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Lessons learned at Agile Coaches Camp 2012

December 26, 2012 Leave a comment


December 26th, 2012 | Katie McCroskey

Lessons learned at Agile Coaches Camp 2012

Agile Coaches Camp is something I look forward to every year: catching up with familiar faces and friends; hearing everyone’s horror stories, funny stories, accomplishments and successes, and most importantly – lessons learned over the year.
It is two days of education on a vast array of topics, from shaping team culture, Agile engineering practices, Scrum vs. Kanban, dealing with a difficult team member and complex Enterprise Agile issues. There is a topic of interest for everyone, that’s because the group picks the topics – there are no premeditated sessions and no prearranged speakers. Whatever happens at Agile Coaches camp was supposed to happen – the right people are there, and the conversations flow as they are meant to flow. I always leave feeling inspired.

Personally, my goal of Agile coaches camp was to explore Agile organizational culture and team environments. Well-built Agile teams operate seamlessly – with effectiveness and precision. Team dynamics are a crucial piece to the puzzle – there also must be respect and the willingness to help. The overall dominating perspective regarding Agile teams is that the whole team succeeds and fails as one. But here comes the challenge – how do you create that type of Agile team environment?

Through first-hand experience, great conversations at Agile Coaches Camp, and a few books read – I’ve come up with a few key factors that contribute to developing a strong Agile team.

First, the right people are important. It takes the right personalities, professional skills, individual drive, and willingness to work in a team environment. Another critical aspect of an Agile team is its never-ending drive to improve and status quo is never acceptable. This constant creation of change and continual learning in an Agile environment is typical. Stepping outside comfort zones is crucial for growth but isn’t always for everyone. It is this desire to change, grow and learn that builds great teams and experienced people.

Another important element to an Agile team is the ability to self-organize. Natural leaders emerge and there has to be enough trust, respect, and team buy-in for the team in order for this self-organization to occur in a productive direction. Simply, one weak link in the chain can disrupt the productivity of the unit and break the bond for the entire team.
Overall, the key to successful Agile teams is the overarching mindset that the team fails and succeeds as one unit. This concept can be applied to all shapes and varieties of an Agile team – from a team of developers/analysts/testers/designers to an entire organization that operates reflecting the Agile mindset.

Katie McCroskey is the Marketing Manager at LogicBoost an Agile consulting firm based in Washington DC.

PhantomJS A Scriptable Headless Browser

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

October 19th, 2012 | Ken Payson

PhantomJS A Scriptable Headless Browser

More and more, modern web applications are moving away from post-back driven pages and embracing ajax intensive sites that make use of client-side view-models. While this leads to great user-experience, it raises challenges in writing tests that cover the complex functionality on the web page. Web automation tools have been around for a long time to help automate web tasks. Selenium is one of the most popular web automation frameworks. Selenium has webdrivers for all of the major browsers. By using these drivers we can automate tasks such as opening a browser, navigating to a page, filling out a form, submitting it and checking the results. This is a very usefully thing and it can be fun to watch a browser performing like a player piano; running through set of tasks without you. There is a major drawback to the current suite of web drivers though, they are slow. The time it takes to load and render pages is too slow when we have a suite of tests to run. Most of the time, the questions we are asking can be phrased as a whether a certain element is in the DOM once some other action is complete. Actually seeing things on the screen isn’t really necessary. This is doubly so when these tests are being run on a build server where we will not be watching the test run. What we want is a “headless” browser – a browser that internally does the same things that a standard browser does, makes requests, parses html, builds a DOM, understands javascript, handles cookies, and session. In shorts it behaves like a browser does except it doesn’t actually render pages.

Enter PhantomJS. PhantomJS is a headless javascript scriptable webbrowser built using the WebKit engine. There have been other attempts at headless browsers in the past. The HTML Browser remote driver with Selenium, is one example. However, earlier headless browsers did not have a proper javascript engine backing them and as a result were limited to use with very simple pages. Because PhantomJs is based on webkit, and uses the WebKit javascript engine it does not have this problem.

