I have read many books on successful projects, project management,
development life cycles, quality code, etc. One of the pit falls I have
discovered with many (if not all) of these books is that they mostly focus on
team development. Most stress the need for quality assurance people, at
least 2 developers, project leads, etc. Unfortunately, this is not always
realistic and can seem overwhelming when a single developer is faced with large
I have been the only programmer at my employer for about 3 years now. I
am fortunate that my boss is an ex-programmer and has a good eye for
architectural details and big pictures. However, all of the architecture,
design, development, debugging, testing and refining work falls to me. I
do not have a staff to assist with the development, QA or testing so for just
about every aspect of development my company needs, I'm on my own. Many of
the projects I have worked on have been very small and accomplished in just a
couple of weeks, but others have spanned 3 years and are continuing.
To combat this problem I have been endeavoring to train myself on the best practices
and solutions to my problem. Many of the concepts outlined in the various
books can be easily applied to one-man-shows, but others cannot. As a
result I have searched for alternate solutions to the various problems I have
encountered. Most if not all of the solutions I have come up with are not
original and many of you will already know what I know and much more. I
decided to write this article in the hopes that it would help some other
developers AND that I could obtain feedback from the CP audience on best practices
and techniques for success.
I have broken this article into 2 primary sections. The first deals
with my observations and techniques regarding the non-technical aspects of my
job. The second deals with the technical aspects.
Before I begin I just want to say that I am no expert and the contents of
this article are my observations and techniques. You may have better
techniques or think that mine are terrible. I would love to hear from
you. I am interested in improving my abilities and skills and I am not
egotistical about my views in this regard. So, if you have a comment,
positive or negative, please leave me feedback and explain what you think.
In fact, if there seems to be consensus on better ways of doing things then I
will probably update this article to include those better techniques.
As stated before, I have divided this article into two sections. Before
I get into the details I am going to list the various bullet points here.
|1||Set personal goals|
|2||Read, Read, Read|
|3||Come out of the closet|
|4||Meetings are not all bad, just mostly bad|
|5||After hours is off limits|
|6||Set reasonable expectations|
|7||I'm not a programmer, I'm an architect|
| || |
|1||Plan, then code|
|2||The right tool for the right job|
|3||Fix bugs early|
|4||Develop good coding habits|
|5||Know thy enemy|
|6||Documentation is your friend|
|7||Form over function|
Set Personal Goals
This has been the single most important activity I have
undertaken. Setting and then working towards my goals has helped me to
find direction in my career as well as keeping me focused on the job. Some
of my goals are short term and can be achieved in under a month. Others
are more long term and may require more than a year to achieve. I write
these goals in a word document and review them often. Some of the goals I
have set for myself are listed below.
Read at least 1 programming book each month.
Read at least 1 non programming books each
Learn at least 1 new language this year.
Take the final test for my MCSD this year.
Develop and release at least one shareware application this
Write at least 1 article for CP every 3 months.
Write up the documentation framework for the XXX framework
Increase my salary 25% within 2 years.
My goals are intended to improve my skills as a programmer and
developer, but also to improve my viability when seeking a new job. One of
the things I have learned about goals is that any real goal must have a deadline
attached to it. You will notice that each of the goals I listed is
singular in nature and has a set deadline. The deadline is very important
because it guides me and helps me manage my time better. By knowing what I
want to achieve and having a deadline for that achievement I am not setting
myself up for failure, I am creating a healthy environment in which to build my
I don't always meet my goals but when I don't I review them to
understand why I did not meet them. Sometimes the reasons are beyond my
control and I simply readjust the goal to a more reasonable one.
Sometimes, however, the reason I did not meet my goal is because it was too ambitious
to be met. If this is the case I want to fully understand what part of the
goal is too ambitious. If the deadline is the problem, then I simply
adjust the deadline. If the problem is that the goal itself was
over-my-head then I create new goals which are the steps I need to take to
achieve the original goal.
