Stories about Software


Why is Github Taking over the World?

Editorial Note: I originally wrote this article for the SmartBear blog.  Click here to check out the original.  If you like this content, take a look around at their offerings and their posts from other authors.

There’s a word out there that you’d be a lot more likely to hear from journalists, pundits, and authors than you would from techies: zeitgeist.  The dictionary definition of the word, “the general beliefs, ideas, and spirit of a time and place,” is straightforward enough.  But when used by the people I mentioned, zeitgeist, as a descriptor, imparts gravity on the thing it describes.  It I say that Github captures the zeitgeist of the programmer world of the 2010s, I am thus saying that Github is at the absolute core of the software development universe.

And I do say that.

If you’re not familiar with Github, I’ll offer a brief description.  It is a website that wraps a software version control system called “Git” and allows software developers to host their code online for free (though there are paid models available).  If you’re a software developer, Github is a repository for you to store, exchange, trade, and talk about code.  This may not sound like the stuff of which zeitgeists are made.

The sheer, raw popularity of Github alone doesn’t explain this classification, either, though it is popular.  Alexa, a web analytics company (not to be confused with Amazon’s Echo personality), ranks Github as the 83rd most popular site on the planet, as of the time of this writing.  That’s particularly impressive when you stop to consider that Github’s audience is the slice of software developers that feel like freely exchanging source code with one another.  Other popular sites occupying top rankings, like, Facebook, Amazon, or Google, on the other hand, have an audience of literally everyone on Earth.

It isn’t the improbable, raw volume of traffic to Github that elevates it to Zeitgeist level, however.  It isn’t even the growth or the market cap of the company or the number of contributing developers.  Those things alone can’t explain why Github is a zeitgeist — why it’s taking over the world.  To do that, let’s look at it in a bit more detail.

From Improbable Beginnings

Let’s take a little known, somewhat pedantic approach to storing code, wrap it in a cute user interface package, sprinkle a little social media on it, compete with an entrenched market dominator (sourceforge), give it away largely for free and change the world!

If I could go back to around 2008, when Github was just starting out, I can’t say I’d be clamoring at the bit to become an investor.  At least, not without 20/20 hindsight.  It doesn’t really sound like a game-changer, and yet that’s what it became.

And yet, if you look at tech trends, the makings were there, if subtle.

Distributed Version Control for a Remote World

If you’ve been writing code for a long time, you no doubt remember the bad old days of remote work when it comes to source code version control.  At the time Github first started attracting notice, centralized version control schemes were the standard, and when you were somewhere the source control server wasn’t, things could get painful.  I remember using a tool called Rational Clear Case that was setup in such a way that it took me most of the morning to commit a few files to source control if I was working from home.  As bad as that sounds, it could be worse — if you were on a plane or somewhere without internet access, you wouldn’t be able to work at all, unless you had planned ahead of time to acquire an “offline” version of the code.  And then, getting it back online could be quite painful once you re-connected.


Git, the version control system upon which Github is based, changed all that with distributed version control.  Git was the version control of Linux — a decentralized, democratic tool that could support ad-hoc, global collaborations.  Github, the website, wrapped Git up and encouraged you to work with the full safety of source control wherever you were.  And, don’t worry, they reassured you, it’ll be a breeze to sync back up when you’re connected again.  And it was.

Github offered remote coding to an increasingly remote workforce.

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Github and Code Review: A Quiet Revolution

Editorial Note: I originally wrote this post for the SmartBear blog.  Go check out the original here, at their site.  Stick around and check out some of the other authors and posts over there if you’re so inclined.

When the winds of change blow through the programming world, they don’t necessarily hit everyone with equal force.  The start-up folks cranking out reams of Ruby code on their Macs probably feel a gale-force headwind, while a Software Engineer III toiling away in Java 1.5 for some Fortune 500 bank might feel only the slightest breeze.  But on a long enough timeline, the wind changes things for everyone.

Github has proven nothing short of a revolution for a lot of small, nimble organizations, startups, and cutting edge companies.  For heavily regulated, locked down enterprises, this effect is certainly muted, but I would argue that its subtly perceptible nonetheless.  Github is changing a lot of things about software development, and this includes the nature of code review.

Let’s consider some properties of Github.

Social Coding

Github is often described as a social network for programmers.  The term “social coding” has even appeared in some of Github’s marketing material.  It is a platform meant, specifically, for maximum interaction.

Sure, Github is a vehicle for open source contributions, but that’s hardly a difference-maker for them.  Sourceforge was around for a long time and it would host source control for open source projects for free.  There have also been other communities oriented around contributions and code sharing, such as Code Project.  Github, however, came along and truly married social with coding, introducing feeds, followers, ubiquitous collaboration tools, and even a social network graph.  Having cute octopus buddies as their mascots probably didn’t hurt matters either.