To get started with PhantomJS, download the latest version from Working with PhantomJS directly can be challenging because PhantomJS is rather low level. To make working with PhantomJS easy, also download CasperJS from CasperJS is a navigation scripting & testing utility written to work with PhantomJS. It enhances the PhantomJS API so the coding is easier.

Scripting with Phantom/Casper is very easy once you learn to avoid a few of the pitfalls. With Phantom/Casper you can write javascript that is injected into the webpage you are testing. Casper has a utility class for selecting and modifying elements via css selectors.

If you need, it is also be possible to use JQuery. If JQuery is not already part of the page, it can be dynamically injected and used. However, usually it is easiest to use the document.querySelector method that is natively part of the latest version of javascript.

Phantom scripts are server side javascript. We can send client side javascript to the browser. We can also do things server side that we cannot do in a browser. There is a File System module that lets us read and write to files. There is a System module that lets us work with command line arguments and environment variables.

Here is a simple example that will query google using supplied command line arguments. A report on the results will be written to a file.

Here is the PhantomJS script using Casper

phantom.casperPath = 'C:\\CasperJs\\casperjs-1.0.0-RC1';
phantom.injectJs(phantom.casperPath + '\\bin\\bootstrap.js');

var casper = require('casper').create();

var system = require('system');
var page = require('webpage').create();
var utils = require('utils');
var fs = require('fs');

var Debug = function(message) {
    casper.echo("\n" + message + "\n");

var googleHome= "";


casper.userAgent('Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/21.0.1180.89');
casper.thenOpen(googleHome, function() {
    casper.echo("url: " + this.getCurrentUrl());

casper.then(function() {
    Debug("SearchTerm1: " + system.args[1]);
    Debug("SearchTerm2: " + system.args[2]);

casper.then(function() {
    casper.evaluate(function(searchTerm1,searchTerm2) {
        document.querySelector('input[name="q"]').setAttribute('value', searchTerm1 + ' ' + searchTerm2);
    }, {
        searchTerm1: system.args[1],
        searchTerm2: system.args[2]

casper.then(function() {
    Debug("new url: " + this.getCurrentUrl());

casper.then(function() {

    var secondLink = this.evaluate(function() {
        return  __utils__.findAll('h3.r a')[1].href; 
    var numResultsOnPage = this.evaluate(function() {
        return __utils__.findAll('h3.r a').length;
    var fstream ='C:\\temp\\searchResults.txt', 'w');
    fstream.write("There are " + secondLink + " results on the page\r\n\r\n");
    fstream.write("The second link url is " + numResultsOnPage);
}); {

PhantomJS is run from the command line: PhantomJs …

In order to stay away from the dos prompt, I usually create a one or two line batch file to run my PhantomJs script. Here is the batch file to run the example program.
cd c:\\phantomjs\\scripts
phantomjs GoogleSearch2.js stinky cheese

The future of PhantomJS with Selenium
One thing exciting development to keep an eye on is GhostDriver. GhostDriver is a Selenium Web Driver for PhantomJS. It is still in development and Selenium doesn’t fully support it, but when it is available (mostly in the next release 2.26) it will be possible to write Selenium tests in C# and have them run against PhantomJS. Initial reports say that the GhostDriver with PhantomJS could be twice as fast as the Selenium Chrome Driver.


David Cooksey is a Senior .NET developer at LogicBoost, an agile software services and product development company based in Washington DC.

TDD Teams Write Better Software

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

November 16th, 2011 | Katie McCroskey

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I’ll try to keep this brief – TDD teams write better software.