Setting goals for myself has not been easy. I have had to
force myself to follow my own goals and I often find that I drift from the goals
for all kinds of reasons. The most important aspect of goals is not to set
myself up for failure. My goals are often challenging to achieve and
require that I sacrifice some other aspect of my life. Limiting my other sacrifices
to things I can live without is the key to success.
Read, Read, Read
Most successful software developers I have spoken with here on
CP and elsewhere would agree with this statement I think. Keeping
up-to-date and learning new languages, etc is extremely important to long term
success. No matter how good I am there is always someone better.
This is OK, especially when those who are better than me write books or articles
and I can learn from them.
In my early years of programming I did not read many books at
all. I tried to spend all of my time writing code and learning by reading
other peoples code. This worked up to a point, but failed miserably as
soon as I was faced with a problem that was beyond anything I had already
written or seen written. It took me a while to learn that reading was just
as important as the coding itself.
My next mistake was to focus only on reading programming/coding
books. This was better than not reading at all but still didn't help me
solve some of the more complicated problems. What was needed was for me to
begin reading more general technical books. Books on design patterns,
fuzzy logic, AI, etc. Most of these books don't contain much (if
any) source code at all. What these books did was to broaden my exposure
and help me to find better solutions to problems.
Reading coding as well as more broad technical books has made
quite a difference in my abilities. However, even this broader scope still
leaves some gaps in my abilities. I have learned that even more mundane
topics such as User interface design, usability, databases, etc are necessary as
well. With a complete range of technical books and articles I have been
able to broaden my horizons and greatly increase my ability as well as my
ability to get a job. Currently I read books on project management, team
growing, design patterns, C++, AI, UI design, usability, writing solid code, and
the list goes on.
One other area of reading that I have not begun to dive into yet
is non-technical, non-programming books. Books on sales and marketing,
branding, etc. I see the potential for these books to help me in marketing
and selling my shareware products as well as helping me to understand the needs
and requirements of the sales and marketing people I must work with.
Reading does not have to be books. It can be magazine
articles, MSDN, CP or any other source of knowledge you can find. At my
previous employer I had a budget for books and freely purchased books as often
as I liked. My current employer does not have such a budget so my book
buying has been greatly limited. I have been learning to leverage the free
and less expensive resources available from the internet and
Come out of the Closet
When I first began my career as a programmer I enjoyed the
endless hours of coding and would often not come out of my office except for
lunch and bathroom breaks. For me, this was a bad habit. It lead to
various problems, not the least of which was a disconnect with the rest of the
office. Now you may be thinking "what does this have to do with
programming?". Well, for me it had a lot to do with
programming. First, it made me appear reclusive and stand-offish (which
was basically true.) Second, it prevented me from stepping back from the
computer and trying to grasp the problem out of the context of code. The
first issue made it more difficult for end-users and my peers to discuss issues
with me. Also, it gave the impression to my peers and end-users that I
though of myself as an "elite". This was not true, but lead to
many interpersonal problems which had a direct impact on the quality of the
applications and modules I delivered. The second issue related to this was
just as severe. Failing to step away from the computer and think of the
problem instead of the solution is dangerous. Often by stepping away from
the computer and working on the problem a better solution can be achieved.
The typical business office is filled with people of various
skills and with various job descriptions. Even if the programs you are
developing are not targeting the type of people in your office, a lot can be
learned by observing how other people interact with their computers, and if you
are targeting your office staff this issue is even more important.
Ultimately, most software developed is not targeted at just the one who wrote
it. By staying alert and interacting with end-users you can gain valuable insight
into how software is used by the "Rest of the world".
If you work out of your house or in an office by yourself, this
still applies. It just requires a little more travel on your part.
