a 3 minute video about Scratch in the presentation to the children. That had a much bigger impact than 2 middle aged programmers talking about how cool programming is. When we asked how many kids wanted to join, about 40 hands out of 60 shot up!
  • We took care to emphasize that programming isn’t just for boys.
  • We required any child who wanted to join our club to enter a competition to design their own computer game (on paper). This allowed us to restrict the intake to a manageable number, if too many wanted to join. Also it created an entry barrier to the less interested ones. We don’t want to act as a free baby sitting service for children who aren’t really interested. In the event we got 10 competition entries and we accepted them all.
  • 9 out of the 10 children turned up for the first session (6 boys and 3 girls).
  • We created a certificate for the best competition entry and handed that out at the first session.
  • Our club sessions are an hour and 15 minutes. We added the extra 15 minutes to allow some time to get everyone settled. The children were very engaged and had no problems concentrating for that long.
  • There is no fee to attend our Code Club sessions (unlike many of the other after school clubs).
  • You need to run the club at a time that suits the school/children. This isn’t a problem for me as I have my own business and can set my own work hours. If you are employed 9-5, you may have to negotiate with your employer.
  • Our school’s IT suite is well set up, with a projector and enough PCs for each child to have their own. This makes life easier.
  • It was slightly chaotic, but fun!
  • You may be able to join an existing Code Club rather than having to start a new one. Check the Code Club website for existing clubs.

I went to a secondary school a few months back and talked to some 80 teenagers about what it was like to be a software engineer. When I asked how many of them had done any programming at all, only one of them had. One! We are teaching a generation how to use Excel, Powerpoint and Facebook, but not how to create their own software. What a wasted opportunity. Of course, we don’t need or want everyone to be programmers. But I think it is such an important skill that every child should at least have an opportunity to try it. I believe Code Club can go a long way towards filling this gap. Currently over 700 schools in the UK have Code Clubs.

To find out more go to the  Code Club website at:

http://www.codeclub.org.uk/

I believe there are similar initiatives to Code Club in other countries, but I don’t know anything about them. Please comment below if you do.

Where I program

whereiwrite.org is a photographic project showing science fiction writers and their offices. I started wondering what the offices of other microISVs and small software companies look like. Were they Zen temples of minimalism, with just a desk, a chair and a laptop? Or were they mad scientist labs, piled to the ceiling with obsolete equipment and empty pizza boxes? I rather hoped it was the latter, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about my own cluttered little office. I asked for photos of offices on some forums frequented by independent developers. I got a great response. Click the images to see larger versions.

oryxThis is my own cluttered office. The image comprises 6 photos stitched together using Autostitch to simulate an ultra wide angle lens. This makes it look bigger than it is. My unexciting view of suburban Britain is enlivened by regular sightings of Red Kites. I resisted the temptation to tidy up, beyond emptying the overflowing wastepaper bin. The garage is full of envelopes and CDs and there are lots of programming book’s in my son’s room. We are in the process of selling the house, partly so we can buy a house with a bigger office. I like the idea of a treehouse office – one where I pull up the ladder when I need some peace and quiet.

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whereiprogram-steve

“In my office, I kind of try to separate the digital and analog worlds.  Some days I’ll be coloring with my kids at the oval, English partners-desk in the center and helping with homework, but most days I’m doing software development to the right.  I love it here in the Pacific Northwest; if I’m awake early enough I can catch a beautiful sunrise over the lake right outside my office, and even go for a swim by afternoon in the summertime if it gets too hot.”

Steve Murch, www.bigoven.com

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rv-office“This is my temporary office while on the road. I use the TV as a monitor for the second computer (Windows 7). The normal monitor can be switched between either computer. I sometimes miss the third monitor, lazerjet printer and other stuff but not often.”

A roving microISV, who doesn’t want his customer to know he (temporarily) has no fixed abode

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DSC_6544“Living in Hong Kong, where residential and office space is so scarce and expensive, I work in a small corner of my small apartment. However, I have everything I need: my trusty two years old MacBook Pro, a not too comfortable chair, and a couch where I can take as many naps as I want. Oh, and a nice view of the mountains outside!”

Cesar Tardaguila, www.bambooapps.com

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collectorz-programmers-at-work“This is me at my desk at the Collectorz.com HQ. As you can see, I am a Nintendo gamer, vodka drinker and Porsche fan. Now I must say that this not a real ‘where I program’ pic, because I don’t do a lot of programming any more. Check the 2nd pic for my developer team.”

