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Humility and Better Programming, Six Years Later

Here’s everything you need to know about my software development philosophy:

“The competent programmer is fully aware of the strictly limited size of his own skull; therefore he approaches the programming task in full humility, and among other things he avoids clever tricks like the plague.”

– Edsger W. Dijkstra, The Humble Programmer, ACM Turing Lecture 1972

Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

Six years ago, I wrote a series of articles about being a humble programmer, based on the ideas of some really smart people, like Dr. Dijkstra. The articles have gotten a lot of views and positive comments, and I think they’re still relevant reading today.

I wrote them back when I worked at National Instruments. I had a blog called (I saved all that content. It’s now at, and the old hostname redirects there.) My colleague, Nancy, and I wrote several articles about our world of helping people develop better software.

We both find that helping developers be more successful is fun and rewarding. That’s why I created Stravaro.

Anyway, back to the old blog series–there’s almost nothing I would change if I were writing it today. It feels just as relevant as when I wrote it. Even though the articles were written with the LabVIEW developer in mind, I believe it’s a philosophy that should be followed regardless of programming language. When I worked at athenahealth, I gave a presentation on the same theme at an internal technical conference.

If you haven’t read the series, I invite you to do so now. Do any of you have a similar philosophy that’s worked well? Or a radically different one? Leave a reply below to share your thoughts.

“Every person that you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.”

– H. Jackson Brown Jr.

“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.” 

– Winston Churchill

From the archives: 64-bit LabVIEW!

The other day, I saw this tweet from Darren Nattinger, replying to a tweet by Jim Kring, of JKI

And I realized that it’s been over ten years since we released 64-bit LabVIEW. I wrote about it in the blog I had at the time (which lives forever, like everything on the internet 🙂 ).

I led a team of two other amazing developers, Adam and Kyle. The three of us just plowed through the few million lines of C/C++ and made it 64-bit aware. No big deal. 😉 When we first started, I felt like there was a greater than 50% chance that we’d fail. Most likely, that we’d decide it wasn’t worth the effort–we’d hit some very large boulder, and decide not to go on. But we persisted, and ended up coming in ahead of schedule and below budget. We actually had to wait (a year, I think) for the device driver groups to catch up with their 64-bit support.

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Book Review: Organizational Culture and Leadership

Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition

Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition by Edgar H. Schein

When I first became VP of Engineering at insurance startup The Zebra, I wrote a long internal blog post sharing several book recommendations–books that have made an impression on me in my career. From time to time, I plan to review a few of those for you here in my blog.

I first ran across MIT Professor Emeritus Dr. Schein when I worked as Lead Developer and Director of Engineering at athenahealth. Athena, being based in Watertown, Mass., generally prefers ideas that come out of places like Harvard and MIT, and ideas about company culture were no exception. I failed to really appreciate Dr. Schein’s ideas until I moved on to a local Austin startup that had a somewhat more ambiguously defined company culture.

Among other topics in the book, Schein gives an approach for really understanding culture. He focuses on three areas:

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Excited for GDevCon #2–But I won’t be there!

Almost a year ago, I was in Cambridge, England, presenting at the very first GDevCon—a graphical developer conference.  I am so grateful for that experience. My topic was “My Continuously Evolving Practice of Software Engineering”.

GDevCon #2 is coming up on August 20-22 in Birmingham, England, and I’m very disappointed I’ll be missing it this year.  Instead, I’ll be on a trip I booked months ago, watching opera in Santa Fe, New Mexico,

My friends at GDevCon have once again lined up a fabulous agenda with wonderful presenters.  For those who are going, I declare my jealousy and hope you have a wonderful time.  I look forward to watching the videos afterwards, and hopefully will see you in person next year.