A few months ago I was introduced to this blog post by Luc
Levesque titled How to help new employees be
rockstars, a new
In this post Luc talks about his “Blueprint to Luc and his Quirks” which
outlines the things that are important to him and some of his particular
quirks. Luc then gives this to his new employees and goes over it with
them when they start so that they understand a bit more about him and
how he works. The idea is that if there are no surprises, all the
expectations and potential quirks are put out there straight away, then
there will be less questions about how someone new should react or how
Luc will react to particular actions.
I thought this was a great idea and a tool that I could make use of for
myself at Shopify. This should be considered a
constant work in progress, I am constantly changing the way I work and
what I take on, so it only makes sense that some of my values and quirks
will change along with that.
The Values, or quirks, of John Duff
I care about Shopify and what we are doing. I jump on things that need
to be done, dig into problems and make Shopify better. I’m around when
issues come up. I fight for code quality and correct solutions.
Being responsive allows us to move at incredible speed. I might not get
back to your email or question a minute later (often I will), but you
will hear something within the day. Making sure people have the
information they need is super important to me. I use my phone for
email, code review and everything in between so that I can always
When I tackle a problem I try to understand every aspect of it. I think
about the solution and what it will mean in the long term. There are
endless interesting things to do at Shopify, but completing one of them
is worth more than starting ten. Have the determination to see things
that matter through to completion.
I am always trying to improve and am constantly pushing myself. I take
on as much as I can handle, then I ask for a bit more. By pushing myself
and what I am capable of, I am learning and growing - and so is Shopify.
Passion and Drive
I love what I do. Shopify is my startup, it is as important to me as
anything I would start on my own. I am invested in our success and the
success of everyone on the team.
If I see something broken, I fix it. If someone needs help, I help them.
I don’t complain, I get in and do something about it. I do what I think
is right first and ask for permission later.
I ask questions about what I am doing if I’m not sure. I am always open
to new ideas or solutions. I like to back things up with data or
alternatives and question the necessity of features and changes. Every
decision is mutable.
I found it a great exercise to even just come up with these values, let
alone share them with everyone. Big thanks to
Luc for providing the inspiration for this
and Cam Gregg for suggesting I give this
A few months ago I had the amazing opportunity to speak at
BigRubyConf. This is a new ruby conference
all about people doing big things with ruby and it was amazing. It was
great to get together and talk to people who are dealing with the same
or similar problems that we do at Shopify with
running large Rails applications.
One interesting thing I started to notice when talking to all these
developers with applications at a similar scale to
Shopify (code and/or traffic wise) is they
often referred to it as their ‘monorail’. This came up again a couple of
times when I was at RailsConf as well. This
was a new thing to me and as I talked to more people the meaning of this
term became clearer and clearer.
When people used the term ‘monorail’ they were referring to their
single, core rails application. This is usually the application that the
company started with. This is also the application that they are often
chipping away at to turn into services. This is all well and good, the
interesting part to me was that almost everyone who referred to their
‘monorail’ did so in a negative way. This was the application that was
really hard to deal with, or that they were breaking apart into services
or the code was really complicated and scary.
So, back up a bit, I said we have a similar sized application at
Shopify but we don’t refer to it as our
‘monorail’. We have a few services around it, supplementary apps etc,
but still we don’t call the largest of them a ‘monorail’. What do we
call it? It is ‘Shopify Core’. Another interesting point is we don’t
refer to ‘Shopify Core’ in a negative way, I am extremely proud of this
application and the code that it holds. I tell all developers, even non
developers, that this holds the answers to all the questions you may
have about Shopify or how to do just about
anything in Ruby or Rails. “Chances are the problem you are trying to
solve has been solved in Shopify Core”. Since
Shopify has been in development for almost a
decade, started even before version 1.0 of Rails, then it is likely the
git history holds the solution to most Ruby / Rails problems in ANY
version of Rails. I find this incredible.
I guess the big question to ask is why do we look at Shopify Core so
differently? I would imagine the applications have a similar amount of
code and complexity, what makes us different? I think a big part of this
is the fact that Shopify has been built and is
still being driven by a team that holds a lot of value in writing
quality code. We even recently started a rotating team of developers
where when you are on that team your mandate is to reduce technical debt
and improve the quality of the code base. This is time when we don’t
work on features and make the code base better. Awesome.
