MSBuild

How we saved $1,000,000 for Microsoft with this one, small change

British Cycling Team - 2012 Olympics

Everyday when I am doing some small bug fixes or minor improvements I am thinking about the British Cycling team. They dominated 2012 Olympics thanks to marginal improvements. Such as cleaning hands properly, taking their own pillows when traveling or sleeping in the right position. All of these small things put together resulted in 7 out of 10 track cycling gold medals.

It turns out that the same strategy might work in software development. Especially if you work on large project.

1 million dollar improvement

In Azure Portal we have hundreds of developers working on one codebase. We are using MSBuild to perform builds. With default options, MSBuild was printing out to console a lot of logs that weren’t very useful. When you are building project, you are usually interested in errors. It turned out that changing verbosity of output speed up builds from a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the project that is being built and type of the build (incremental / rebuild all).

Taking into account that there is at least 100 developers working everyday on the Azure Portal (in fact there is much more, but not everybody is working on the Portal full time), and assuming that everybody is performing at least 20 builds per day (savings up to 30 seconds per build), and 4-5 full project builds (savings around 1-2 minutes), every developer can save around 20 minutes everyday!

This gives us:

100 developers x 20 minutes x 240 days working days per year = 480,000 minutes = 8,000 hours

Assuming ~$150/hr  it give us total savings: 8000*$150 = $1,200,000

Incremental changes over years

When I am looking back, I am impressed how much the Azure Portal have changed over last two years. This is portal in 2014:

Azure Portal in 2014

This is portal in 2017:

Azure Portal in 2016

We haven’t done any breakthrough changes overnight. I have never had a feeling that one day resulted in some significant difference. It was 1 step at the time, one small bug fix one day, one tiny part of new feature another day.

Small improvements every day, everywhere…

This applies not only to large scale project. Think about Open Source. Even when you are doing documentation improvements for ASP.NET docs, you can save time for hundreds of developers. You are not saving particular company’s money, but you are saving our (developers) money and what’s even more important, time that can be invested somewhere else.

Another great example of small incremental improvements is John-David Dalton. Creator of lodash. He is contributing code on github every(!) day for a few years now. This is his github contributions chart:

John-David Dalton contributions

No white squares. Some of his daily commits are tiny, some are small. By being consistent every day, over years he was able to create one of the most popular JavaScript library.

What small improvement can you do in your project? Think about it, and remember that best ideas are born when you are away from your computer!


Hi, I’m Jakub and I work for Microsoft

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After I got my degree in August I moved to Redmond, WA to start my new job at Microsoft. I work for Azure App Platform Team. My official position is Software Development Engineer (SDE).

It has been a month since I started. So far, my team, work environment, the product and development process are great.

My team

MS team

My team (which is part of Azure App Platform) is working on the new Azure Portal. People in my team are smart. All of them. Moreover, they are really passionate about things they are doing, and they really care. I am working with Steve Sanderson, the creator of Knockout.js and one of the best technical speakers. The team is very diverse: people from many different countries all around the World, with a quite few girls among them.

My team is working in Agile.  The working culture is generally: “Get the job done”. People are in the office usually between 10am and 5pm. Some are coming later, and stay longer, others come early and leave early (there are also people who come early and leave late). If somebody feel the need to focus and don’t being interrupted then he/she is working from home, and it is not a problem.

What is the best, I am not implementing some spec written by somebody 5 levels above me. I need to implement an idea, add my contribution, suggest changes etc. When I asked a question what are the expectations from me, my lead and my manager told me that they expect me to suggest some ideas how to make the product better, how we can improve it, and what we are doing wrong. This is exactly what I was looking forward to!

Work environment

MS workspace

The building I am working in (Microsoft Building 44) is designed for Agile interactions. There are white boards everywhere. We work in Open Spaces (around 15 people per room). Microsoft is changing approach, and moving from private offices/cubicles to open spaces. What is cool, there are 3 conference rooms ‘attached’ to our Open Space (2 small, 1 big), and if somebody needs to work in peace, he/she can use one of them. If all are occupied (which does not happen very often), there are special ‘focus rooms’ (with desk and chair) in the building.

I have great machines to work on: HP Workstation Z420 (Xeon E5-1650 v2 3.5 GHz, 32 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD + 256 GB SSD + 1 TB SATA) with two 24″ monitors DELL Ultrasharp U2415, and Microsoft Sculpt keyboard and mouse. I have also ultrabook Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (i7-3667U @ 2 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 240 GB SSD). I have adjustable height desk, and very comfortable Haworth Zody Task chair.

The product

MS Azure Portal

The new Azure portal is a Single Page Metro Web Application. One of the main goals of the new portal is to make it easy for adding extensions. My team is working on the Framework, which is being used by other teams to create front-end for underlying Azure infrastructure. What is cool,  every extension is working as a standalone application in a separate iframe. Extension authors do not need to work with HTML and CSS a lot. They just use controls (e.g. list, combo box or checkbox) created by us, and communicate with them through TypeScript/JavaScript. Update of the view is performed by Knockout.js. Check Justin Beckwith’s post about the new Azure portal architecture. If you have not seen it yet, check the Overview of the new Azure Portal with Vishal Joshi and Scott Hanselman and Vishal and Scott create a new startup with the new Azure Portal. To get started with Azure, check my previous post, and get a free trial. Moreover, we need (and we appreciate) your feedback!

Technologies


MS technologies

We use HTML5 and LESS for our View layer. LESS is very handy in maintaining big style sheets.

We use TypeScript (which compiles to JavaScript). Strong typing, and abstraction over JavaScript inheritance (TypeScript classes) is very, very helpful in building large-scale application. To be honest, I do not know how we would be able to maintain the new Azure Portal using raw JavaScript.

Our main JavaScript Framework is Knockout.js. This allows us to prepare generic, reusable controls that can be used by other teams without the need of interaction with the DOM.

Our unit test framework is QUnit. For integration tests we use Selenium.

We use git for source control management. As Continuous Integration Server, we use Jenkins.

We have code review process supported by CodeFlow. It is required to have at least 2 reviews before code can be checked-in/pushed to the repository.

Building process is supported by MSBuild.

Behind the scenes, we use bunch of other JS libs, e.g. q.js, inject.js, d3.js, hammer.js or ZeroClipboard.js.

Summary

After 1 month I love it! There are many challenges, and interesting problems to solve. I am still new to the project, and I didn’t discover it entirely yet. What I can say now, I really like the people from my team, the software development process and work environment in my team.

Probably I will be writing about my work on this blog. Stay tuned!

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