The chart above is based on a formal paper of four empirical case studies on teams using Test Driven Development. Test Driven Development has been used sporadically for decades, and has been tested in academic and controlled settings numerous times. But this paper is different because it’s not about controlled experiments; it involves real people, real projects and real customers – at IBM and Microsoft, really smart companies. Test Driven Development is when a developer writes a failing unit test to define a desired function. Then, code is written to pass the failing test. Finally, the code is refactored to meet acceptable coding standards. The developers are in control, constantly making small design and implementation decisions – and getting constant feedback.

A few details on the teams: at IBM the developers were working on developing device drivers, working on new and legacy code. It was a distributed team, working in Java and no one had any previous experience in TDD. The teams at Microsoft, on the other hand, were co-located, working in C# and C++ on three products you may have heard of: Windows, MSN and Visual Studio. None of these teams were Agile, but collectively decided to try out TDD.

Despite the differences in project size, type and environment – the results were conclusive. Test Driven Development drastically reduced the defect density (bugs, missed requirements, etc.), anywhere from 40 – 90%. In the end, the tests were considered assets so when the code is enhanced/modified it will be easier to find new bugs. Although all the teams did experience a slight increase in development time, 15 – 35%, the increased time is offset by the improved quality and reduced maintenance costs. If you are interested in learning more, check out the formal paper.

Katie McCroskey is the Marketing Manager at LogicBoost an Agile consulting firm based in Washington DC.

An Unusual Regex Application

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

April 21, 2011 | David Cooksey

An Unusual Regex Application

As any student of regular expressions knows, the regular expression engine has no understanding of the meaning of the characters it matches. The engine can match “A” or “B” but it doesn’t understand the relationship between “A” and “B”. It can match 1 or 2 but it cannot tell you that 1 + 2 = 3.

However, regular expressions are very good at quickly matching text and this can be used to obtain some related information, such as how many instances of a capture group were found. A Regex can be created based on this which will tell you how many of each letter occurs in a string. Consider the following example.

Let’s say you have a string containing some letters, such as “wsaerdctfvygbhnjmhgdeswxdcfgvbhjnqwertyuioplkjhgfdsazxcvbnmwsae”
Against this, run the following code block with the string above as the content.

Each letter has its own named capture group allowing zero or more repetitions. The number of captures of each letter-specific group is equal to the number of letters in the string. This can be extended to count specific words, words starting or ending with specific letters, or any other pattern-based categories.

David Cooksey is a Senior .NET developer at Thycotic Software, an agile software services and product development company based in Washington DC. Secret Server is our flagship password management software product.

The Agile Virtue of Transparency

April 14, 2011 1 comment

David on Transparency and Agile Practices

April 14, 2011 | David Cooksey

The Agile Virtue of Transparency

Transparency runs contrary to human nature. We all want to look good, however, the greatest programmer in the world will still cause bugs. Few designs are so prescient that they never require updating. When mistakes or design flaws are discovered, it’s natural to downplay, hide, excuse, or otherwise mitigate the negative effect these mistakes have upon our reputation.

Unfortunately, this human tendency can cause many problems. Bugs can remain unfixed and architectural flaws unresolved. In order for our code and processes to be useful, our mistakes need to be brought to light and corrected. This is precisely why transparency is so valuable, and also so difficult. A team or organization must be structured in such a way that mistakes are corrected while simultaneously encouraging people to own up to their mistakes.

Naturally, common sense applies. There is no need for every developer to constantly inform the team every time they make a typo or cause a test to fail locally. Transparency does not mean that every individual detail should be published to everyone up and down the chain. No one can absorb all of that data, and the sheer mass of data would actually discourage transparency because it would be extremely hard to find the data points that are relevant. A problem or potential problem should be brought to the attention of the people who can resolve the problem, and those who should be notified of it as soon as possible.

A friend told me a story recently that does an excellent job of illustrating the value of transparency between levels. His company had decided that it was time to create a new website. Their website was functional, but could use a facelift. Also, there was a lot of business logic in the database which could possibly be pulled out into a services layer. The team was hired and they got to work. A year later, the new website had less functionality than the original website. Content management required business analysts to open and compile multiple Visual Studio solutions. A change to a stored procedure parameter required compiling more than 12 independent solutions—and no business logic had been pulled out of the database.

