Why apprentices work well with Dynamics development

Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art. Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

It’s not the quality of the plan but the quality of the people that is vital to success #HoskWisdom

Capgemini has a degree apprentice scheme which offers an alternative to going to university, it allows you to study for a degree funded by Capgemini, whilst working full time.

In 2018 Capgemini are hoping to add 90 apprentices.   Watching apprentices grow and improve is like a home-grown player making the football team, it feels more rewarding.

The Capgemini Dynamics team added at least two apprentices each year for the last 2 years and it’s worked well.

The cost of degree?

The cost of degrees in the UK is huge, students pay back via a percentage of their wages for 20 years after graduation (the degree gets them a better paying job and worth the investment)

With degree’s costing so much money, I’m surprised alternatives or getting a degree at university is still the popular choice.

Alternatives such as

  • Making degrees into 2 years (do you need 3 months off for summer?)
  • Night school
  • smaller focused courses relevant to software engineering/programming or other specialisations

The cost of a degree is £9000 per year (tuition fees, excluding living costs) lasting 3 years, people should question

  1. Is a degree worth the money?
  2. is a degree worth the time?
  3. What are the alternatives?

The Capgemini Dynamics team experience

we had at least 2 apprentices each year for the past 2 years and it worked well.  The apprentices are put onto projects and work as Dynamics developers.

Recent articles on apprentices on the Capgemini Dynamics team blog

Apprentices often learn faster than experienced developers who have learnt bad habits.  The Capgemini Dynamics team bring the best practices of software engineering to Dynamics development

  • Plugin framework
  • Unit testing
  • code using business logic and repository pattern
  • DevOps (CI, CD)
  • GIT not TFS (pull requests differ from check ins :-))

The apprentices pick up the development process often quicker than experienced developers because they haven’t got use to writing code without designing their code or writing unit tests.

Some CRM developers don’t see the value of unit tests but if you are working on a large projects and don’t write unit tests the quality of your code base will deteriate.  The effects of reduce quality code is harder to read, maintain, test and extend your code; The project will slow down and make any changes costly in terms of time and money.

Articles on why you should unit test

Articles on designing code and technical debt

My experiences

The apprentices are are expected to

  • Contribute ideas
  • One Microsoft Dynamics Certification each year
  • Share information with the team (presentations, blog posts)

These help the software engineers learn about Dynamics 365, integrate and get engaged with the team.  Studying for Dynamics certification allows apprentices to learn Microsoft Dynamics 365 quickly and learning good software engineering principles takes longer.  Using frameworks and code reviews you can make sure junior developers creating code the right way.

Junior developers work best on a project with experienced developers who help them with the intricacies of Microsoft Dynamics development (which has it’s idiosyncratic ways of doing things).

Summary

Its a great way to get a degree and Dynamics project experience without the debt (it does take longer to get your degree)

You need to be hard working and dedicated to take this route but the benefit is you get your degree paid and project experience.  The downside is it takes longer to finish the degree and you need to study and work.

It’s amazing to think of the practical experience the apprentices get working on projects, learning from software engineers whilst people studying at university only have theoretical knowledge.

I look forward to the Capgemini Dynamics team getting more apprentices each year.  You can find out more here if you want to learn more about it.

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The Hosk is writing again

Never be afraid to throw away all your ideas and start again with a blank page #HoskWisdom
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Benjamin Franklin

Tasked with creating the social media strategy for the Capgemini Dynamics team, it has got me back into the habit of writing.  I have created a Capgemini Dynamics publication (https://medium.com/capgemini-dynamics-365-team) on Medium and share the good practices and great work the team are doing.  It will include other team members contributing posts as well my writing

This  prompted me to write on my blog – Why developers should read books, I enjoy thinking and writing (publishing your best thoughts).  Writing is a tool for teaching yourself and extracting knowledge from experience through reflection.

Busy busy busy

Why wait for tomorrow, when you can start today #HoskWisdom

I have been busy with project work, thinking and reading that I neglected to write, I got out of the habit.  Everyone is busy making excuses, to explain why they aren’t doing what they really want to be doing, you have to admit it and change.

