Measuring the Impact of Software Maintenance

“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” - Peter Drucker

Tackling technical debt can be a thankless task. You can spend hours tidying up old files but at the end there's little to prove it was a good use of time. No target was met and no new feature exists to show the bosses.

The lack of metrics means that maintenance tasks gets pushed back behind work with obvious outcomes and the debt keeps building.

To make matters worse, the costs of technical debt are also hidden. Projects will start to overrun and developers will get burnt out, but there’s nothing clearly showing that tech debt is the reason why. It means maintenance starts to feel like a chore with no obvious outcome or benefit.

We have had to come up with ways to show the value of our work when performing maintenance for clients, so we wanted to share them here to serve as inspiration for other developers.

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How to Pitch a Maintenance Project to Your (Non-Technical) boss

The impact of technical debt is obvious to developers. Devs are the ones that have to tackle the headaches of dependency issues and patch holes in the security.

But the reasons for performing software maintenance can get lost in translation when they’re discussed with non-technical executives. It can be unclear how rewriting functioning code can translate into more money in the bank and why it’s worth dedicating time to.

So, here’s how we describe the business reasons to prioritize your maintenance.

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Nested Forms in Rails

Have you ever had to deal with complex forms creating multiple objects and hierarchies in one request? Rails is there to help provide a set of helpers, methods and conventions to build nested forms, handle assignment, and creation of the objects involved in only a few lines of code. In this blog I'll explain how that works using accepts_nested_attributes_for, fields_for, strong parameters and more.

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Introducing Hotwire

One of the most visible and controversial new developments with the release of Rails 6.0 is Hotwire. Like anything in web development, the growing popularity of single page applications using JS frameworks has sparked some resistance. Arguably, the duplication of logic that single page applications often require violates the DRY principle. There are also many developers who would like the responsiveness of single page applications without all of the client side JavaScript and it's associated headaches. There are a considerable number of developers who'd like the pendulum to swing back towards the server, but maybe keep some of the more desirable aspects of the SPA pattern. Hotwire is a fresh take on how to do this the Rails way.

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Behind The Scenes: Devise

Devise is a well known solution for authentication in Rails applications. It's full featured (it not only adds authentication but also password recovery, email changing, session timeout, locking, ip tracking, etc.) and can be expanded to add even more (like JWT authentication).

In this post, I'll go over the code related to the basic database authentication process, how it relates to Warden and some of the magic behind it. If you don't know what Warden is, I will be explaining the role it plays for Devise in this article.

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Webpack VS Sprockets

Since the release of Rails 6, Webpack is the default JavaScript bundler for new Rails apps. We all struggled at first coming from a Sprockets background, and more often than not, we, as Rails developers, tried to avoid making JavaScript changes so we wouldn't have to deal with it.

In this post, I'll try to explain some basic concepts and ideas from the point of view of a Rails developer used to working with the Assets Pipeline, comparing how to do the same thing on both.

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What We Learned Developing Snap Minis (Part 1)

Over the last few months, we developed a couple of Snap Minis. Minis are small static web apps that are run inside a webview within the Snapchat native app.

One important part of the development was to make sure our Mini works well across different devices, especially making sure things work the same in both Android's webview (Chrome by default) and iOS's webview (Safari).

In this post I'll talk about a few things to keep in mind when working with the Snap Canvas SDK and in the next one I'll talk about some common and known issues you'll encounter when making your app cross-mobile-browser compatible.

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Introducing Points - A blind estimation tool from OmbuLabs

At OmbuLabs our goal is always to smooth processes, and make work easier. Isn’t that what software engineering is really all about in the first place?

When we are getting ready to do a project or to make a proposal one of the questions that we are always asked by clients is “how long will it take”? To come up with an estimate on timing we like to use a system of points and blind estimates by multiple team members to find an average of how complex the project will be. We can then use this information, together with our database of delivered projects, to estimate how long the project will take.

To accomplish this, and make the process smoother we built a tool called Points and now we have moved it to open source in case it can be of use to any other teams out there!

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The importance of proper time tracking

As a software consulting company, we bill for the time we work on client projects. So it is vital for us to keep track of the time we put into every task. We've had some trouble over the years with our time tracking, and sometimes that led us to work more time than what we finally billed for. We would like to share some of the experience we have collected over the years and the tools that we currently use.

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How to Open Source a Private Project

Open Source is one of the things that we value as a company. Our philosophy is that “everything we do should be open by default”. This is why in the past few months we decided to open source two of our internal projects. We built Dash and Points to make our daily processes smoother, and then we thought “hey, why not share them with everyone?”. Now we also want to share the process of how we turned them from private to open source.

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Using Tettra to Keep our Content Organized

At OmbuLabs we use Tettra to power our knowledge base. As a remote, distributed team it is very important to us to have our content structured and organized. We follow some good practices to keep it organized and up to date, which we describe here, and we use Tettra to keep our knowledge organized and integrated with the tools we use on a daily basis.

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Organizing and Maintaining a Team Knowledge Base

As a distributed, remote team we use different tools to communicate at OmbuLabs, like Slack and Zoom. Those are great for live communication. But every company has information that needs to be kept and stored somewhere. In our case, we started off using the GitHub Wiki and Google Docs. However, documentation and policies need to be maintained, updated and checked regularly. And having information scattered in different tools, formats and accounts became a hassle.

That's where a knowledge base comes in. At OmbuLabs we use Tettra and we will share our experience in a different article. But regardless of what tool you choose, here are some practices that will help you keep your knowledge base organized and updated.

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