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The Perils of Consulting

In November of 2008, I was winding up a project at Insurance Auto Auctions. The project had gone extremely well and I was walking out with a letter from a director on how satisfied they were with my work. Over the course of ten months, I made increment changes to their development practices. They already had a very mature and strong development environment that included all the necessary hardware and software. No architect or developer could ever say that they weren’t given the tools at Insurance Auto Auctions.

After convincing management that we needed a dedicated build server, the first thing I implemented was a set of middle-ware templates that acted as a framework for accessing their databases. Not as robust as nHibernate or any of the common frameworks, but tooled for their environment without all of the extra features that either confuse developers or entangle projects with needless work. For instance, the templates I use do not have relations built-in. You have to wire them up on your own. For most traditional CRUD development projects, you rarely need more than Fowler’s Table Module enterprise design pattern anyway.

The second step was to implement continuous integration using Cruise Control .NET. A fairly common tool in the development world, created by Martin Fowler’s Thoughtworks consulting firm. This gave us immediate feedback on checked in code.

Thirdly, we went round and round about how to build the new system. Did we want to use traditional WebForms? We’re we okay with using the beta of ASP.NET MVC? Did we want to role our own MVP (Model View Presenter) framework or possibly do something else? In the end, we decided the simplest implementation, for various reasons, was to create a home grown MVP framework. Of course MVP is considered obsolete now and we saw what people were recommending, but we moved forward anyway. We felt the ability to cleanly write unit tests was a critical aspect. The downside of course was that we had to rewrite a number of HTML controls that come out of the box in ASP.NET. The out of box controls use ViewState and with ViewState off, we had to go it alone, so to speak. Luckily we had Cliff on the team. Any team that has some has brilliant as Cliff should feel blessed. I’m a pretty smart guy, but more suited to larger problem solving. Cliff has a knack for needling through really fiddly problems with a very elegant solution.

We of course got buy-in to implement unit tests in Visual Studio .NET 2008 Team Test. We installed this on the build server and after every check-in, all tests were executed and the build failed if any tests failed.

The business side worked on user stories, the developers had meetings to gain an understanding of each story, and the rest they say, is history. the development went very smoothly. By implementing all of the code in a single solution and by also implementing a nifty web.config connection string locator, we were able to execute deployments with the built-in Publish feature in Visual Studio. After dealing with complex and error prone deployment processes in the past, the project manager was deleriously happy with the new process.

We deployed the web application to several servers in a farm and after some fairly minor performance tuning, the system was deemed stable and in production.

In the last few weeks of the project, I was also working on securing my next position. This proved to be a very important decision and one that seemed too good to be true. Alas, that old saying is only the tip of the iceberg and will be discussed in Part 2.

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