Meetings are not all bad, just mostly bad
I dread meetings. I don't like attending them and I don't
like having to be involved when I have to attend. However, my approach to
meetings has changed quite a bit in the past few years. I used to attend
them with the intention of not saying a word and slipping out of them at the
earliest possible moment. I have learned that not all meetings are
bad. Some are even useful. The key question that I ask myself when
attending a meeting is "What can I gain from this meeting to improve my
skills?". That is the only question I need to ask because if I
improve my skills it will have a positive impact on the project I am working on
as well. Now you may be wondering what kind of skills you can improve from
a meeting. The skills I have identified that meetings can hone are 1) my
ability to quickly disseminate technical information to non-technical people, 2)
better understand how other people think and 3) better organize the information
I receive at meetings.
Meetings that have no direction and seem to just "blow in
the wind" are the worst of all. I hate them. As far as I can
tell there is no benefit whatsoever to my presence and it just annoys me to no
end. The meetings that I can tolerate have a defined agenda and a set time
limit (one hour is still too much for most, though.) If a meeting does not have
a defined agenda I will usually back out of it with whatever excuse I can come
up with. If it is set for a long period of time I want to know that that
time is well spent and is not going to cover too much ground.
Some of the warning signs that a meeting is useless are:
No agenda. This is a dead giveaway. If the
person calling the meeting can't tell you exactly what its about, take a
Too long. Either this meeting is covering way to many
topics or there are going to be some long-winded people there.
Too many people.
The wrong people.
Not all meetings can be avoided, unfortunately. Even some
useless ones must be attended to keep a job, keep the boss happy or keep a
On the few occasions where I have had to be the presenter for a
meeting I have tried to follow some simple guidelines based on the negative
issues I listed above.
Create an outline for whatever it is I am going to be
If my audience is non-technical, run though the outline with
my wife (she is non technical).
Set a time limit.
Only invite the people that I really need to be there.
After Hours is Off Limits
I have worked quite a few late nights and many times have worked
though one day and into the next. However when I look back at those
occasions and try to understand why I did it I usually come to the conclusion
that it was unnecessary. Had I done a better job of planning or taken a
more pragmatic approach to a problem the extra time could have been
avoided. This problem is especially thorny if you are not being paid by
the hour. There have been a few occasions where I can't see any other way
around it, but an honest inspection of the details has shown me that the truth
in most situations is that the late night was my fault. The three most
common reasons for this have been 1) failing to set reasonable expectations, 2)
gold-plating and 3) failing to adequately test.
Part of the problem with after hours work is that it cuts into
my family time. Another aspect, however, is that it leads to bad
habits. At one point, I found myself saying to myself (and others) that I
would have a particular feature/component/whatever finished by Monday
morning. This is a dead giveaway for a problem. How can anything be
ready in the morning unless you plan to work on it at night?
Another problem I have discovered with after hours work is that
I tend to produce poorer quality code after hours. This is probably
because I don't like having to do it and partially because I am rushed to
This insight leads to several practical changes in the way I
When I tell people when something will be available it is
never in the morning and rarely Monday.
When I make schedules and plans I base those plans on the
work day and do not consider weekends and after hours.
I force myself to manage my time better. I watch how
long my lunches are and how long I spend checking email and surfing the web.
I develop in the morning and test in the afternoon.
Knowing this I do not plan to accomplish 8 hours of coding. Instead I
get 4-5 hours of coding and 3-4 hours of testing and debugging.
I value my personal time and although I don't mind working hard
and (when necessary) long hours, I try to stay within a reasonable limit
regarding time at work.
Set Reasonable Expectations
Most people I have worked with have been fairly
reasonable. Most of the major problems I have encountered with people not
being pleased with my work have revolved around me not setting their
expectations correctly. This can be as simple as setting a deadline too
early or as involved as showing a beta version of a product without explaining
what it is first.