Now, we’re not all magical developers that write perfect code. Far from
it. I think the difference is that we are able to and encouraged to go
back and improve things. I’ve heard Tobi talk often enough about how
while he was learning to program his mentor would often rip apart his
code and ask him to throw it away and write it again. This leads you to
not being tied to the code you write; it’s just a tool to get a task
done. This is a concept that Tobi and the rest of the team tries to
ingrain in developers. Once you get this it is much easier to throw away
a piece of code and rewrite it. It also helps that the core development
team that wrote most of the code that Shopify
launched with is still at the company.
Do I have a good answer for why we look at Shopify Core differently? Not
really. I have no concrete reason for why look at our core code base so
differently than other companies. It might have to do with the focus on
quality, or maybe not being tied to the code you write. It might be the
type of people we hire, or the culture of the company itself, I really
don’t know. To be honest it doesn’t matter to me that much; I’m happy
that I work on a code base that I can be proud of and that I enjoy
working with everyday, that’s all that really matter to me.
Like the headline says, I’m a month into my new job at
Shopify and it’s going great! I thought people
might be interested in hearing what it’s like getting started there.
What is Shopify?
You haven’t heard of Shopify? Where have you been?? Just kidding, it’s
okay if you haven’t heard of them before :). Shopify is a web
application that lets you set up an online store to sell your goods. It
integrates with a tone of services for acceptings payments, shipping and
anything else you might need to run an online store. This is all done
using amazing technologies like Ruby on
Redis, AWS and much more.
Did I mention we’re location in the ByWard
Market in downtown Ottawa?
Yes, it is awesome.
The First Day
So, my first day. The hours are pretty loose, people come in anywhere
between 8 and 10am, I like to come in around 9 am myself. So I come in
and I’m met by Brittany in HR and we start out with a bit of paperwork,
then the fun begins. It starts out with getting a big gift bag with my
‘welcome package’ and what a welcome it is. Gift cards, some chocolate,
a notebook and some Shopify schwage. Then we walk over to the one free
desk in the main dev area, or ‘The Pit’, where I will be sitting. A nice
big Cinema Display is already sitting there, but no laptop, we had to go
over to the Apple Store and get a new one of those.
Once I’m all set with a desk and computer I spent a little time getting
things installed, my dotfiles setup
and Shopify checked out running. Next up I spent some time with Dennis
Theisen who points me to a couple of bugs in the Partners
Area of Shopify. I spent the rest of
the day fixing the bugs Dennis assigned me and a few more things that I
found along the way. I got to put some bug fixes into code review and
the code went into the master branch that day and in production the
next. I’ve got to say that is pretty satisfying; first day in and
already committing code.
For my second day I spent the morning pair programming with Jesse
Storimer, continuing on the invoicing
refactoring that I was helping him with during my interview pairing.
It’s always fun working with Jesse, I always learn something new and on
top of that he’s a VIM guy as well :). After the pairing I spent some
time fixing up some of the other bugs I found in the Partners
Area the day before. I’m probably
skipping over all the fun stuff like going out to lunch in the ByWard
Market, talking with some
of my awesome new coworkers and all that stuff, but be sure lots of fun
stuff is happening everyday.
The rest of the Month
The rest of the month has went by crazy fast and I’ve already gotten a
chance to work on a lot of different things. I’ve done a little bit of
work on ActiveMerchant,
added SSL to the Partners Area, fixed
a few IE and other bugs, some work with invoicing, Google Base and a
little bit of work for the contest we just
launched. A pretty busy month, but
that’s the way I like it. Oh ya, I’m also working on a Shopify
App in my Friday afternoon time.
It has been great so far and I’m looking forward to every new day of it.
If any of this sounds pretty cool to you we are
hiring for a number of different
positions. If you want to know more just give me a shout or send in your
Over the weekend I spent a little bit of time cleaning up some of the
code and adding a few new features to my gem gem for talking to
tmdb_party. If you’ve never
heard of themoviedb.org you should really check it out. It’s a lot like
IMDB but it is completely user generated and has
an open api that anyone can use.