This occurred because the people asking for the new site had no view whatsoever into what it was going to be. There was no involved product owner. There were no intermediate demos that evaluated progress or architecture. There were no intermediate releases to gather feedback. As a result, a year’s worth of time and considerable funds were wasted.

This is an extreme example, but it shows very clearly why transparency is such a valuable virtue for an organization to have. Opaqueness makes it far too easy to hide flaws, which can dramatically increase cost to the company.

So, how do we encourage transparency within an organization? First, lead by example. If a manager never admits to a mistake, chances are the people working for that manager will never admit to mistakes either. Secondly, avoid mockery. Scorn, ridicule, and condescension train people to protect themselves emotionally by hiding their mistakes. Every developer will cause bugs and make poor design decisions from time to time. Third, extend a helping hand. The field of development is so large that no one is an expert in everything. Sometimes a bug or unusual design decision is caused by incomplete understanding of part of the specific system or the underlying programming concept. A team effort to fix the bug, if it is significant, can help create a sense of community and avoid the blame game.

There is no doubt that transparency is difficult to achieve and maintain. However, if you want to develop products that meet the needs of your users in a work environment where people can focus on their work instead of appearances, it is essential.

David Cooksey is a Senior .NET developer at Thycotic Software, an agile software services and product development company based in Washington DC. Secret Server is our flagship password management software product.

Quick Tip: Control.Find(string id) Extension Method

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

December 27th 2010 | Jimmy Bosse

Quick Tip: Control.Find(string id) Extension Method

For my current project, I am constantly using FindControl to dynamically locate a child control within a parent control. Instead of constantly typing this:

1: DropDownList dropDownList = employeeListView.FindControl(“regionDropDownList”) as DropDownList;

I created an extention method to prettify my code:

   1: public static class ControlExtensions
   2: {
   3:     public static T Find<T>(this Control control, string id) where T : Control
   4:     {
   5:         return (T) control.FindControl(id);
   6:     }
   7: }

So now I can type this:

1: employeeListView.Find(“regionDropDownList”);


Jimmy Bosse is a Senior .NET developer and Team Lead at Thycotic Software, an agile software services and product development company based in Washington DC. Secret Server is our flagship password management software product.

Working with XML Namespaces and LINQ

October 11, 2010 3 comments

Ben XML Namespaces

October 11th 2010 | Ben Yoder

Working with XML Namespaces and LINQ

While working on a project using LINQ to XML to parse a web response, I ran into an issue whereby my calls to get an entity’s Descendants or Elements were returning no results. It turned out that the specified response included a namespace. In this case you can’t use the common element name—you must get the fully qualified XName.

For example, given the following XML and LINQ Query:

    string xml = @"<Employees>

        XElement employee = XElement.Parse(xml);

    var employees = from e in employee.Descendants("Employee")
                        select new
                            Id = e.Element("Id").Value,
                            FirstName = e.Element("FirstName").Value,
                            LastName = e.Element("LastName").Value

The query works and the employees object contains John Smith. However if the XML changes, the query returns nothing:

    <h:Employees xmlns:h="">

After browsing through some MSDN documentation, I learned that I have to include the namespace in the query. I got the full name using XName.Get()

    XName root = XName.Get("Employee", "");
    XName firstName = XName.Get("FirstName", "");
    XName lastName = XName.Get("LastName", "");
    XName id = XName.Get("Id", "");

Replace the names in the LINQ query and it returns the correct results. Of course, there are other ways to accomplish this. You could create an XNamespace object based on the namespace string and prepend it to each element name in the query. Creating an individual XName object for each query parameter gets kind of verbose, so for more complex LINQ this is probably not the preferred way.

Ben Yoder is a Senior .NET developer at Thycotic Software, an agile software services and product development company based in Washington DC. Secret Server is our flagship password management software product.