Jerry Hutchings is known to tens of thousands of vBulletin admins as the guy who brought us ImpEx and helped us convert countless forums. That is not to say that Jerry only worked on ImpEx, or that he only turned out code behind the scenes - he answered questions, gave advice, and created specific ImpEx scripts for those who needed them.
It's been a long while since Jerry did an interview, and when I heard he was no longer working for IB I thought it would be a good time to catch up with him and find out what he's up to. I think I found a little more than that!
Can you give us a brief biography? What is your educational background?
I'll try not to cover too many details that are already in the Original Interview, though I dare say there will be some overlap.
I think the Jerry as people know me now started around about when I was around 9, which is when I first started coding and performing all manner of experiments with modems, learning about code, networks and BBS's.
This was all in England at the time. I went through the usual school route, after which I took a diploma in computer studies at a local collage - mostly a general course and given my history and level of expertise at that time - a case of filling in some blanks. After a break from education spent mainly as a chef and playing on motorbikes, I ended up at Bournemouth University to study a degree in Software Engineering Management. This is where I met Kier and spent a lot of time playing Red Alert and Star Craft.
Four years later I'd graduated, and after working for the likes of Lockheed Martin and Cable and Wireless I joined Jelsoft & vBulletin.
Given the question is about education, since graduating I've remained in college taking random courses - not only to keep my mind busy & life varied, but just to learn. The courses I've taken include massage, counselling, C programming (I did it for a bet, and yes I can code it seems ...), French, WSET (a.k.a. sommelier), and joinery, amongst others.
Aren't you originally from the UK? How did you end up in Canada?
I am British yes, though I was actually born in Ireland due to my parents moving about. I lived in Ghana for several years before moving to the UK..
I moved to Canada a little before Mike moved to the UK 5-6 years ago. I think it had something to do with too many of the original vBulletin developers being on one continent! Actually it was because of the benefits of teleworking. I had the opportunity to explore the world, and after creating a short list, I chose Vancouver to live in, and experience life here.
It's rather chilled out I must say, though I'm getting wanderlust again, and am thinking about where next to explore.
In a recent thread, you talked (among other things) about moving to a smaller home and living off the grid. What are your views on today's society and what is your own philosophy of life?
Well as Daniel Craig said in Layer Cake, 'that's a rather expensive question'.
One of my main interests at the moment and a technique I use to understand and observe, be that people, software, society, is systems thinking/theory.
So having something of an understanding about the aspects of a balanced system, the current ways of doings things (be that political, financial or social) are not sustainable at all, and it's obvious that more of the same isn't going to “fix” it.
I don't want to talk about my views of FIAT currencies, consumerism fed by out of control capitalism, the use of debt, globalization destroying community and local industries, etc, suffice to say I believe there are, and have seen evidence of better ways.
I'd much rather put my energy into pulling for something I want than opposing that which I don't, I'll let the old ways fall on their own. Resisting them just gives them the energy to fight back and self justify.
I'm not advocating everyone living in trees and building a utopian “new age” solar powered communes by any stretch. Rather, somewhere between what a lot of us see around us and something much more in harmony and respectful of not only the environment, but each other; a much more egalitarian society. Maybe I should just move to Norway. Reducing my impact, efficient use of energy and resource (as opposed to demanding more) and being more conscious is defiantly part of my thinking, hence a desire for a smaller footprint for living.
As for philosophy of life, I'd say I'm am some where between Daoism and Existentialism with a healthy dose of social responsibility. I volunteer where I can and look for community to engage with.
I also think that the world needs less cars and more decent electric rail, and I do miss the trains in Europe I must admit. WiFi and a glass of wine on the TGV lovely
You worked what, the past 8 years on ImpEx? Can you run us through the evolution of the script and give us some idea of the challenges involved? How many forums do you figure you helped convert?
Quite a while indeed, I was happy when I did work of the main product occasionally! It would have started with the vB2 scripts, which were originally written by Kier, then passed though the hands of one other before coming to me. That was my first work with vBulletin.
When 3.0 was being designed and worked on I focused on helping and paying attention to the data layer of vB, i.e. the DMs contributing where I could. At the same time I was designing and building ImpEx to be standalone for a few reasons, though mainly so it only required the source and target schema and didn't rely on files from either system. More of a tool that an add-on.
I think the original importers I generated where IPB, phpBB2, the usual UBB suspects and vB2.
