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Tuesday, Feb 21 2012

From Our Team: How to Thrive in the SCM Field

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Interview with Darrel Strom, a Release Architect in TelePresence at Cisco.

darrel-strom-541x640-253x300We reached out to our team to talk about the current trends in the tech industry and what it takes to be a successful consultant. We sat down with team member Darrel Strom, a Release Architect in TelePresence at Cisco. With more than 30 years of experience Darrel is a recognized guru in software build automation, Software Configuration Management (SCM), and release engineering. He specializes in implementing and configuring SCM tools like ClearCase, Subversion and Perforce to make it easier for developers to check code out, modify and test it to check it back in. He automates build and release processes and integrates these with SCM tools to create easy, reliable, push-button releases.

We started out by asking Darrel about the biggest topics that are currently impacting the SCM field.

He said the biggest topic impacting his field is adoption of GIT software, an open-source configuration management tool that keeps track of urgent files with an emphasis on speed. It’s structurally and culturally very different than other systems because it is a distributed system. Almost all other major tools are centralized. GIT comes from the Linux development team, so it doesn’t always fit well in other software development situations. He explained that tools are written to reflect the “cultures” of different types of development teams and the platforms they use.  Not all cultures meld smoothly which can create conflicts in large enterprise companies with many different development teams. His job is to be the nexus point of code management and the challenge is keeping the cultures compatible across the teams.

We asked him how he keeps his skills and knowledge up-to-date, with the tech industry changing so rapidly. How do you know what sources to trust and what places to look when refining your skills?

For Darrel the best way to learn new skills and tactics is to simply choose engagements that allow an opportunity to learn. For example, now that he is working on a GIT project at Cisco, he has learned more about how it works and how it reacts to other technologies. He said he also uses the web when looking to refine his skills. Google provides answers for basic questions, but he also uses a website called www.cmcrossroads.org because he is familiar with several of the authors and trusts their work.

He also uses his network of reputable friends or colleagues to get questions answered.  “Reaching out to your network for a quick ‘10 min brain dump’ is a great way to use your resources.”

We asked Darrel about what he looks for in a consulting or contracting opportunity. Since there are many factors when looking for new jobs, we wanted to know what stands out to an experienced consultant like himself.

Darrel noted that his biggest factor is the people involved, but is mainly influenced by the hiring manager. After many years in this industry a classic startup pitch is not as an attractive position as it once was. He needs to have proof that there is an opportunity for success and that the hiring manager has a vision of better place and a solid end goal.

Darrel said, “I look for projects where I can come and utilize my skills the best to help complete the project.”

Finally, we asked Darrel, how have you seen the software deployment lifecycle change in the last five years?

He describes the old industry style to be rigid and the release cycles were etched in stone and specific dates were set on the calendar. There was no room for negotiation and the testing cycle would start and stop according to the schedule.

Darrel happily explained that Silicon Valley is more flexible in regards to the development process and is much more interactive. “We need to plan for our next releases and also start thinking a little differently about more than just what is in front of us. It’s a different way of approaching the process, which requires more discipline.”

Lastly, Darrel left us with this one tip for success, “I make sure that I continue to be a ‘jack of all traits’ because there are no more one trick ponies left in the game. You must be versatile, able to do different projects and speak various technical languages while still being the master of your own domain.”