In one situation I ran into, I needed to show a beta version of
a product I was working on to the client. I proceeded to sit down at a
computer and show off the applications features and what it could do. I
was confident that the program wouldn't blow up, and it didn't. Once I had
finished the presentation I realized that the client was not pleased at all even
though I felt that the demo had went well. The client was upset because I
did not show them the features they cared about. Not only that, but they
felt that the time that had been spent so far was wasted because the features
they wanted to see weren't implemented. This lead to a great deal of
confusion and problems. In all reality, the client did not need to see the
software at all. What the client wanted to know was that I understood
their problem well and could solve it for them. Showing the software to
them at the early stage was a mistake because it shattered their expectations
and reset their future expectations much lower than they should have been.
In another situation my boss needed to know when I could have
something working. I told him that it would take me a couple of weeks to
set it up and get it running. My understanding was that he just needed a
working model, not a finished product. 2 weeks passed by and I delivered
the whatever it was and to my dismay he was not pleased because it was
incomplete. The error handling had not been fully coded, the UI needed
some tweaking and it was somewhat slow. Now he was stuck because he needed
to make a presentation to a client and the product wasn't where he wanted it to
be. The problem here wasn't that he gave me insufficient directions, the
problem was that I gave him unreasonable expectations. First, I should
have been specific about what I could get done in 2 weeks. Second, I
should have asked questions as to what he needed it for, etc. If I had
said 3 weeks, he would simply have set the appointment with the client for 3
weeks out instead of 2 and there wouldn't had been a problem. Even if 2
weeks had been a firm timeframe, I would have been able to tell him what was
going to be lacking in the 2 week version. Instead I ended up working a
couple of late nights to sharpen it up.
The moral of this story is that people want to be told reality
as they see it, not as I see it. The reality was that in both situations I failed to
set the expectations of my user (client/boss) and as a result paid a price in
respect and time. I had the power and opportunity to set proper
expectations and instead ran headlong into a bad situation unnecessarily.
I'm not a Programmer, I'm an Architect
Nowadays, anyone can
pickup HTML, VBScript, etc without too much technical skills. The title
"programmer" does not have the respect that it merits. As a
result I have tried to acquire a name for myself as an engineer or
architect. I want the people I work with to think of me as more than a
coder. In addition, I would rather put "Senior Software
Architect" on my resume instead of "Programmer". By
establishing this title with the people I work with now I will have no problem
telling my future employers what my title was.
Another aspect of this is that I am not technical support.
I don't want to be known as the "computer guy" who everyone comes to
when their computers won't boot. It distracts me from my job and detours
me from my goals. By establishing an expectation among the people I work
with I have managed to avoid this issue almost entirely.
Plan, then Code
Many of the projects I work on are short term projects which must be
completed in under a month. In my early years this would have lead to an
instant desire to jump in and start coding the solution. This type of
effort has frequently back-fired on me. Either the resulting solution is
not right or the code is littered with bugs. Either way a serious problem
in the end.
Most books preach the need for phased development involving requirements
analysis, architectural design and detailed design prior to any real code being
done. This is fine and good when you have a team of developers working on
a long project, but for short term projects especially when I'm by myself, this
can seem like a lot of unnecessary labor. The reality is that this phased
development still applies and is even more important when I'm working
alone. One part of the early design that I feel is omitted from many of
the books is vision.
For some reason most books do not cover this, but I feel it is at least as
important as any other aspect of the design. When I say vision, I am
talking about what does the person/people asking for the product intend to do
with it and how do they envision it working. Do they plan to send it out
to customers as a shrink-wrapped program? Is it going to be shown to
clients/customers? Do they see it as an excel spreadsheet, access
database or something entirely custom? A task bar item? A plug in
for some other product?
Knowing what the vision for a product is greatly simplifies the
requirements analysis and later phases of development. Having a complete
understanding of the vision empowers me to talk with the people involved at a
higher level and with more confidence. It also empowers me to do a
better job of making decisions on my own in regards to the project.