The primary principle that I focused on when developing, creating new or updating importers is that ImpEx is there to protect the vBulletin data model and second to import data. Which is why I continually resisted importing into hacks.
Passwords were the classic ongoing battle - resetting was typically better anyway, and most did and were fine.
The initial challenges would've been accuracy, that being parsing all kinds of “challenging” source data and making sure it was suitable. The larger or higher profile boards, anandtech.com or Sony Europe for example, were some of my high points - one was huge and wanted a lot of performance increase to shorten the outage window and the other was merging a lot of boards into one.
Both of which ImpEx pulled of with aplomb, and I never upgraded their version, I developed the base, then told them to download, just like everyone else.
How many converted? I used to measure the “average board” to give me some understanding of processing time for ImpEx, 220,000 posts, 1600 members were the two numbers I kept seeing.
I would estimate from the launch of vB 3.0 to date, that ImpEx converted 20,000 sites (be that migrations, merge imports or the dreaded “I'm impex-ing my site clean”, ask Jake Bunce about that one! ), though I suspect it is higher, though don't want to get into quoting business & license numbers etc..
So that's 4,400,000,000 posts and 32,000,000 users.
What made you decide to leave IB and move on?
I went part time the month before Kier, Mike and Scott left. Ray did a very good job of convincing me not to drop ImpEx completely and leave.
I decided to leave eventually though, as the way decisions were being made and the path that was being taken technically and within the community was wholly incongruence with my views, beliefs, experience, history, teachings and desires.
Life is far too short for anyone to go against the grain or do something they aren't engaged with or believe in - way too short.
Do you mourn the passing of Jelsoft?
For me Jelsoft was a name on a piece of paper for my pay checks. The “vB Team” as we once were is what I joined and worked with. Whatever project I'm working on - it's all 0's and 1's to me - so really it's about the people. Kier was a friend before I joined and the rest of the team when I turned up were great, so it is that which I miss.
We could've been working on anything, and it would've likely been the best “anything” going. The focus was a programmer led attention to quality, speed, and zero bugs instead of arbitrary time lines or release dates designed to keep shareholders happy rather than the people who really matter - the customers.
In the end, this approach does benefit the shareholders, but you need to have a the long term view to understand that.
This is that essence of team that I choose to work with - not a company, not a logo or anything else. The money isn't really that important as long as it's enough so I can pay the bills and buy a few toys; [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc"]this[/ame] sums that up.
So yes, that sense of loss of the team as we knew it the over the duration was a torturous experience. There was a large emotional investment that had to be abandoned.
What are your views on marketing and management in the business of software development?
I heard a good saying in a previous employment “If you are going to be buff, be naked”.
Typically I find that the quality of a good product will shout far louder than the usual marketing efforts, which are typically attempts to cover up some areas, or promote others out of context.
I think the usual marketing techniques we see around us are basically insulting at best and commonly dishonest. I'm not a fan of most marketing I see as it is typically manipulative, condescending and misleading.
So in the actual process of developing software it has no place, in the business context as a whole I'd be hard pushed to argue it shouldn't be about at all (wishful thinking), though I just wish it would be more honest and respectful.
I don't remember any marketing when we were building vB3 or for the longest while afterwards.
Management is something I've found myself involved in a few times in the software business and I've found it to be quite challenging. Most places take an industrial revolution approach to software which to me feels so counter-intuitive. I'm talking about the view that developers are dumb typists who need to be constantly monitored, micro managed, measured by the hours they put in and forced into arbitrary deadlines.
Ironically, deadlines are typically made up by marketing types or under-qualified individuals who have never been developers who have no ability to estimate or understand the effect of sacrificing architecture for short term goals. Opposed to trying to believe that Agile development is some kind of wonder pill, they should read up on what technical debt is.
The approach I feel is best which can be read about in books like [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Teams-Second/dp/0932633439"]Amazon.com: Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) (9780932633439): Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister: Books: Reviews, Prices & more@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51MlUgcSICL.@@AMEPARAM@@51MlUgcSICL[/ame] and which can be seen in action in highly functioning places, is that management is a mostly unneeded interruption and are negative in the process of creating software.
Recently, I was a Technical Director for a games company. I've always considered myself not only a developer, but more importantly the group facilitator for the developers. That I did continue to develop, and the speed at which I could with the authority to ignore interruptions came at a surprise to a few who'd rather sit in meetings. In that role you're there to take the BS from management, ensure that you're sitting in meetings so developers aren't and generally do whatever you can to create a calm and protected environment for them.
