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Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

We recognize them. Managers often don’t.

If you’ve never had this experience you have my envy. You’re on a development team and one of the developers does sloppy work and there is nothing you can do about it.

Time was when everyone in software from the first-day QA trainee to the executives had some experience at coding. That is long gone and now we have layers of methodology “masters” and managers who have never written a line, and who regard any and all complaints about others’ work as insubordinate and as personal conflicts, never considering the criticisms on their technical merits.

If I say that one of the other members of the group is doing shoddy work, even if I explain politely and in technical detail, managers hear “unpleasantness” and focus all their attention on team cohesion, which means I’m the one who gets in trouble. …

If only most problems were as easy to solve

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Image from Twitter, original source unknown

Why I am Writing This

I was on Twitter and someone had posted a picture of Trump showing how overweight he is. One of his supporters had triumphantly produced the original photo and shown that the other one was trivially photoshopped, about a centimeter added to Trump’s already ponderous bulk. It didn’t need to be; Trump is physically repellent; he is gravely overweight, disdains exercise, lives on a diet of junk food. The untouched photo was ugly enough.

Many of the responses called out the horribleness of “fat-shaming.” A few of them pointed out that there is plenty about Trump to criticize but that to ridicule him for being overweight was beyond the pale. …

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Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

It began with a most prosaic wish


For most people atheism comes after years of increasing doubt. The ugliness of fundamentalism is so much more visible than the charity and kindness that faith moves some to; the flourishing of cruelty while God remains silent; all the war and bigotry and torture committed in God’s name; a child struck down by disease, an infant’s coffin lowered into the ground … and “mysterious ways” doesn’t really cut it anymore. But if they react at all, most people take refuge in agnosticism, and most go no further.

My Epiphany

I was eleven years old. And I didn’t go through any philosophical ponderings, not until years later, but the chain of thought that led me to stop believing began with something very ordinary. …

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It never crosses anyone’s mind to return to what worked before.


The last 20 years have seen a lot of disturbing trends in software development. Developers have to take instruction from people who know nothing about software; inane methodologies are regarded with reverence; shoddy work to meet unreasonable deadlines is the new normal. The concentration-enabling workplace has been replaced with high noise levels and constant interruptions.

But for every new problem there is a solution, and it makes things worse. Let me give a few examples.

Software Testing

In the past software development and testing were the work of separate groups. With good testers this worked well. In classical “blackbox” testing the QA groups worked from specifications and without knowledge of the code, testing for behavioral conformance with the design. …

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Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

Be prepared to walk away.


A technical writer is rarely hired into a new project; hire is usually into a project that has been in progress for some time. The hiring company needs to impart the information the writer needs to work and should have made preparations to do so. This information comes from people who are already busy in other capacities and who are probably not adept in organizing the information, since this is after all what you have been hired to do.

You will know within two days, perhaps within hours, whether or not your work is going to be successful or not and you need to be attentive for these warnings that trouble lies ahead because that trouble will come swiftly. …

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Strategies for a Painful Affliction


We are living through terrible times. Those of us old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis are experiencing the same dread we did in 1962, but instead of a few days of frightening news, it is going on for years and worsening. We have lost the solid ground we once stood on, not knowing who to believe and surrounded by lies. There are plenty of genuine reasons to be fearful.

I have anxiety. It’s mild, and I have learned ways to minimize and even to briefly eliminate it. I startle easily; I have had periods when the anxiety was so intense that it was painful from one second to the next. …

Talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor. Talk to your doctor.

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Photo by Kate on Unsplash

A few months ago I had varicose ulcers from being too sedentary during the lockdown. I went nowhere, just sat. Once I knew what I had I was able to get a lot of useful information on the web on treatment and prevention. The same is true for many other minor medical issues.

I was diagnosed as mildly diabetic about 15 years ago. I didn’t need insulin, I just took metformin and got checked once a year. My fasting blood sugar was 129; anything over 126 is regarded as diabetic. This went on for years

But a few years ago I was in Thailand and had a raging thirst, like nothing ever before. I drank a liter of bottled water in one long draught. I knew what it meant; intense thirst is a sign of high blood sugar. When I got home (I live in Vietnam) I went to the hospital where a reading showed an astonishing 386, which is enough to cause organ damage. The doctor was not a diabetes specialist. I was prescribed insulin and turned into a pincushion. …

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Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

No, you don’t need to share your screen to report your status.

I was on a project for a British company working with a distributed team. We had a daily status update on Zoom; why this couldn’t be in email escapes me, perhaps the fact that they called it a “scrum” had something to do with it.

As each member of the group had his turn he would intone

Let me share my screen

… as though asking permission, but they always did it anyway.

Maybe one time in six he would actually demonstrate something in the application; a bug fix, a new UI feature, but most of the time it was just to watch him wiggle his mouse for ten minutes. And if he was demonstrating something he usually made a mistake and had to run through the whole sequence over and over, never using his keyboard or Tab key, always the mouse. …

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Image from BBVA

You might never have to write one in your work


Thirty years ago a software development interview meant standing at a whiteboard holding a marker pen and writing some hyper-optimized screaming fast code representing an algorithm. OK whiteboarding is an abhorrent process and leaves interviewees with the impression that speed optimization is their life’s work but back then it made sense to test for ability to write an efficient algorithm. Because we would do that in our work, and do it a lot.

Algorithms were central; if we were serious about our work we owned all three volumes (now four) of Donald Knuth’s The Art of Computer Programming and a few of us had actually read them. …

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Photo by Sharon Mccutcheon at Unsplash

The true fix is accepting real differences

If your husband beats you, they should go to jail.

I actually read this in a blog post. I confronted the writer about using “they” when a husband is unambiguously “he”; I abhor the use of “they” as a singular. The writer haughtily responded with “I prefer gender-neutral language” and before it was over called me “transphobic,” an idiotic and unwarranted neologism. I clicked Ignore User to spare my peace of mind.

First of all if you’re going to respond by calling me names and telling me I’m some kind of bigot or reminding me that some authorities on the language are okay with this grammar, stop reading now and write your response and I promise I’ll take you very seriously. …


Chris Fox

American Software Developer living in Vietnam. Classical musician (guitar, woodwinds), weightlifter, multilingual, misanthrope • XY

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