Often the project seems so simple that there is no need for this
phase. The reality in these situations is this is where a requirements
analysis can make the biggest (percentage-wise) difference in the time it
takes to complete the project. Often the project specification is done
by a non-technical person (sales or marketing, etc). They typically omit
important details which without asking I would never know about. Simply
writing up the requirements in an HTML document and reviewing it with the
appropriate people will usually flush out the missing details.
Having a good working relationship with the important people is extremely
important at this point. The ability to communicate in non-technical
terms pays off every time. Sometimes the missing details can be as
simple as "I want it to print landscape by default". These
kinds of things are easy to deal with and would probably not impact the
overall design or implementation at all. Other times, it can be "I
want all edit boxes to be spell checked automatically like the other
apps." This may not be an issue either, but is usually a bigger
issue and needs to be understood early.
This exact situation has happened to me. I have an application which
took several months to develop and has rich-edit style edit controls
throughout the application to allow for text formatting. Another project
came up which was just a 1-3 week type project and the users were expecting it
to work the same way. The requirements provided to me did not detail
this and at first it did not cross my mind since the type of application was
simple. Had I not stopped and asked for more details this would have
been a big problem.
On small projects this phase usually takes less than 1 day but is also very
important. Building on a proper architecture makes actual implementation
much easier and usually results in a more flexible product in the end.
Typically I use a white board in my office to lay out the architecture and
work out any problems. My boss is very good at this and usually helps me
quite a bit, fortunately.
Typically I don't document the architectural design that I end up
with. This has proven to be a mistake for me. Many times I have
had to explain various aspects of projects I developed some time ago.
Usually I don't need to know the details of how the code is written, the
architecture is all I need to know to answer most questions. This is
definitely an area I need to work on in the future.
I could write page after page on how to do this phase, but there are many
books out there that provide excellent detail on this phase of development.
OK. OK. I admit I have never done a detailed design of anything. Even
for the multi-year projects I have worked on I have not done this. Would
it have helped? I doubt it.
The Right Tool for the Right Job
I consider myself a C++ programmer. However, C++ is not always the
right tool for every job. I firmly believe that as a developer part of my
responsibility is to decide what tool to use to solve each problem. C++ is
not always a good solution for a web application. Nor is it wise to use it
when a simple excel spreadsheet would suffice. Choosing an appropriate
tool to finish a project and maintain it is an important decision. As an
example, a couple of years ago I needed a tool to update some tables in a
database that gets used quite often. I could have written a C++ app to do
this, but I chose to create a simple MS Access database with some link tables, a
coupe queries and 3-4 forms. This solution has served me well up until
Sometimes languages are like religions. Some C++ developers are so
zealous about it that they will use C++ to solve every problem they come
to. Granted, C++ is extremely flexible and powerful and in the right hands
can do just about anything. However, sometimes it just isn't the best
too. ASP and VBScript is often a better solution for a simple web app than
writing a complete ISAPI extension. It just depends on the needs of the
Another aspect of this is 3rd party libraries and open-source code. At
one time I wanted to implement everything myself. This has come back to bite me
more times than I care to remember. I have learned to scour the web for
open-source solutions to many of my problems. Also, I try and stray
abreast of the available libraries and toolkits that exist so that I can (when
needed) ask for the money to buy them. Using other people's code is a
great thing. It can greatly reduce total development time AND many times
someone else has done a much better job that I could do myself. The moral
of this is not to get caught up in the "all-mine" approach.
Leverage other people's work and libraries as much as possible.
Yet another aspect of this is the development environment itself. I use
a pretty plane-jane version of MS Visual C++. I have tried Visual Assist
and WndTabs and although I liked both of them I found that their overall impact
on my productivity was not very much. This is not to say that your work
habits won't benefit more from these than I did (BTW They are both great
products.). My point is that you should try various configurations and
available tools to improve your environment for your needs. If Visual
Assist helps you, use it.