Just give developers the goal and then do what you can to get people & interruptions out of their way, including yourself when need be.
Ideally, and what you find in high functioning places, where teams don't have to be defend from management as there isn't “management”, it's self leading groups. Self organizing, and typically quality focused, and I'm just another member of the team with my own particular skill set, mainly looking to make sure people have what they need and that momentum isn't being held up.
And I don't just mean developers, I include artists, UI people etc., anyone who actually “does” the work.
When I was a chef, the head chefs I worked for were great themselves and lead the way - “management” dealt with the paper work and stayed out of the kitchen. They didn't come into the kitchen explaining how soup tastes better “in the cloud” as they just read about it on a blog some where and thought that by talking non stop about “the cloud” they would be taken seriously. Or that all steaks would now be ready in 4 mins as that was the “agile way”.
Now I'm not knocking managed clusters, I built a beowulf when I was at Cable and Wireless (then rebuilt it to run seti ) - they are great at what they do.
Though they aren't some kind of silver bullet where you can put bad software and expect it to become amazing. What is more likely is the software will eat resources and you'll get charged heavily, and rightly so. It's the additional cost of not having a technical architect or (at least) engineers build a system.
What could have been done to prevent the demise of Jelsoft?
Given that it was owned and the decisions (most importantly the one to sell) were out of the control of the development team, nothing I'd guess.
What are you working on now?
Since leaving Jelsoft full time, (and completely a few months ago) I worked for a few places in Vancouver, last being a games studio. Both of which helped me reinforce my views as covered in the management question, so I have joined forces with two others to build a game ourselves that will be out very soon.
I'm happy to say it was developed in a healthy manner, i.e. a developer led free flowing way, where the levels of productivity were off the chart compared to what can be achieved in an office where you're being interrupted every 5 minutes and then have to stare at power point.
Other than that I'm assessing some options (possibly helping out http://opencal.com/ being one) and looking for other contracts to fill the spare time, since I'm back to working from my home office in a relaxed manner. I can build and create quite rapidly now.
I no longer stand with the vB team, nor can I stand on the merit vB once had, so I'm thinking about the next major phase of my life/career.
I'm open to suggestions.
Are you still using the same development environment?
I think it was Gentoo last time we spoke, now it's Kubuntu and ZendStudio.
After years of Gentoo (and BSD and Solaris before that) I think I've proved to myself that I'm good enough in the depths of a system. I understand it from the physics of the electricity on the CPU and the light in the fibre cables though the hardware into network stack, to the application space and out to the user. I just need to work on developing the UI skills now.
That and I really like KDE, it's also dual boot into Windows 7 for the upcoming Diablo 3.
I'm more interested in data and how a systems exchange that, the relationships and interconnections, opposed to the specifics of processing for the moment as I've focused on that a lot in the past.
I've seen quite a few developers I respect go the Mac route ... I'm still resisting the shininess ... though I *might* get a little macbook pro and a docking station, if nothing else but to learn my way around another OS (with a decent mouse). Learning something different is always good.
What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments?
This one has taken me the longest to answer - it's a tough one. Moving half way around the world isn't that easy, though I would have to say it's the amount of education and learning I've fit in so far. And that I'm still going, and the more I do the more I feel like a neophyte, it's ironic.
Any failures you'd care to tell us about?
I'd like to think I try to learn from things that appear to go “wrong”, without being too philosophical about it. Not doing that is likely the biggest failure, and of that I've been guilty several times. I think it's likely an experience thing, as I've learnt to be more objective I've gotten less annoyed at missed expectations and more interested in “why”.
Though classic coding cock ups ... using LIMIT too much in MySQL opposed to WHERE id > X and then LIMIT, that brought a few imports to their knees before I noticed and learnt.
Also never think that just because you do backups you're OK, you're not, proven restores is where it's at!
What would you want to do for a living if you weren't a software developer?
Teach I suppose, I've taught a fair few topics in my time so I'm drawn to that.
Going back to a kitchen would be fun I still cook a lot (I even bloged about the similarities with software, a few times) though hard work and long hours.
I recently finished schooling as a counsellor, though that was for personal and skills development working with teams, opposed to a career within itself, and I think it would be too emotionally draining, even if it is rewarding.
Yes likely teach ... and maybe even help organizations that work with technology evolve and approach the process of creating with the idea of healthier outcomes for all.
