As I write this column, the entire world is in engaged in a battle against the novel coronavirus named COVID-19. It will be several weeks before this May/June 2020 issue is in printed and delivered. What’s in store for us? Where will we be? Which of us will become ill? What will the state of our businesses be? How will we or our loved ones and friends fare? I don’t have a crystal ball. What I do know for certain are the characteristics that will lead to a chance at prevailing in this battle. Words that come to mind are sacrifice, unselfishness, accountability, responsibility, discipline, and empathy. Whatever plans were made, they need to be discarded.

Perhaps agility has never been more relevant. Whether you are an independent contractor or an employee, you’ll encounter challenges that are common to some and unique to yourself. Never in many of our lifetimes, have we been confronted with an issue that so clearly has a path to success that depends on what we all do as individuals. Local and national governments can lay out all the plans it wants. At the end of the day, success begins and ends with us as individuals. And in this case, it’s a matter of life and death whether that be in the context of a person or a business.

COVID-19 is the mother of all forcing functions.

Mike Tyson said it best, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The philosophical roots of that saying go back to Prussian Field Marshal von Moltke, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” The ancient Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times.” Interesting times indeed. We must be ready to overcome and adapt at a moment’s notice. The Cone of Uncertainty we each are subject to has expanded. We each need to be responsible because we have our respective obligations. We each need to be accountable because we must justify our actions. In another context, what I’m describing is being a good professional. In principle, that’s never a discretionary thing. Now, by hook or crook, we’re going to need to “live the sermon” in practice.

The Cone of Uncertainty we each are subject to has expanded.

Chances are likely that in the middle of March, you received directive to work remotely as part of a social-distancing strategy to “flatten the curve.” In my opinion, COVID-19 will forever change our society and as a result, will change the way we work and interact. And with that, if you’ve not done so, you need to take time to review your infrastructure and review your skills on how you go about building software. You have no choice in the matter. Our industry has always been about adapting or dying. That’s not such an abstract saying anymore. What’s your source code strategy? Is pair programming a core practice for your team? Are you disciplined enough to work remotely? How will you overcome and adapt to these changed circumstances?

On source code control, if you’re not using Git, you may want to strongly consider its adoption because it’s optimized for distributed version control. Even if you use Git, do you embrace the pull-request model? Are your developers locally integrating work from other developers in their workstation? Is unit-testing a practice you employ? These and many more items will need to be carefully considered as we continue to grapple with the “new normal.”

“Technical debt” isn’t just limited to our code. It can also apply to our individual skill set. The entire premise for how we work is changing. Even if the change isn’t so great for you, that may not be the case for others you interact with, which means that whether you realize it or not, it’s going to be a big change for us all. It means that we must continually be in learning mode and we must always be seeking ways to keep our saws sharp. In this issue of CODE, as always, continual learning is a hallmark. A crisis quickly reveals weaknesses. How will you respond? The knowledge, skill, and—dare I say—gravitas that we bring to bear on the effort has never been more important.

I remember 9/11 as if it were yesterday and I remember well talking to my best friend Rod Paddock (CODE Magazine’s intrepid Editor-In-Chief) on the phone while he was grappling with a complete transportation lockdown. The conference he was at came to a grinding halt and for those first few hours, nobody knew what fate had in store for us. This situation is worse. Nevertheless, society tends to be able to undertake the heavy lifting necessary to carry on. Our industry is going to be at the forefront of easing that burden’s lift. We have an opportunity to provide unprecedented solutions to difficult problems. Will you be ready to help deliver those solutions? The first step to answering that question is whether, as a member of a community, are you acting responsibly—which has nothing to do with technology or skill!

Before putting the final period on this installment, you’ll notice the back page has a new occupant. I started writing for CODE Magazine back in 2000. Besides taking off for a few years when I was in law school and practicing law full time, I’ve been in just about every issue. I’m thrilled to be taking on this new assignment. I still plan to cover technical content in regular contributions. This space is about focusing on the non-technical aspects of our industry, whether they be legal, philosophical, political, public policy, etc. I’ve given this space a new name: CODA. In music, the coda is the concluding section. One of my goals is that when CODE Magazine focuses on a theme, this space will add a different, unique, and to some, a provocative perspective on that theme. For those of you who know me personally, you know that I’m not shy about sharing my opinions on a given topic. I look forward to expanding my participation in CODE Magazine!

Time Warp, April 4, 2020: How are you doing?

You’re now going to get some insight into our editing process. I submitted this article on March 21, 2020 for editing. On April 4, 2020, I’m going through those edits with our awesome editor Melanie Spiller! That’s a period of two weeks. What happened? For reference, you may want to bookmark the Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2019%E2%80%9320_coronavirus_pandemic#Case_statistics that keeps track of the Coronavirus statistics. On March 21, there were approximately 24K confirmed cases and 300 deaths in the United States. On April 4, there are approximately 277K confirmed cases and 7,400 deaths. In two weeks, that’s a single order of magnitude increase in confirmed cases and over two orders of magnitude increases in deaths. Worldwide on March 21, there were approximately 304K confirmed cases and 13K deaths. As of April 4, those statistics are now approximately 1.1MM and 60K respectively. At a high level, what these numbers confirm is that the USA is THE coronavirus hotspot in the world and New York City is the hotspot in the hotspot. Over the same period, New York City jumped from 8K confirmed cases to over 69K. Never in our lifetimes have we seen the rapid onset of such a pervasive problem. With that in mind, we need to cut ourselves a lot of slack!

How are you doing? What are you doing?

For many of us, working from home is old hat. Speaking for me, it’s different. To some degree, I’ve lost track of time. I’m busier and I have to keep reminding myself to take breaks. I’m a news and political junkie. I need to remind myself to tune a lot of that out. The old saying is “never let a crisis go to waste.” My wife and I last weekend (March 28th and 29th) cleaned out 18 years-worth of “stuff” from our attic. We had nothing better to do! With the many closures and where we are on the curve in the United States, this new normal will be the status quo for quite some time. Keep in contact with friends and loved ones. The new phrase is “social distancing.” That doesn’t mean we need to distance socially. Keep up your contacts virtually. Take up a new hobby. Dig deeper into something you’ve been dabbling in. Mentally, our collective mettle is going to be stressed. Throughout the day, stop, take a moment, and take a deep breath.

And to those in the healthcare sector, especially those in the front lines, you deserve every bit of thanks and consideration we can give you. It’s said that we’re at war and that we’re supposed to be on a war footing. Although we’re not getting leadership from where we should expect, we can lead by example and do what we can as individuals. Professionally, that means practicing more patience with those we work with. Everyone is feeling it, and everyone deals with it in a different way.

Be well and let’s lookout for each other. We at CODE Magazine are here with all of you.

JP