It doesn’t feel I stopped writing blogs because there are tons of notepads and Evernote pages full of half-written blog posts.  Writing clarifies thought and helps you understand your approach to problems.

Writing

I enjoy the writing process because thinking about a subjects helps you understand.  Many thoughts don’t make the finished post because one thought leads to another.  The quality of thought and understanding grows with each thought.  At the end you step back and view all your ideas and take the best bits and organise them into an interesting structure before sharing it with the world.

I’m going to extreme 365 in Dubrovnik because of my blog, another reason I’m thankful to my blog.

Older blog posts are thoughts, experiences, challenges and problems I experienced, there are over 1000 posts and I can’t remember most of them but I don’t need to because I can go back and read them.  I view the blog as a storing my thoughts and knowledge in the cloud with the benefit of being searchable by myself and others.

Be ready to read more Hosk writing this year

Dream big but start small #HoskWisdom

Why developers should read books

Those who read, get better #HoskWisdom

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body – Joseph Addison

 

Yesterday was world book day  #WorldBookDayUK #WorldBookDay, its like an extra birthday for me because I’m allowed to buy a book without being told I already have mountains of books to read.  it’s a big event where children go to school dressed as their favourite characters (see mini Hosk’s above).

I believe people should read more books, I will outline the benefits of reading to try and persuade developers to pick up a book

Below are reading numbers, it varies between countries, ages and skewed by book worms.

The page from 2016 – How many books does the average person read

The average number of books each person read over the course of a year was 12…but that number is inflated by the most avid readers. The most frequently reported number was 4 books per year

 

This post from 2016 – How many books does the average British person read per year?

According to a YouGov survey, the mean number of books read for pleasure by adults in the UK is around 10 each year, and the median is around 4

 

The average person reads 4 books a year (I wonder how many they finish), an impressively low number when you consider the hours watching terrible TV or time spent on social media (I’m guilty of this too).

Why don’t developer read books

The common reasons developers don’t read are

  • People view books as old fashioned
  • They don’t want to invest the time to read a book
  • Easy to search for answers on the internet, you need not read a book
  • Many prefer reading articles
  • Developers watch videos on Youtube, DLP or Pluralsight, etc

Evidence for developers not reading books is in the number of books for developers.  Lots of people earn a living as a developer/software engineer but the number of books available is low.  Not many technical books sell in large numbers (this may be due to them degrading quickly with new versions of software etc)

Developers learn through trying to figure out problems and if they can’t resolve it they search for the answer on the internet.

stackoverflow.com was created because the creators felt developers were reading less, read about the concept here

Programmers seem to have stopped reading books. The market for books on programming topics is miniscule compared to the number of working programmers.

Instead, they happily program away, using trial-and-error. When they can’t figure something out, they type a question into Google.

 

Jeff Atwood of Coding horror blog (whose book I read Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code) has a good post  Programmers Don’t Read Books  But You Should 

Jeff mentions many technical books are poorly written, uninteresting loaf of bread sized beasts you can barely pick up let alone read.  You can skip the introduction chapter of most of them as they summarise the invention of a programming language or the internet.

Offices are littered with huge technical books squatting on developers desks either elevating monitors or with the goal of making the developer seem more knowledgeable.

You learn how and why

When you copy and paste code, a unicorn dies a slow painful death #HoskCodeWisdom

The common approach for developers is to get a task, search for the answer on the internet, copy the code and go onto the next task.

This skips the learning,  leaving the developer with the answer but not the knowledge and stops the developer from learning.  The approach is inefficient, the developer doesn’t acquire the knowledge to avoid trouble and only able to find solution to problems after they have arisen.  It’s difficult to search for solutions if you lack the understanding to diagnose problems, you can hit many dead ends before finding the solution.

With difficult problems with no solutions on the internet the developer gets stuck, not having the  knowledge or skills to resolve the problem.

Books give  you depth

I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it – Woodrow Wilson

 

Reading a book is like conversing with an expert, a 1-1 with the best software engineer you have ever met.

Writing a book involves  thinking and writing deeply on a subject and putting their best ideas in a way the reader can understand them.  Focused concentration allows the writer to get deep into the subject and explain the why behind the subject.