Fix Bugs Early
I can't stress this enough. From my own experience I can state
unequivocally that leaving bugs in code thinking I will fix them later is the
worst habit I have ever had. I have had to force myself to rethink how I
work to avoid this. This habit creates bad problems later in the
project. Either they never get fixed, they get forgotten and customers
find them, they screw up the schedule or they introduce problems into the
architecture which result in me pigeon-holing a solution instead of fixing them
This has been a difficult habit for me to break. Sometimes I think that
a bug can wait because the next feature on my list is more important than the
one where the bug exists. This may be true, but is not an excuse.
Failing to fix the bug will only result in a cascading list of bugs which will
just cause more and more problems.
A corollary to this is that testing is very important at every stage of
development. In the early stages of development I typically spend 3-5
hours of pure coding with no compiles or debugging in-between. Then I
spend the rest of the day testing the code I have implemented. (This may
not be a text-book method, but it works for me.) Sometimes I must spend an
hour or so developing a test-bed in which to test the component I have worked
on, but this has been well worth the effort.
One habit I have discovered that helps to limit the number of bugs I create
is to comment the code where a bug has been found and fixed even if it is found
on the first day of development. This helps me to remember what I did and
what to avoid the next time I have to modify a section of code. Another
habit which has helped to reduce the number of bugs is not to rely on the
compiler to identify problems for me. Just because code compiles does not
mean it works. I try and avoid compiling my code every 5 minutes and
instead do a compile only a few times a day. Instead I use the compiler as a
window into my code. I use level 4 warnings which can identify certain
problems very early in the process.
Develop Good Coding Habits
Good coding habits are very important to the quality of the code produced as
well as to the quality of the final product which uses the code. Nothing
earth shattering here, just learned behavior. Some of the most important
habits I have learned are:
- Initialize all variables to zeros. If I declare an int I do this (int
iValue = 0;) if I allocate a char array I do this (char szTemp;
- Check the return codes of all function calls.
- Catch all exceptions at an appropriate level and deal with them. One
of the bad habits I had earlier in my career was to setup an empty catch
block and think I was going to fill it in later.
- When defining function prototypes consider error conditions. This
means deciding whether to return a bool or an int (an int can return a set
of predefined flags indicating what kind of problem occured. A bool
can only indicate success/failute.) If there is additional info that a
simple code can supply, consider passing in a string or other variable by
reference to hold the extra error information OR consider throwing an
- Never pass objects by value unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. (I can't
think of a situation where this has ever been necessary, but there might
- Use GOTOs wisely. The only place I have every used a goto (that I
can think of) is in a lexical parser I had to write a few years ago.
- Create more utility classes than program-specific classes.
- Think about how a piece of code might be used in another project and go
ahead and develop for that. (Don't take this to an extreme, though.)
- Comment judiciously. When I write code comments I try to comment on
the architecture and purpose of a function/class instead of on the lowest
level of details.
- The equality operator and the set operator are not the same DAMN@!#$#
thing. I can't remember how many times I have done if (x=y). To
avoid this I have created inline functions like FPSCompareString,
FPSCompareInt, FPSCompareLong, FPSCompareFloat, FPSCompareDate, etc which
have virtually eliminated this problem from my code.
I'm sure there are hundreds of other rules I could write up but that could
take whole books. The bottom line for me is that there is no one to review
my code or help me when problems arise. If I can eliminate the most common
problems I can spend more of my time working on the more serious problems.
Know Thy Enemy
We are all familiar with the phrase "keep your friends close, any your
enemies closer". I have learned that this applies to software
development as well. For me I have two enemies in regards to my
work. The first is procrastination and the second is gold plating.
In my earlier career I procrastinated on pieces of my code which were new
territory for me because I was afraid of failure. Now I procrastinate on
the pieces of my code which are mundane and boring. The results are the
same, unfortunately. I end up working longer hours than I should because
of my own failures. I continue to struggle with this enemy but knowing
that it is a problem is at least a start.
