All posts by Tim Osborn

GitHub Gets It

I recently asked a friend which source control system he was using for his personal software projects. The seemingly innocuous question led to the admission that he wasn’t using any versioning system; rather his backup strategy involved sleeping next to a USB drive with a saved copy of the daily source, lest there be a fire at night, he could quickly grab his code (along with family members, presumably) and run for the exit.

But this little trip to the confessional also spurred him research the best source control system for his scenario. Some time later and after thorough analysis he excitedly presented his decision to me, including feature run downs, hosters, pricing, reputation and more. The clear winner for him: GitHub. Even though it meant paying a monthly fee, where other options were free. He felt good about paying for the right product. And then, almost as a second thought, decided to send his findings on to GitHub, using the Web form submission on their Support page. He included the detailed analysis, and why he was wiling to pay for it. He thought someone there might find it interesting. They did.

Almost immediately he received an email response from customer service, graciously thanking him for his input. Within 24 hours he heard from the CEO, who thanked him and granted him his first year free (ironically my friend commented, "I came to the emotional decision this was worth paying for…now I almost want to insist!").

What did I learn about GitHub through my friend’s story?

  1. They put first things first, which is to build the best product they can for their customers. Want market share? Build the right product. Want brand reputation? Build the right product. Too many companies spend their time trying to find the right customer (social media will cure cancer after all), instead becoming the right product. They know where it begins
  2. They have a cultural of sharing and celebrating "wins." Too often internal communication at companies emulates the local news channels, with a 20-1 ratio of negative to positive messages. Clearly GitHub has an environment where people notice, and share, motivating evidence that reinforces how they are doing with point one. 
  3. Customer loyalty is prioritized over short term gain. They may have "lost" a year’s worth of fees. But they gained a customer for life. They have a good long term perspective, focusing on achieving better than average customer satisfaction.

I haven’t used GitHub (though several of our developers do), nor do I know anyone who works there. Maybe it’s all just a fine façade, and I’d be frightened to know the truth. But I suspect there’s a whole lot that is right behind the scenes. Perhaps even worth paying for, if they let you.

Issuing Tokens for ActAs Behavior

In today’s software world, applications often use services and components that reside in vastly different locations around the world and on different platforms. Unbeknownst to the end user, the simple click of an OK button on a Web page may spawn bits traversing more miles and visiting more cities than George Clooney in Up in the Air, all in a matter of seconds or less.

But just as the airlines required Ryan Bingham to show his passport and ticket before allowing him to board, external services also require some kind of identification before responding to a client application request. With Windows Identity Foundation (WIF), the ability to implement such interoperability and security is easier than ever before. One of the cool features specified by WS-Trust and supported by WIF is delegation through the "ActAs" capability, simplistically described below.



  1. A Client app receives a token with "Captain" claims, and passes that token to service A.
  2. Service A, seeing the Captain claims in the Client token, thinks, "Whoa, this is someone important. I will honor this request." Service A is not a Captain, but has the "Blue Team" claim. Service A passes the Client token to another STS, which creates a new token that includes both the claims from the Client token (Captain), as well as Service A’s claims (Blue Team).
  3. Service A passes the new token to Service B, who examines the claims in the token and realizes, "This is someone on the Blue Team following a request from a Captain. I will honor this request." In other words, Service B sees Service A as a component that is acting as the original caller, the Captain.


The willingness of Service B to even consider Service A’s request depends upon Service A having access to the original client token with the Captain claim; without that original token, Service B will look at Service A and respond, "A Blue Team member? Sniff. I don’t have to fulfill your request!"

In the same way, effective leaders know how to properly pass their "token" when delegating responsibility. But all too often I see leaders dispense responsibility without handing off some explicit acknowledgement of their endorsement, failing to yield credibility and authority. Instead, they sequester their chosen operative in a one-on-one meeting to dictate their expectations, but neglecting to mention anything to the team. Suddenly the leader disappears, token in hand, leaving the person in charge with attempting to self-issue a claim for leadership. The claim is denied or ignored by the other team members, confused as to why this person suddenly feels they have the right to make critical decisions. 


For proper handoff of the token required for effective delegation, here are some suggested steps:

  1. Be Explicit. Be crystal clear about the new lead’s role, and communicate it to the team in the presence of the lead. It’s important the lead hears first hand what you have told the team.
  2. Give Endorsement. Speak of your trust in the person, accepting responsibility for the decision as well as transferring some of your own credibility.
  3.  Set Expectations. Communicate to the team your expectations around their relationship and interaction with the lead. There should be no ambiguity around your expectations they will support the lead.

The next time you delegate take some extra steps to make it effective. Otherwise, you may leave the team members doing their best Gary Coleman imitation, scrunching their faces and responding to the lead’s direction with, "Whatcha token ’bout, Willis?"