Alwin Hoogerdijk, www.collectorz.com

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iPhone June 23 2009 132“I *hate* having clutter on my desk. You’ll notice that I didn’t show the rest of the office. It’s pretty messy! I started with two monitors several years ago and then moved straight to 4. I can’t live without at least 3 and the 4th makes a nice place to stash IM windows while I’m working. My music computer is on the left side (yes, it’s a Mac!), and I’m not sure that it isn’t the most important computer I own since I could never work without music playing.”

Mitchell Vincent, www.ksoftware.net

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myroom“As you can see the office is as crammed as possible, and the distractions are pretty obvious — the wine is waiting for its place in the cellar, and there is a bottle of whiskey on the shelf.  Oh, and there are two Commodores C-128 behind the desk (invisible on the photo, they worked the last time I checked) along with 1081 monitor and a Playstation or two. And yes, there is a guitar behind the chair. The bad news is that the plans for the new house are ready and the next office will be four times as big! Regarding the workplace as such — I have two 19′ monitors and a computer box under the desk. I spent a lot of time making it silent, which really improves work comfort, especially during quiet night shifts.”

Piotr Kuzora, www.powerkaraoke.com

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ofi-shots-150“This is my home office, in the city center of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Nowadays I spend as much time, if not more, at the J1CK office, my other entrepreneurial project, but this office is great for ViEmu and Codekana work: a lot of light, and the irreplaceable Dell 2408WFP in vertical position. The chair and the table are from Ikea, nothing fancy there.”

Jon Beltran de Heredia, www.viemu.com and www.codekana.com

(who can apparently control his own opacity)

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MJT_Marcus_Office_small“This is in my office looking out on the larger office area.  Our office is in a modern, purpose built office complex just outside the beautiful historic Saxon hilltop town of Shaftesbury in rural Dorset.”

Marcus Tettmar, www.mjtnet.com

(under monitors – where obsolete technical references go to die)

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home_office_tekblues_small“My home office is a large basement, it has windows and good light, but it’s very cold. I am a very messy person, it’s full of books, boxes, old computers and even toys my kids left there. Luckily, it doesn’t show in the photo but my dog left some bones under my desk in the morning!!”

Javier Rojas Goñi, www.tekblues.com

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GreentramDesk“Melbourne city skyscrapers in the background – I’m 26 floors up. I should have done this yesterday when the sun was shining.”

Tony Bryer, www.greentram.com

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IMG_6740_small“There is one thing that is missing in the photo. That is my two year old daughter. She likes to sit on the table and pull out the books from the rack. Unsurprisingly, her favorite is ‘MicroISV From Vision to Reality’ by Bob Walsh. Somehow she enjoys tearing papers off from the book while her father is busy coding.”

Prasanth, www.simfatic.com

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20090624dayoffice

20090625nightoffice“I recently cleaned up my office so I took these photos… but my office is slowly returning to the big mess that it usually is. I need to do a tidy-up before things get out of hand again. I really like my Vornado 542B that’s clipped to a bookcase and set to blow air on me! Really cools me off. I have it on a remote control so I can easily turn it on and off from my desk. I am near Dallas, Texas.

Albert Wiersch, www.htmlvalidator.com

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gurock_office“This is one of the offices at Gurock Software here at the Technology Park in Paderborn, Germany (that’s Tobias in the picture). When we originally looked for office space, we wanted bright rooms with enough space to accommodate large desks and small reading corners. Getting our new office space (and 3×24″ monitors ) was easily the best investment we’ve made productivity-wise.”

Dennis & Tobias Gurock, www.gurock.com

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Dokix2_smallTim Haughton, www.homedocumentmanager.com

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antair_office_2“This space suits us perfectly. It fits everyone very comfortably. It’s very, very bright, with lots of natural sunlight. The outdoor patio is perfect for morning group breakfasts and afternoon lunches when it’s warm. And … there’s a great pub downstairs to celebrate the days when we ship a new software product or a major update release.”

Andrey Butov, www.antair.com

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office“My office is a mess because I’m a very passionate person.  I love my work and when I’m not doing that, I’m out doing something else I really love.  I have no love of cleaning and organizing though.  In fact, 99.9% of the time I prefer chaos.  The other .1%, I purge my mess and the cycle starts again.  I know this isn’t a good system, but for now it works.”

Ian Drake, www.notifywire.com

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ian_1 “My office is never really very messy… sorry.”

Ian Landsman, www.helpspot.com

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officedog2“Here’s where a real code monkey works.”