So, what’s new in 0.9.0? Well, under the covers I did a
moved some files around and removed some useless
to core classes that were used internally and just cluttering up your
classes. Nothing too special there, but should make the code a lot
easier to understand and maintain.
I also managed to implement two new features that I’m pretty happy
about. The first one is based on some work I noticed in forks by
razielgn. They had both implemented the
method from the api, but because of my recent changes I couldn’t pull
either of them very cleanly. Since it was a pretty straightforward
change I just added it myself, but kudos to those guys for making me
realize it was missing. Here’s a little example of what you can do with
this new method:
There’s a number of different options, all of which can be found in the
The other feature I added is something I find really cool. This comes
from talking to John Tajima who told
me about this cool idea of being able to generate a unique hash from a
video file which you can use to identify the video. It turns out that
themoviedb.org api already supports
searching based on the file hashes when using the
method. So I went ahead and grabbed the hashing
made a few changes and here we
Here’s how we use it:
This will generate the hash for the given file and use that in the query
returning all the information for whatever movie that might be. Now you
can easily figure out what all those randomly named files on your disk
The last thing I wanted to point out was some work that
Mange did awhile back adding support for
retrieving results in different languages, lots more tests, person
search and whole bunch more. Almost all of the methods take an optional
final parameter for the language you want your results in:
So that’s all there is for now, thanks again to everyone who has
contributed to this project with code, ideas, comments and everything
else. If you need help getting started check out the
readme or give me a shout and
I’ll gladly help you out.
Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted some learnings. Or anything
for that matter. Well, I’ve been saving them up so here’s a few from a
little while back. Hopefully I’ll be getting back into the swing of
things and start writing some real posts. For now, this is it.
When doing a screen recoding with Quicktime in Snow Leopard before
starting the recording there’s a little drop down to the right that
can be used to select which microphone to use. A nice walkthrough
can be found
with jQuery.extend the first hash is modified, the result is also returned:
-k option to IExplorer will start it in full screen kiosk mode
ActionController::Base.helpers gives you access to the Rails html
helpers (div_for, content_tag, etc)
link_to “something”, :controller=>:something, :action=>“…” will
map to :controller=>“devise/something” if called when rendering a
devise view. Use dynamic helper methods (ex. something_path) to get
around this issue.
Google provides some modern
webfonts that anyone
can use through their
SQL Authentication can be turned on for SQL Server through the
Management Console under the Server Properties. More details can be
Using the “Facebooker2”:http://github.com/mmangino/facebooker2 gem you must call ‘fetch’ on the Facebook user to get their user details.
Posting to a users feed is really easy with “Facebooker2”:http://github.com/mmangino/facebooker2
You can prevent Parallels from automatically switching to Coherence
mode by changing the Startup View in Startup and Shutdown options
for the VM. More details
Came across an article with
CSS Tips and Tricks that a had a few interesting points (IE6 PNG
with filters) that I hadn’t known about.
Rails 3 respond_with calls as_json on objects when returning a
json response instead of to_json
Rails 3 respond_with returns “ “ on successful update or delete calls. jQuery has trouble parsing this as json so always fails. On the jQuery side this can be fixed by adding this line (I came up with this based some of the suggestions in this article:
So, I’ve been really slacking with the blogging lately, I haven’t even
been posting my learnings which is a 10 minute process at most.
Hopefully I can get back in the habit, no promises though. Okay, so what
have I been up to the last little while? Well, I’ve been working on a
little side project app that I recently put up and wanted to talk about
a little bit.
What is it?
Well from the post title you can probably guess it is called
Todoly and can by found at
todoly.net. Todoly is a really
simple todo list application with very few features and is happy that
way. I can hear you now, “Why did you bother writing another todo list
app, have you not heard of X, Y or Z?”. Because I wanted to dammit,
More than just wanting to write something I did have a few specific
goals that writing Todoly has helped me to achieve.
Actually finish something and get it deployed publicly.