Asado as a Service

Besides soccer, Argentines have another great love: asado. But making great asado for a large group of people is far more involved than firing up a gas grill and throwing on a batch of steaks for 6  minutes a side. It requires the right selection of meats, appropriate cooking area, sufficient guest capacity and an asador (the one who cooks) with experience.

Our company held an event with asado, and we considered whether we should invest in the resources to create it on our own premises. Ultimately we decided to try a local company that advertised the ability to provide asado as a service. We began the day of the event with a visit to the hoster. Immediately we saw capacity that was a clear sign of their ability to leverage economies of scale.

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But would they have sufficient environments to support the different types of required event activities? The answer was a resounding yes. We easily dedicated one of the environments to testing both traditional and more progressive UIs.


We then selected a separate environment devoted to performance testing. For short bursts we performed well, but during the long running tests many resources were exhausted.


And we were able to safely identify potentially misbehaved tenants, before we exposed them in a more public environment.


Finally it was time for provisioning. The hoster provided many options, which could be selected individually or in combinations (select all was exercised by multiple tenants). The experience was entirely self service, requiring little more than a point (not even a click, just a point.)



In the production (consumption?) environment, the tenants were co-located, with very little isolation.  The hoster optimized the environment to reduce communication latency. Parallelism was rampant, and communication protocols varied. Security was handled by each tenant monitoring their own resources.


As the tenant applications were busy executing, some required more resources. The hoster reacted quickly, quickly deploying more and satisfying even the most demanding tenants.


Finally it came time for deprovisioning and we reflected on our successful trial. We were sold on the experience. However, the results of the day did alter our view on one thing: we would definitely not describe Asado as a Service as something that enables the long tail; indeed, after a long day of consuming the service, we agreed it would be more accurate to describe it as promoting the wide tail.

Creating Developer Guidance

From the Guardian (based on this IDC Study):

At 487bn gigabytes (GB), if the world’s rapidly expanding digital content were printed and bound into books it would form a stack that would stretch from Earth to Pluto 10 times.

There’s no question technology is evolving at a rapid pace and top developers (i.e. those that want to remain top) must be dedicated to continuous learning. But with deadlines looming and an ever-shrinking time margin, it’s not sufficient to rely on following twitter links for discovering learning content; you need to be accessing the right kind of content. The kind of content that appeals to your particular learning style.

I’ve worked with developers that, well before they launch Visual Studio, want to read the full documentation about the product or SDK. Others prefer to watch someone else demonstrate setting up the right environment and dependencies. Some need to have a discussion first, verbally working through the options. Then there is a set that will hold their hands to their ears, shut their eyes, and loudly say “La la la…” until you finally disappear, manuals in hand, and leave them alone to fire up their dev environment and learn by writing code.




At Southworks, we’ve had the opportunity to partner with Microsoft to create a large set of guidance and learning content for developers, including keynote demos, hands-on labs, books and more. This content is targeted for a large spectrum of developers, and includes a variety of assets to address the various learning styles. A small sample of work we’ve helped create includes:

When it comes time for the next round of paradigm-shifting, platform-shaking, where-the-heck-am-I–inducing technology rollouts, don’t just consider where your team should get the content, think about how to get the right content.

Better than Average Customer Satisfaction

When you describe a favorite restaurant to a friend, what is the word you that you use? Is it “satisfactory”? “Try this place, you’ll find the meal to be satisfactory, and the service, and the ambience. You’ll be satisfied.”

That won’t likely motivate anyone to drive out of their way to visit, or return, unless they are awfully hungry and it’s very convenient. Otherwise there are many other dining options, ones that have the potential to blow them away, not merely satisfy them.

And so as a business are you content when customers report through surveys that they are simply satisfied? Thinking of the restaurant analogy, would you expect them to stick with you?

In Putting the Service Profit Chain to Work, Heskett, Jones, Loveman, Sasser, Jr., and Schlesinger reveal through research that customers of service firms that are merely satisfied are equally likely to choose another provider as to stick with you. They are indifferent. Yikes.

To have customers return, or people choose to work with you (or for you) again, you need to strive for something more – extreme satisfaction. That requires thinking outside the box as well as succeeding in it, not just deciding but doing, understanding that details matter, knowing how to deal with exceptions, making stateful connections and more. But it starts with understanding why.

Don’t be satisfied with customers that are satisfied. If you truly desire their loyalty seek to be the one they rave about, just like their favorite bistro they visit every Friday and always tell their friends about.


Source: James L. Heskett, et. al. “Putting the Service Profit Chain to Work”, Harvard Business Review, March-April 1994

Best or Better?

This weekend I saw a weathered sign in an antique store painted with the phrase, Lange’s Best Yet is Better. I liked it (the old fashioned way, with emotion, not by clicking a thumbs up icon).