Dan Hite, www.spellquizzer.com

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view“I work with specialized hardware for my software and there’s a school bell and a siren/strobe light flashing on the desk.  On the far right side of the desk, I have a couple of IP phones and an IP speaker. I want some additional monitors.  The two I have are a 23″ and a 24″, both at 1920×1200.  I also use a second room as an office in my house and have another PC and a Mac. Below is the view from the window. The trail behind the house connects into a 300 acre park and there are usually mountain bikers and hikers on the trail on the weekends.”

Danny Weidig, www.acrovista.com

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DN_office1_small“Mine’s a bit messy. I stare out the window to distract me from it.”

Doug, who doesn’t want his blue chip clients to know he works from a messy home office

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SAIG+Office3_small

SAIG+Echidna+outside+Office_small“The 16th fairway of the golf course is just through the trees. The group of 3 trees on the left is actually one tree and it is a magnificently old (opinions vary from 100 to 600 years) Moonah Tree. Below is an Echnida which waddled past on Monday.

Neville Franks, www.surfulater.com

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Not had enough yet?:

Mitch Haile’s home office

Scott Hanselmann’s home office

Home office snapshots

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I am not sure which is more diverse, the offices or the software that gets written in them. Thank you to everyone that contributed.

Have you got a bigger, smaller, untidier or more stylish office than any of the above? Do you have a better view out of the window? Add a link to your photo in the comments.

Programming with your feet

footI started feeling a mild burning sensation in my left wrist a few weeks ago. This is a classic early sign of Repetitive Strain Injury.  Uh-oh. I had an email exchange not long ago with someone who now has to use voice activation because typing is too painful. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be. I decided to ignore Jane Fonda’s advice to “feel the burn” and looked for a way to alleviate the problem.

One approach is to reduce the amount of typing I do. But that is tough when you are running a microISV and writing a blog. I already use the text expander capabilities of the excellent Direct Access software to save a lot of typing (it tells me that it has saved me 51 hours of typing so far). I decided to try an ergonomic keyboard.

I bought myself a Microsoft 4000 Ergonomic keyboard. This is shaped to allow more natural positioning of the forearms and elbows.

microsoft_natural_keyboard_4000

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

For more comfortable wrist positioning it also has a built-in wrist rest and the front of the keyboard is higher than the back.

microsoft_natural_keyboard_4000

Note the front of the keyboard (right) is higher than the back (left)

I was quite surprised how physically large it was when it turned up. The shape of the keyboard felt very strange to start with and it took me a few days of slow typing to get used it. The feel of the keys is nothing special and I haven’t yet used the extra gizmos, such as the integral zoom button. But I feel it is an improvement in comfort over the conventional keyboard I had before.

An unexpected advantage of the new keyboard is that it has improved my typing. If you watch a good touch typist, their hands hardly move. I (unfortunately) never learnt to touch type, I just didn’t have the patience. The clearer separation between keys for the left hand and keys for the right hand on the new keyboard made me realise that I was moving both hands left and right, more like a concert pianist than a touch typist. I am now moving my hands less and I think my typing speed has improved as a consequence.

I didn’t feel the new keyboard on it’s own was going to solve my impending RSI problems though. The major problem seems to be the continual Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Ctrl-A, Windows-D, Windows-E and Alt-Tab key combinations I do with my left hand, hundreds of times a day. Using the right hand Ctrl key instead of the left one helped a bit. But it occurred to me – why are my hands doing all the work? My legs are doing so little that I often feel stiff when I stand up from a long programming session. Why not put them to use?

I Googled for foot pedals for computers. After wading through lots of hits for music and dictation foot pedals I finally found the Savant Elite Triple Foot Switch. This is a programmable 3-pedal foot-switch that plugs into a USB port.

savant_elite_foot_switch

Savant Elite Triple Foot Switch

At £86.00+VAT it isn’t cheap. But what price do you put on your health? I ordered one.

When it arrived I wanted to program the pedals to map to the Ctrl, Shift and Windows keys. But I couldn’t install the device driver to program the pedals. After a call to the retailer it turns out the device driver doesn’t work on Vista, despite assurance on the website that the pedals could be used with “virtually any computer”[1]. Grrrrr. How long has Vista been out? I finally managed to program the pedals using my wife’s laptop – my last remaining XP box.

So now I can type using my feet for most of the modifier keys. I am using the pedals as I type this. I am still getting used to them, but the burning in my left wrist has definitely reduced. I think I can also type a little faster, but I am too lazy to do the speed tests with and without the pedals to verify this.  On the negative side:

  • Working out where to put your feet when you aren’t typing can be a little awkward.
  • The pedals tend to move around the carpet, despite being metal and quite heavy. Some small spikes might have helped.
  • Although the travel on the pedals is small, they are surprisingly stiff.