The result is an unprecedented amount of enthusiasm for global sharing of code.  20 or even 10 years ago, you probably would have hoarded source code of a side project.  You wouldn’t have wanted to give away your intellectual property and you’d probably also have been embarrassed until you could tidy it up to put your best foot forward.  Now the default is to throw your side work up on Github and show it off for the world and your followers to see.  Code is being shared as never before.

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The Joy of Adding Code to Github

These days, a good portion of my time is spent on overhead tasks: management tasks, strategy meetings, this sort of thing. In my role, I also am responsible for the broad architectural decisions. But what I don’t get to do nearly as often between 9 and 5 these days is write code. All of the code that I write is prototype code. I’m sure that I’m not unique in experiencing drift away from the keyboard at times in my career — some of you do too as well. As you move into senior or lead type roles and spend time doing things like code reviews, mentoring, etc, it happens. And if you really love programming — making a thing — you’ll feel a loss come with this.

Of course, feeling this loss doesn’t have to be the result of having more overhead or leadership responsibilities. It can happen if you find yourself working on a project with lots of nasty legacy code, where changes are agonizingly slow and error prone. It can happen in a shop with such intense and byzantine waterfall processes that most of your time is spent writing weird documents and ‘planning’ for coding. It can happen in an environment dominated by loudmouths and Expert Beginners where you’re forced by peer pressure or explicit order to do stupid things. It can happen when you’ve simply lost belief in the project on which you’re working or the organization for which you’re working. And it almost certainly will happen to you at some point in your career.

Some call it “burnout,” some call it “boredom” and some call it “losing your way.” It has a lot of names. All of them mean that you’re losing connection with the thing you’ve liked: programming, or making a thing out of nothing. And you need that. It’s your livelihood and, perhaps more importantly, your happiness. But, you can get it back, though, and it isn’t that hard.


Recently, I decided to order a few more home automation pieces (blog to follow at some point) and reboot the design of my home automation server to make use of a Raspberry Pi and a REST service in Python. I don’t know the first thing about Python, but after the parts arrived, and I spent a few hours reading, poking around, failing, and configuring, I was using Fiddler to turn all the lights off downstairs (code on github now — work in progress).

There is nothing quite like the feeling of creating that new repository. It’s daunting; I’m about to start learning a new programming language and my efforts in it will most certainly be daily-WTF-worthy until I learn enough to be passingly idiomatic in that language. It’s frustrating; it took me 15 minutes to figure out how to reference another code file. It’s tiring; between a day job taking 50+ hours per week and the work I do with my blog and Pluralsight, I’m usually coding at midnight on school nights. But forget all that because it’s exhilarating ; there’s nothing like that feeling of embarking on a journey to build a new thing. The code is clean because you haven’t had a chance to hose it up yet. There is no one else to tell you how, what, or when because it’s entirely your vision. The pressure is off because there are no users, customers, or deadlines yet. It’s just you, building something, limited only by your own imagination.

And what a powerful feeling. If you’ve got a case of the professional blues, go out and grab this feeling. Go dream up some new project to start and chase after it. Recapture the enjoyment and the excitement of the desire to invent and create that probably got you into this stuff in the first place.


FeedPaper is Born!

As of Thursday, 11/02/12, a baby ASP MVC project named FeedPaper (later to be feedpapyr.us) has arrived. It is healthy and weights 0 pounds and 0 ounces. Both it and I are doing well, and while it does not yet have much in the way of functionality, it does have its father’s logo and some functional unit tests. (As an aside and leaving this strained metaphor, I’ve never really understood why the weight of babies is announced to me as if someone were trying to sell me a ham — what do I care how much anyone weighs? It’s always tempting for me to respond by saying, “big deal – I totally weigh more than that.”)

Anyway, you can find the source for it on Github. As I mentioned in a previous post, the main thing that I’m interested in is getting this thing up and running, so I’m happy to accept pull requests, suggestions, help, and anything else you’re willing to offer. The plan is to get it going as a website and then perhaps later port the presentation portion of it to phone/tablet implementations as well. But, no sense putting the cart before the horse — I have to figure out ASP MVC 4 first.

So, look for sporadic work on this when I have time and feel like tinkering and am not working on home automation with Java and MongoDB. I will also make posts here and there about lessons I learn as I ham-fist my way through it, talking about my experiences with the frameworks and toolsets involved. Also, in general, I’m looking for the best options for hosting the site, so suggestions are welcome (should I try out Azure, go a more traditional route, etc).