Are you striving to be “the best”? The best is relative…to your competition, your peers, your friends (and if you’re honest, you’ll admit that when doing self-comparisons they are sometimes the same person) and therefore not something you control. Being the best could even be limiting, if you could actually do more. It can mean focusing on others’ weaknesses instead of your own improvement.

The reference point for “better” is you; your current capability and your potential. You seek to grow from where you are at, not in relation to your competition…er, friend. Criticizing others does nothing to advance your own cause.

As I left the store window and walked down the street I thought, perhaps sometimes what is best is better, not best.


walksignThis week as I was walking to work, with my mind fresh and free to free to explore and ignore office boundaries, I stepped into the crosswalk as the light blinked “walk”. After a few more steps I suddenly jumped back, as a car rapidly turned the corner and swerved just in front of me, ignoring my right of way (and safety) and asserting his own self interest above all else.

Fortunately I had part of my attention on such a possibility due to past experiences, and reacted in time to avoid mishap. And then I thought, how disappointing and frustrating. Instead of devoting my full efforts to something better, I had to spend energy and thought on something that should have been assumed or taken for granted.

Take care of the fundamentals, and put processes and habits in place so that your team can be free to focus on what’s superior, not what should be assumed. Make your crosswalks count for something.


In the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta you can visit the apartment where she penned the iconic novel Gone with the Wind.

The apartment is incredibly small – so small that she and her husband had to dine at a tiny table in their bedroom. Margaret herself referred to it as, “the dump.” And yet, it was here she wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that is one of the best selling of all time. She could have waited until she had a nice desk. Or a view. Or a place to reflect and be inspired. But she didn’t; she simply wrote.

I recalled this during a conversation with Fede, an avid runner, who told me of someone that had to get the right watch, the right shoes, the right sweats, etc., before he could start training. Once he had those, then he’d be ready. Meanwhile someone else is putting in the miles, while he’s growing older.

What is blocking you from taking that next step? Is it really a prerequisite, or could it more accurately be called a procrastination?

Are Your Missing Teammates Under the Bus?

Like a noxious weed invading a garden, a child’s sports tournament can suddenly, but subtly, overwhelm your weekend plans. If it involves multiple children or multiple sports, be prepared to wind up Sunday evening looking haggard, staring at piles of stuff (especially shoes and gym bags) around the house and asking your spouse, “What just happened here?”

Sitting in the bleachers with just under a minute to go in the basketball game, I noticed my friend Eric rushing in with his daughter, just in time for her to join her teammates on the bench as the final buzzer sounded. She had come from a soccer game far away and they had done their best to arrive as quickly as possible, yet only in time to celebrate and not contribute. Eric had followed the plan set by his wife, who masterfully coalesces three children’s activities with transportation, optimizing routes, minimizing conflicts, arranging food, and keeping coaches informed.

But in the foyer following the game the head coach asked to speak to my friend, and sternly informed him that he had no knowledge his daughter would not be at the game. Though looking a bit caught off guard, Eric gracefully apologized and let the coach have his say.

After the tough talk, my friend returned to me and said, “I assumed my wife had told him as usual, but I wasn’t going to throw her under the bus.”

BusIt would have been convenient for him to deflect the criticism, especially with his wife not present or able to defend herself. Instead, he took the bullet for her.

I find that people generally fall into one of two types: those that throw others under the bus, or those that are willing to take the bullet for another.

When things go wrong, are you quick to point out the failures of others? Or can you accept responsibility, even when only “25%” to blame?

Typically people have a bent one way or the other, and perform consistently, because it’s behavior that must be changed early in the lifecycle.

Which type are you? Which type would you rather have on your team?

Who We Are, Sans Gloss

Recently I met with someone who asked for our one page glossy brochure. I replied with an invitation to instead read our blogs, saying, “Would you like to know who we say we are, or who we really are?”

For any company (or person) there’s an image they project, and there’s the truth to who they are. Ideally they would be the same, but frequently there’s a variance. Sometimes the difference is huge and can represent a lack of integrity. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of a product that has failed to meet the promises, or a service that didn’t match the mission statement on the wall.

For Southworks, we work to keep that disparity small. It’s not always zero, because who we say we are sometimes represents what we aspire to be, believe we can be, and know that we are heading towards.

Through our blogs, we invite others to look behind the curtain, and measure the gap for themselves. We don’t want to have just a pretty façade to our house. We want readers to actually come up on the porch and have a look inside the front door. Even if it’s not always 100% neat and tidy.

From a recent HBR post by Dan Burrier (who is Chief Innovation Officer at Ogilvy & Mather, North America, but his business card is blank, except for an email address):

No Titles Quote

We may not always have a glossy brochure handy. But we’ll always bring who we are to the party, and we’ll definitely get something done.