The other enemy to my work has been gold plating. I know. I know. We
all want to work with the latest technology, explore some new technique, use
some whatever we found in a CUJ article last week. Sometimes this is a
good thing and can result in better code or a better end product. Often,
however, the gold plating has no positive impact on the end product as far as
the user is concerned. I have learned to limit the gold plating that I
undertake to the very end of projects and to my side projects. This has
paid off immensely in my opinion. By limiting the gold plating until the
end of a project I limit the chance that I will go over the schedule or be
forced to leave a bad implementation intact.
Whatever your enemies are, you should be aware of them and combat them at
Documentation is Your Friend
I can't tell you how many times I have been asked the same question by 2 or 3
different people. I hate it. One of the areas I am currently working
on is learning to document not just my code but the user interface and the
questions/answer sessions I have with users. I firmly believe that this
documentation will reduce my workload by limiting the number of Q+A sessions I
have with users on the same repeating questions.
At this point I am not concerned with finding the best documentation product
or tools. I am mainly interested in getting the documentation started and
developing the habit of maintaining it. I have chosen to use a simple HTML
based documentation library (no special tools) and setup a simple web site
organized by project and use MS Index server to allow simple searches. I
feel that this will allow me to easily move to a more sophisticated solution
I don't have a budget for this so it's one of those personal projects that I
take on. In the future I am going to be adding documentation time to my
time/schedule estimates and making it clear that this is part of my process.
Form Over Function
I am not advocating pretty UI's with lousy functionality here. What I
am advocating is that the UI is important to the overall projects success and is
an important aspect of where I want my career to go. The UI is the part of
the product that a customer/user sees. They typically don't care about whether
I used a quick sort or a bubble sort for a particular feature. Again, I am
not advocating using poor techniques to solve problems. There are many
simple steps that you can take to improve the user experience and prevent
Some simple things I have observed:
- Standardize on the alignment of text in all forms, dialog boxes,
etc. I prefer left align text.
- Standardize on the placement of control buttons (OK/CANCEL). I
prefer bottom right.
- As much as possible make all message-box type messages customizable from
outside the app. I have a table in every database I create where I put
- Use progress bars to indicate that a process is continuing. Avoid
progress bars which repeat. (Ie. reach 100% and then restart at
0%). I have found that this confuses users. Instead when I have
long running transactions I use a ticker of some kind (a clock works well)
to indicate movement but leave the progress bar to a 100%.
- Take the 5-10 minutes it takes to set tab orders for all controls on all
forms, dialogs, etc.
- Terminology is important. This can be very important because you may
think of an particular function as a "pre processor", but the user
may think of it as a single step of "transmission". One
place this has bit me is when customers called clients customers and I
called them customers. Very simple to do if you know about it.
- Avoid non-standard controls.
- Avoid the tree control unless your users are relatively advanced or are
already familiar with it. My experience indicates that typical
end-users have trouble with tree controls.
- Tool-tips are wonderful only when the text that appears makes sense to the
Some other suggestions I would make to the stand alone
Find and use a source control product. Use it
consistently. (MS SourceSafe is better than nothing.)
Leverage CodeProject for all its worth. There are literally
thousands of wonderful articles and code snippets here.
Stay focused on your personal goals.
Get in the habit of documenting your thoughts and
ideas. You never know when one of them will pay off.
Subscribe to as many magazines and journals as you can (not
just technical ones). Many tech journals have free subscriptions
Keep up-to-date on the progress technologies are making even
if you don't like them. (Ie. Java, MS, whatever.)
Being a stand-along programmer can be a daunting task and
sometimes be overwhelming. Learning to leverage the experience for your
personal goals will make it much much easier. Lack of code reviews and
technical help can lead in two directions. Either you will get lazy and
allow you skills to lapse or you will become more serious about improving your
skills and ultimately making yourself more sellable if/when you search for
another job or seek a raise.