Great programming books are popular and relevant for years because its not writing the code but the design, decoupling, SOLID Principles, design patterns, naming which are important to create simple code.  This advice will be useful as long as humans are writing code.

If you want to improve as a Dynamics developer read this How to improve as Dynamics 365 developer, it has links for designing and writing better code articles

Short cut to success

The misconception about reading books is it‘s a long process,  people don’t have enough time to read and it’s a slow method to learn.  Reading books allows you to learn from the experience, ability and ideas of a talented and experienced developer.

Reading a book is your will use the best practices the author has learnt and avoid the mistakes they made.  Reading a book is working smarter not harder.

Stop to think

Reading focuses your thoughts and your concentration on one thing. You benefit from authors ideas and overlay your experiences and thoughts.

Time spent thinking is never wastedit helps you clarify your thoughts and understand 

Ideas

Reading is useful tool to improving your knowledge and improve your craft.  You should aim to become craftsman, consistently improving your technique.

Are you a Dynamics Craftsman or a CRM developer?

Reading books on other subjects gives you a different view  of developing and helps you create new ideas by combining different ideas and concepts from other professions

If you worked with great developers you wouldn’t need to read their books because you could talk with them but for most of us reading a book is the nearest we can get.

Good developers read books

The best developers I have worked with read books because they want to learn.  A great way to learn is from someone who is an expert on a subject and reading a book is a method to access an expert.

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

CEO’s read 4-5 books per month according to the article – how many books does the average person read, lists of not technical recommended reading below and reading habits

If you need help to read more books these articles will help

What should developers read

If you want to read the impact on some of some CRM Development books had on the Hosk as a junior developer read this blog post

Meet great Dynamics 365 people in London 21st November 6pm

I am convinced working on enterprise IT projects is for madmen, and I must be one of them #HoskWisdom

My favourite type of person, is a Dynamics 365 person #hoskwisdom

The Hosk is going to the a meetup in London tomorrow to meet like minded Dynamics professionals, so if you are in the Greater London area please come along

You can hear some live HoskWisdom or hear me talk about how the Capgemini Dynamics team deliver enterprise Dynamics 365 projects

The Capgemini Dynamics 365 DevOps

How we are bringing the best practices from software engineering to Dynamics 365 development

or

just talk about Dynamics 365 development and have a few beers.

It’s a chance to meet the Hosk and say, hmm I thought you would be taller or you are more hairy in person.

If you live in London and love Dynamics 365 or writing code, come down the pub for some drinks, food and networking courtesy of hunters recruitment

 

How to improve as Dynamics 365 developer

Everyone wants to improve but few want to put in the work needed to get better #HoskWisdom

Becoming a champion is not an easy process… It is done by focusing on what it takes to get there and not on getting there – Nick Saban

 

Improving as a Dynamics 365 developer takes dedication and persistence.  It takes years to build up your experience and knowledge but you can speed up the process by learning from the mistakes and experience of others.

This blog post my advice to Dynamics 365 developers who want to improve.  The core message of the post was written to a frustrated junior developer who wrote me an email simply saying “I want to stop making mistakes and get better, what is the quickest way to improve.”

A few posts improving and tips to improve, start by reading those

No shortcuts

Becoming a good Dynamics developer is difficult and takes time, which is why there are so few good Dynamics developers.

 No shortcuts to becoming an awesome Dynamics 365 developer 

It involves focus, effort and learning from your mistakes.  The more focus on improving the quicker you will improve.   It takes time for your skills, knowledge and experience to accumulate and learn from your mistakes.

Aim to finish work wiser about Microsoft Dynamics than you when you started.  Each day learn something new, improve your skills and reflect on your experiences

If you want to be a better coder then commit to being better and start being a better coder now #HoskCodeWisdom

There is no shortcut, only time and dedication.  Warren Buffett talks about Charlie Munger and his focus

“Charlie, as a very young lawyer, was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, “Who’s my most valuable client?” And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on these construction projects and real estate deals. Everybody should do this, be the client, and then work for other people, too, and sell yourself an hour a day.”