What are the most common mistakes you see new admins making?
Trying to control all aspects too much I think, having a “vision” for a community or site is good, though smothering the members of what could be a great community because they don't fit with the original idea I've seen a few times.
Go with it, trust that people will figure it out, to a point of course. Just be lenient with that point.
Another good reminder is that given things like ImpEx and other products importers, a community migration is a few clicks away so you can move that which is the essence of the community, i.e. the data to another product/company that you prefer with ease these days.
When vB was killing IPB & phpBB and they were playing catch up functionally and service wise, there would be a big influx each time there was an issue with them, or when we had a new feature and it would take a while before it was copied.
I'm tempted to write an open source multi importer for all systems now!
Do you manage any online communities of your own?
Not at the moment, I have and I likely will again when the new game comes out, as it's a Facebook one there are always discussions and I plan to set up a site to support that.
Unfortunately it's under wraps at the moment so I can't plug it here, given the management questions the genre would be rather fitting
Do you have a blog?
www.jeremyhutchings.com (and the rest of the links to 'me' are on www.metalcat.net).
Yes my actual name is Jeremy, not Jerry, though even my own family call me Jerry, I remember getting paid once to “Jerry Hutchings” and having to ask for a new cheque so the bank would take it.
I found I got quoted the other day as well, always a nice moment.
Which sites do you visit regularly?
The Register and the BBC most of the time, though I've gotten into following people on twitter who tend to link to interesting finds, like: twitter.com/smashingmag
How would you characterize the internet now compared to 10 years ago?
I would say 10 years ago it was opportunity madness and vapourware heaven, it was the 2000 dot com boom bust after all.
Now I think it's more a staple of life, for those in countries where it's commonly accessible that is, banking is second nature for example.
And the day I'm reviewing this I see this, “Digitally Excluded”, which leads into...
What do you think it will be like 10 years from now?
A human right I'd (like to) think, given the social pressures and changes I seen sites like Twitter supporting. Society needs to reign in some of the out of control things in this world and build better ways, and the net is part of that.
Giving people access to information, communication and the right to have a voice I think is very important, so they aren't 'digitally excluded'. Though with power comes responsibility, so it's a double edged sword.
What do you do to amuse yourself when you're offline?
I read lots. I'm near constantly in school. I try to convince myself I play bass. I like to scuba dive and snowboard, and do both far too irregularly.... I brew a fair bit, am never without a motorbike.
What are some of your favourite things?
First has to be my partner of course, the journey though life just keeps getting better with her about.
Though on a less personal note, being surprised i.e. finding out Superstition was actually by Stevie Wonder and hearing the original... I felt like the only person on the planet who didn't know !
I like random things too, e.g. just last night I was watching the world wheelchair rugby championships, that was different for me, also very good!
Reading is on the list, along with getting good use out of my home theatre & projector.
What is metalcat?
It was the domain name that one the flip of a coin over drunkcat.com. It comes from my cat Onyx, I think he was laying in the sun one day when I was thinking of names and he look like he was made of metal so it stuck in my head (and no I haven't seen Onyx drunk)....
What do you know now that you wish you'd known 5 years ago?
Apart several Grand National and Kentucky Derby winners... likely to just hold in there with my efforts to get better at front end work as the magic that is jQuery was on it's way! And now with HTML5 I can do end to end without dealing with the black magic that Kier had to years ago.
Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
I'm a half decent fencer. I used to be rather accomplished at target archery - won a few championships and many medals. It's also something I plan to get back too once I move closer to a range.
What does the future hold for Jerry Hutchings?
A masters in systems thinking is quite high on the agenda. I'm doing my pre reading at the moment - I find the interaction between science, psychology and philosophy quite brilliant and it gives me a lot of vocabulary and theories that improve my ability to communicate what I'm thinking. Another case of the benefit of looking for the similarities opposed to the differences in things
Hopefully I'll continue being a builder and facilitator of things, be they technical or social in nature, or the actual case as I see it as the interaction of both.
Thanks for spending time with us and letting us get to know so much more about you. Is there anything you'd like to say in closing?
Just thanks for having me I suppose, it's always nice getting questioned as it's an opportunity to really think about the past and put some things to rest. Then taking the learning of those experiences good and bad to the future, regardless of the actual experience as long as you've learnt about the situation and/or yourself, you're on top !
Who knows what I'll be answering in another 4-5 years.
Jeremy (a.k.a Jerry )