This week: why programmers work at night, outsourcing your own job to China, and the simplest wireframing tool.
Outsourcing your job to China
This story is so good it should be apocryphal; but it seems to have really happened. The most productive developer at a US company providing "critical infrastructure" services was found to have outsourced his job to a Chinese consulting firm, a year earlier. The link points to the original posting at the Verizon Business security blog where the story was first aired; it has been picked up across the blogosphere and even mainstream media now.
The deception was uncovered when log files showed connections in to company servers from China; an outside security audit was initiated. The developer's own computer at the company yielded numerous invoices from the Chinese consulting company and logs showing that the worker was spending his days posting to Facebook and watching cat videos. "Quarter after quarter his performance review noted him as the best developer in the building," according to the security blog, and his code was "clean, well written, and submitted in a timely fashion."
The developer, identified only by the pseudonym "Bob," was paying his Chinese understudy one-fifth of his salary. There was evidence that he had the same scam going at a number of local companies, pocketing several hundred thousand dollars per year for an outlay of about $50,000 to China.
And how did his Chinese doppelganger get past the company's two-factor authentication? Simple enough. "Bob" mailed him his RSA security fob.
Why programmers work at night
Business Insider revives a 4-year-old meme to rehash the reasons why many developers feel drawn to work late-night hours. Paul Graham wrote the definitive treatise on the subject, Maker's schedule, manager's schedule, in 2009. "One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they're on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more."
Every programmer who has ever known "the zone" understands what Graham means. It can take an hour or more to get into a mental state in which all of the code for a project is modeled in your brain. Once you have achieved that state, even the smallest interruption -- knock knock, "Can I just ask you a quick question?" -- can bring it all crashing down. A single mid-afternoon meeting can and routinely does blow half a day of work.
Jonathan Christopher's reflection on the temptation to get into late-night productivity -- often with dire consequences for concentration, productivity, and relationships the next day -- concludes, "Working on a team means being a part of a team and sometimes that means keeping in mind that you'll soon be the one asking for someone else's attention."
Hack Design's free design course for developers
Within days of a soft launch on Hacker News, Hack Design had signed up 20,000 developers to receive a design lesson each week in their inbox. The project has just gotten off the ground and the initial lessons are textual; I assume that later on there will be interactive content. As designers move toward development, it's only fair that developers begin the journey in the opposite direciton.
The simplest wireframing tool
It doesn't get much more intuitive than wireframe.cc. No documentation, barely even tooltips, but it's easy to figure out what's going on and to save a wireframe at a unique URL, for your own use or to share.
The Friday Four gives a hat tip each week to Ron Miller, whose collection of five links for developers and IT pros runs weekly on Ness.com.