Enjoy being a Dynamics developer

 “You must understand the following: In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it. Your interest must transcend the field itself and border on the religious.” ― Robert GreeneMastery 

 

If you don’t enjoy Dynamics development you will find the work boring and the days long.  If you are not passionate, you won’t care enough and you devote the time needed to improve.

Want to improve

Development is difficult but rewarding when you do it well #HoskCodeWisdom

Improvement comes from within, it‘s a desire to get better.  You need a passion for development, keep motivated, know why you want to improve if you don’t have a good reason you will give up.

It’s a slow process of continuous improvement, end each day learning something new or improving skills.  This is sucking less each day.  Junior Dynamics developers struggle with the limitations of Dynamics 365 functionality, often creating a customisation only to find due to a limitation the solution won’t work.

Why .NET developers struggle with CRM Development

A student mindset uses opportunities to learn and improve,  the more experience and knowledge you build the fewer mistakes you make.

“Most people don’t have the patience to absorb their minds in the fine points and minutiae that are intrinsically part of their work. They are in a hurry to create effects and make a splash; they think in large brush strokes.

Their work inevitably reveals their lack of attention to detail – it doesn’t connect deeply with the public, and it feels flimsy.”
― Robert GreeneMastery

Visualise your day – plan your day

What will you check? What processes will you follow?  When visualizing the perfect day, remind yourself how you should do everything.

Plan your day, make sure you tackle the important tasks and don’t be reactive to change via email or requests.  Developers need to concentrate and focus on one task, avoid switching between many tasks and losing time through switching.

Don’t let email push low priority tasks to the front of the queue,  Email tasks can be the tasks which shout the loudest but the task you do next should be the most important.

Reflect

Learn from your experiences, review your mistakes you and avoid repeating them.  Inspecting how you work and adapting, keep improving.

Learn from your mistakes, identify patterns, catch yourself from being busy but not productive.

The person who doesn’t learn from their mistakes, repeats them.  Don’t waste your experiences, make the most of them.

Start with the SDK

The CRM SDK is the main tool for a CRM developer, the better a CRM developer knows its capabilities, limitations, and documentation the better they do their job.

Every time you don’t understand something, read the Dynamics 365 SDK, understand it, master it.

Improve code quality

Read Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship.  To write simple code you need to understand design principles are important, they decouple code and avoid making code brittle.

Brittle code with large methods is hard to read and breaks.  When you change one line of code ,it breaks other unrelated parts of the code.  Controlling dependencies and decoupling code allows you to manage the effects of change.

Naming is important, go back over your code and get the names of variables, methods and classes correct.  Like writing a book, developers never give the best names in the first draft, it‘s important to edit, refactor and refine your code.  The first draft gets it working, further drafts are to simplify and improve readability.

Design code

Don’t just write code. Think about it, design it, write it, refactor it, be proud of it #HoskCodeWisdom

Before you start typing, spend time designing your code, find classes and abstractions.  Designed code is easier to read, debug, reuse, unit test, maintain and extend.  All code has an impact, well-designed code minimizes the dependencies

Understand SOLID principles

SOLID principles are the building blocks of good code.  You will produce better quality code, fewer dependencies, and fewer problems later.  SOLID principles help developers recognise good code.

Help yourself

Don’t suffer in silence and sit frozen in front of the code, don’t waste time not making progress.  Don’t look give me the answer, I want to be pointed in the right direction.  Software development has lots of dead ends where to solve a problem you must rule out options and clarify assumptions.

Resolving your own problems is time-consumingbe pragmatic and know when to spend the time learning it yourself and when to get help.

A useful tool is to describe my problems to a toy/cardboard developer,  explaining the problem to the toy and myself I can uncover the solution and I avoid wasting other peoples time.

Why all developers should be friends with a cardboard developer

Understand how Dynamics CRM works

He who knows the most, get’s paid the most #HoskWisdom

Take every opportunity to understand how Dynamics 365 works. A greater knowledge of Dynamics 365 allows consistent choice of the right customisations and enabling quicker trouble shooting.