GitHub and Easy Moq


Not too long ago, I signed up for GitHub. I had always used subversion for source control when given the choice, but the distributed nature of Git appealed to me, particularly since I often do work on a variety of different machines. GitHub itself appealed to me because it seemed like the perfect venue for reusable code that I’ve created over the years and tend to bring with me from project to project. Here is a unique idea – sites like Sourceforge want to store code by basic unit of “project” whereas GitHub wants code for the sake of code. This code need not be finished or polished or distributed on any kind of release schedule. That is perfect for a lot of my portable code.

One thing that I noticed about GitHub upon arrival was the lack of .NET work there, compared with other technologies. There is some, but not a lot. Presumably this is because sites like Code Project already offer this kind of thing to the .NET community. After reading about Phil Haack leaving Microsoft to be GitHub’s Windows Ambassador, I decided that this was a good indicator that GitHub was serious about growing that portion of its user base, and that I’d start porting some of my code there.

Another thing that I’d read about git before trying it out was that it has a steep learning curve. To back my general impression of this as a widely held opinion, I did a quick google search and ran across this post.

Given the steep learning curve many (including myself) experience with Git, I think I can safely assume that many other people have this sort of problem with it.

So, there’s at least one person who has experienced a steep learning curve and at least one other person with the same general sense as me about many finding the learning curve steep.

I must say, I haven’t found this to be the case. Perhaps it’s my comfort with Linux command line interaction or perhaps it’s my years of experience using and administering SVN, but whatever it is, I read the GitHub primer and was up and running. And, I don’t mean that I was up and running with commits to my local repository, but I was up and running committing, pushing to GitHub, and pulling that source to a second computer where I was able to build and run it. Granted, I haven’t forked/branched/merged yet, but after a day of using it, I was at the point where the source control system retreated into the mental background where it belongs, serving as a tool I’m taking for granted rather than a mental obstacle (by contrast, even with a couple of years of experience with Rational Clear Case, I still have to set aside extra development time to get it to do what I want, but I digress, since I don’t believe that’s a simple case of needling to mount a learning curve). So, after a day, I’m developing according to my schedule and running a commit when I feel like taking a break and/or a push when I want to update GitHub’s version. I’m sure I’ll be hitting google or StackOverflow here and there, but so far so good.

Easy Moq

So, what am I doing with my first GitHub project? It’s something that I’m calling Easy Moq. I use Moq as my main mocking framework, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’ve had enough time with it to find that I have a certain set of standard setup patterns. Over the course of time, I’ve refined these to the point where they become oft-repeated boilerplate, and I’ve abstracted this boilerplate into various methods and other utilities that I use. Up until now, this has varied a bit as I go, and I email it to myself or upload the classes to my web server or something like that.

But, I’m tired of this hodgepodge approach, and this seems like the perfect use case for trying out GitHub. So, I’m looking over my various projects and my use of Moq and creating my own personal Easy Moq library. If others find it useful, so much the better – please feel free to keep up with it, fork it, add to it, etc.

At the time of writing, I have three goals in mind (these may change as I TDD my way through and start eating my own dog food on real projects). In no particular order:

  • Create Mock inheritors that default to having specific test double behavior – dummies, stubs, spies, etc.
  • Be able to create and use my doubles with the semantics Dummy() or new Spy() rather than new Mock().Object
  • Be able to generate an actual class under test with all dependencies mocked as Dummy, Stub, Spy, etc.

For the first goal, I’ll refer to Niraj’s take on the taxonomy of test doubles. I haven’t yet decided exactly how I’ll define the particular doubles, but the ideas in that post are good background for my aims. Up to this point, if I want to create one of these things with Moq, I instantiate the double in the same fashion and my setup differs. I’d like to make the declaration semantics more expressive — declaring a DummyMock is more expressive as to your intent with the test than creating a Mock and doing nothing else to set it up. For more complicated doubles, this also has the pleasant effect of eliminating manual boilerplate like “SetupAllProperties()”.

For the second goal, this is probably lowest priority, but I’d like to be able to think of the doubles as entities unto themselves rather than wrappers that contain the entity that I want. It may seem like a small thing, but I’m a bit of a stickler (fanatic at times) for clear, declarative semantics.

For the third part, it’d be nice to add a dependency to a class and not have to go back and slaughter test classes with “Find and Replace” to change all calls to new Foo(bar) to new Foo(bar, baz), along with Baz’s setup overhead, particularly when those old tests, by definition, do not care about Baz. I realize that there is already a tool designed to do this (called AutoMoq), but it appears to be for use specifically with Unity. And besides, this is more about me organizing and standardizing my own existing code as well as getting to know GitHub.

So, that’s my first pet project contribution to Git Hub. If anyone gets any mileage out of it, Cheers. 🙂