When I told a friend about the pedals he asked – why stop there? I could also be using my elbows, knees and head like a one-man-band. I could be working-out and typing at the same time. It is an intriguing prospect.

I just hope I don’t end up with burning ankles.

[1] System requirements have since been added to the website.

7 Ways to be a healthier programmer

Developing software is an indoor job with no heavy lifting. How dangerous can it be? Actually, the long term dangers to your health are all too real. Humans have bodies evolved for running around the African savanna, not sitting motionless in front of a computer for hours at a time. I have heard several stories of developer careers cut short by RSI. Imagine if you couldn’t type any more, because it was too painful? Yes, it could happen to you. I started to write an article about ergonomics for developers. Then I realised I knew someone who was a lot more knowledgeable about it than me. Derek kindly agreed to write it instead.

It may seem hard to believe that working at your desk can cause you long term harm, but unfortunately the real toll of sitting in the same location and doing the same operations over and over again may not be felt until it is too late.  Here are some simple precautions you can take.

1. Setup your work environment to be ergonomic

Make sure that your whole working environment is set up correctly. This includes your monitor, keyboard, mouse, your desk height, your chair, and possibly a foot rest. Adjusting your seating position relative to your workstation layout encourages good posture. Do this on a regular basis, not just when the ergonomic assessment forms come around once a year. Setting up your chair correctly is probably the most important step and is covered in detail at healthycomputing.com.

2. Try using an ergonomic mouse and keyboard

There are a wide range of ergonomic mice available nowadays, and while some of them may look a little strange, you may be surprised how comfortable they are compared to conventional mice. The Evoluent VerticalMouse is ergonomic, easy to use and available in left and right hand variants. If you find an ergonomic keyboard inconvenient for programming, consider looking into one with a small key travel distance, like the keyboards on laptops where the keys only need to be depressed a small amount, as this reduces the finger movements and effort required.

3. Remember to look up from your monitor

Staring at your computer screen for long periods will lead to eye strain, tiredness, headaches and dry eyes. Every few minutes, look up from your monitor and focus on objects in the distance, either by looking out of the window or at the most distant end of the room. You can do this by using ScreenRest set to remind you at fixed time intervals. It is also worth adjusting your monitor screen to eliminate reflections from light sources behind and above you.

4. Sit up and stop slouching

Leaning forward, sinking down in your chair or resting you elbows on the desk places unnecessary pressure on your back. Poor posture, maintained over a period of time, leads to back pain and more serious back conditions. Make sure that you regularly correct your posture, sitting slightly reclined and supported in your chair with your shoulders relaxed.

5. Keep yourself hydrated

Don’t forget to keep up your fluid levels throughout the day. Even mild dehydration can leave you feeling lightheaded or bring on a headache. Often when you feel hungry it is actually that you’re thirsty, so don’t reach for the biscuits, get a glass of water first. Staying hydrated will help keep you clearheaded, more alert and help counter the dry environment around computers.

6. Take regular rest breaks

Get up and walk around regularly, taking a few minutes to relax. Try to avoid the temptation of carrying on with that feature that is “nearly finished”, or doggedly tracking down that bug that you’ve “almost fixed”. Taking a break will refresh you both physically and mentally. Also, use the break as a reminder to change the type of task you’re performing. If you use the keyboard and mouse extensively, you may want to use ScreenRest set to remind you based on the amount of usage. It can be surprising how much you use a computer continuously without realizing.

7. Look after yourself before it is too late

As a programmer your livelihood depends on you being able to use a computer. Pay attention to any discomfort, tension or pain you may feel while using the computer. Don’t think that computer-related conditions won’t happen to you and ignore those nagging pains until they become something more serious.

Do not underestimate how severe and uncomfortable repetitive strain injury pains can become and how long they will persist throughout the day and even into the night and will eventually impact leisure activities you enjoy doing. Once the damage has been done even the simplest of movements, not just using the computer, can be enough to trigger pain.  There are tools available, such as speech recognition software, to help with basic computer tasks such as emails and browsing basic websites, but it is of no use when controlling complex development IDEs.  Speech recognition can frustrating to control at the best of times and is impractical in an open plan office environment, due to the background noise.

Derek Pollard

Derek Pollard is the developer of ergonomics software ScreenRest, for the prevention and relief of eye strain and the management of RSI while using your computer.

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