Dynamics 365 error messages point you in the right direction

Seek out what you are weakest

Improve knowledge and skills, build up your experience.  Don’t hide from these, focus and improve.  Use weaknesses and mistakes as triggers for learning.

Its better to learn functionality before it’s needed on a customer project, where the pressure is on and deadlines are looming.

How to cope when you are out of your Developer comfort zone

Learn from colleagues

Fellow developers are walking, talking troves of knowledge and experience,  learn from their experience.

Colleagues might be useful sources of knowledge but don’t ask them for help without trying to solve problems yourself.  Solving problems yourself gives you the solution and the learning.

The goal is to create customisations delivering the required functionality but it‘s the journey which improves your skills.  Create customisations and get senior developer to ratify your solution.

All developers have tips, tricks and shortcuts which can help you, if you ask and talk to them.

Write unit tests

Know how are you going to test the logic of your code, understand every line of code is doing what it should.

Test your code with unit testsit‘s best practice and encourages you to write decoupled code which is easy to unit test.

A good framework is Unit Testing Microsoft Dynamics CRM using FakeXrmEasy Framework

At Capgemini we structure plugins to separate business logic and repository layer (CRM SDK CRUD) to make testable.

Unit tests are a vital part of emerging code design 

When manually testingDonjust test the happy path

Talk Dynamics 365

Talk Microsoft Dynamics 365 with your colleagues and you will learn something or at worst give information to someone else.

Share knowledge with the team and work together to create a broad knowledge of Dynamics 365 bringing in your differences experiences and thoughts.

Be organised

Don’t waste time looking for files, projects and code.  Be professional, be organised and minimise distractions.

Get Certified

Certifications gives a more rounded and in-depth knowledge of Dynamics 365.  Investigating functionality in Dynamics 365 which they no practical experience of.

Dynamics 365 is the developers main tool, they should know it inside, outside, up and down.

Studying for Dynamics certifications helps to understand the limitations of Dynamics 365 functionality.  Limitations are key factors when deciding the right customization for a requirement.

Average is not good enough

Developer skills are like a snowball, they start off small and quickly pick up speed as your knowledge and skills grow #HoskWisdom

Don’t do average work, do great work.  Customers and other developers can quickly tell if someone is delivering quality work.  Good developers code works well and anticipates the needs of the users, it contains fewer bugs and when bugs are fixed they don’t bounce back.

Developers who work too quickly often don’t fully understand the requirements, don’t clarify them and deliver what they think the users want.  The code contains assumptions and bugs and never seems to be finished

Deliver code you are proud of

Don’t put non-supported customisations

If you write unsupported customisations Microsoft will not support your Dynamics 365 customisations.  A detailed explanation below

Why you shouldn’t put unsupported customizations in Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Know why things are not working

Errors and functionality not working is an opportunity to learn.  Don’t just find the solution on the internet, make sure you take the time to learn what the problem was and how/why it’s fixed.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM not working? check these common causes

The next problem you might get could be different and the better your understanding of Dynamics 365 the quicker you will be able to diagnose the problem.

Read CRM blogs

There are lots of great Dynamics 365 blogs which will help you keep up to date with the latest functionality in Dynamics 365, you can find a great list of them here

https://community.dynamics.com/crm/b

I also recommend follow these hashtags on twitter

  • #MSDYN365
  • #Dynamics365
  • #HoskWisdom and #HoskCodeWisdom 🙂

Finally here are some of my other favourite blog posts I have written

Hosk’s Top Dynamics 365 Articles of the week – 14th – August

Quotes

But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated. Ernest Hemingway

Articles of the week

awesome-1

Best of the rest

Programming/Scrum

Other

The Hosk – currently reading

Hosk’s CRM Developer Articles

A collection of my favorite CRM Developer articles I have written

CRM 2016 – Tips on passing the MB2-712 customization and config exam

All the CRM 2016 content to help you pass the exam

picture from here

Dynamics 365 – You cannot stop Dynamics 365 updating but you can be prepared

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Frederick Douglass

Dynamics 365 will always surprise you #HoskCodeWisdom

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is evolving. Patches, revisions get added without knowledge or consent of users, major changes must be scheduled and customisations tested.  Most patches fix bugs and improves Dynamics 365 but sometimes changing code causes bugs and problems.