Todoly has done all these things for me and more.
I’ve been able to play around with some of the cool new things in Rails
3 like the new query
and much, much more. I’ve found a number of bugs in my app
template and have a few ideas
on things I can add to make it more complete. Last, but not least, I got
to try out deploying an app to Heroku
(which was amazingly simple) and have it running in the wild.
This last point was really important to me and was the main reason for
choosing a simple todo list application. I’ve worked on a number of side
projects over the years but never actually released a working
application because I got bored with the project, had another idea or
life distract me or whatnot. I’ve released lots of bits and pieces to my
github account but it feels very different
being able to finish a project and put it out there.
What’s under the hood?
Todoly is a pretty straight forward Rails 3
application running locally under MySQL and under PostgreSQL on
Heroku in production. I used a number of gems and
open source projects include, but not limited to:
Did I mention that the source for the whole project is up on GitHub so
you can check it out yourself if you
want. This has already led to some cool stuff, like a friend of mine
taking the idea for the app and implementing the same features in
Node.js. You can take a look at that on
GitHub as well, right here.
Why is Todoly better than X, Y or Z?
In all honesty it probably isn’t any better than the other, countless,
todo list applications out there. I have been using it regularly for a
little while though and like it for a number of reasons.
The main reason I like it is the interface is really simple. It’s all
about adding tasks and completing them, so that’s what the interface
helps you to do. I added a cool little feature that lets you focus on a
groups of tasks by selecting the tag you’re interested in. I find this
to be all I really need to keep track of what I need to do.
Since I have the code and can push a new release whenever I want if
there is ever something I need from the application I can just add it.
Since the project is open source you can fork
it and do the same. I’ll gladly
pull in new features and bug fixes and release them to the main
Todoly.net website as well.
Where to now?
I have a number of features I would like to add to the application such
as task reordering, making a better homepage and making some tweaks to
clean up the UI a little more. I probably wont get to those until it
becomes a problem with my everyday use.
Until then I’m going to start working on a native iPhone application
that talks to Todoly. I fixed up the styling the
other day so that it works pretty well in Safari on the iPhone but going
with the same premise for the Todoly web
application, I want to actually finish and release an iPhone app. I’ve
already started and the source will also go up on GitHub once I make a
little more progress. I’m also going to try and make it so you can point
the iPhone application to a different url for it’s data, so if you want
to run your own Todoly somewhere else or run
glongmans version it should
“Just Work” ™ with those backends.
I’m also curious about making a Rails app an Oauth2 provider so I might
build this into Todoly to start playing around with
that. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of up to date information on
doing this so it would be nice to get a good example or even extract a
gem out of the work.
Anyways, that’s all I have to say about Todoly at
the moment. Please check it out and let me know what you think, either
in the comments here or by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the latest version of X11 (on Snow Leopard at least) there is an
option in the preferences to allow clicks to go through windows.
This makes applications like Gimp actually usable in OS X since you
don’t have to click twice anymore (once to activate the window and
another time to click the actual tool or menu you wanted)
The Asterisk background command can take multiple files to play,
each joined by ‘&’
Adhearsions get_digits, :play[“file1”, “file2”…] plays the files
in order and is interruptible by pressing a key, much like the
Asterisk background command.
If naming a class/module/file with the same name as something in the
Ruby Standard Library they should be scoped by a unique name to
Rails adds ‘collection_ids’ method to models that have a belongs_to association. This gets you all the ids of the associated objects in an array. ex:
If you’re having trouble with the Glassfish Admin not loading it could be it’s trying to check for updates over the network. We found some good instructions on how to disable this by editing the glassfish domain.xml and removing some jars. Note that in our setup the xml file was at
Remove update tool jar (Backup and remove this JAR)
Delete this dir:
To follow redirects with curl add the -L option
We watch a new webcast on
JRuby that highlights a few interesting features, most notable
being that the next version of JRuby and warbler will allow you to
build a executable jar file with a embedded web server. This is also
interesting because you can have it only package class files so you
don’t need to distribute your source with the application.
Also from the JRuby webcast some interesting tools:
VisualVM for profiling
your java or jruby applications.