Microsoft Dynamics versions

Version numbering for Dynamics 365 is like Dynamics solutions versions

Major.Minor.Build.Revision 

The current release is of Dynamics 365 8.2.1.341

Read more New naming conventions for Microsoft Dynamics CRM updates

Major releases and numbers

Dynamics 365 as a service

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a service,  developers cannot access any servers (Front end, back end or SQL server).

Microsoft installs, configures and maintains the servers for our Online Dynamics 365 instance, charging you for this work in your monthly licence cost.

Developers have less control and flexibility.  We cannot scale up servers, SQL databases or performance.  We can’t change database or server settings, we don’t have access and need to work with what is there.

The lack of scaling, configure servers and limitations of Dynamics 365 online developers need to to move heavy processing out of Dynamics 365 and into Azure (avoids performance being throttled) and to enable long running processes.

Plugins and custom workflows in Dynamics 365 online run in sandbox mode which has many limitations, one of the fundamental limitations is plugins/custom workflows must finish within 2 minutes (yes even async workflows run in the sandbox) – Understanding Plugin sandbox mode.

This post covers best practices of Dynamics 365 online architecture

What are the limitations of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and how do you work with them?

Upgrades and updates

Microsoft Dynamics 365 delivers a major release every 2 years (the first number, current version 8) and a minor release every is 6 months.  Microsoft Dynamics 365 has added functionality which allows you to delay updates but you must update once a year (you cannot delay) or before a major release.

You need to manage and plan for updates

Manage Microsoft Dynamics 365 (online) updates

There is pressure to keep up with the releases and not waste time testing the new releases because they cannot avoid taking them.

For the Major and minor releases, admins decided when to apply the update and test the update on sandbox instances.

For build and revision releases Microsoft can apply these any time and regularly applies small patches to fix minor bugs.   Microsoft promises not change anything significant in patch updates.

Patch releases are not always minor

At Extreme 2017 heard a story where Microsoft depreciated a security protocol but hadn’t removed it from the code yet.  Developers were told not to use it, Microsoft being busy didn’t get round to removing it until a few months later and then did so in a patch release.

When the release went live Microsoft noticed a massive drop in Dynamics 365 usage in Australia, lots of code using not supported security protocol stopped working.  Microsoft  naughty making major changes in a patch release rolled this back within in a couple of hours.

A CRM 2011 upgrade which after installed, changed their database and their Dynamics CRM didn’t work.   This lead me to writing the post

Should you keep up with Microsoft Dynamics CRM release cycle?

Microsoft moved to parallel JavaScript loading, which broke everyone’s form load script with the infamous CRM 2011 rollup 12.  I wrote about it in the post

CRM 2015 SP1 – Turbo forms use asynchronous JavaScript web resource loading

Scott Durow saved many a CRM developer with his post Asynchronous loading of JavaScript Web Resources after U12/POLARIS

I recommend you follow Scott’s blog and use the awesome Ribbon Workbench.

When patches attack

Microsoft applied a small/patch release and broke our DevOp‘s automatic deployments.

Over a weekend Microsoft updated our  instances from version 8.2.1.289 to version 8.2.1.341 over weekend.  We noticed because a trial instance was  8.2.1.341, our instances were 8.2.1.289.

This caused problems, the extract customisations script stopped working because the new version of Dynamics 365 needs new versions of client assemblies (8.2.0.556 to 8.2.0.749).

It’s obvious when you know the cause but it we came in to automatic deployments not working and a generic error.  It took a few hours of investigation to find the solution.

Better way

A minor release shouldn’t need an update of client assemblies to interact with Dynamics 365.  If Microsoft wants Dynamics 365 to deliver Enterprise projects, they need to improve the communication and effect of updates.  If they alerted about updated assemblies we could have avoided wasting time diagnosing the problems.

When working with Dynamics 365 online and other online services you have to be ready to diagnose problems, deal with upgrades and potential problems.

Change will happen whether you are ready for it or not #HoskWisdom