How I Hack Email

In a conversation with @alexbaldwin yesterday the topic of email came up, with each of us quickly diving into various observations, how its both awesome and a great form of communication/engagement, how most people still do it really bad. Alex has some good experience with it with hack design having over 100,000 subscribers. A tangent in an entirely unrelated meeting with @mschoening and others it was suggested instead of emailing a list to send out a ton of individual emails instead. Both of these reminded me that email is incredibly powerful, but taking advantage of its power has to be intentional.

This is not about ways to get to inbox 0 or better manage your inflow of emails. Rather its about how to get the maximum output out of emails that you send, or minimum output depending on what you prefer.

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Examining Postgres 9.4 - a First Look

PostgreSQL is currently entering its final commit fest. While its still going, which means there could still be more great features to come, we can start to take a look at what you can expect from it now. This release seems to bring a lot of minor increments versus some bigger highlights of previous ones. At the same time there’s still a lot on the bubble that may or may not make it which could entirely change the shape of this one. For a peek back of some of the past ones:

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Where to Go With Developer Content

Last week I wrote up some initial steps for getting started with marketing a developer focused product. The short of it was quite trying to do “marketing” and just start putting out interesting material. A big part of this is sourcing material from your company’s developers. From there you want to gradually shift it from simply interesting technical posts to things that align with your core beliefs and add value to your customers.

Perhaps the easiest way to do this is by highlighting some examples of it.

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Rethinking the Limits on Relational Databases

Theres a lot of back and forth on NoSQL databases. The unfortunate part with all the back and forth and unclear definitions of NoSQL is that many of the valuable learnings are lost. This post isn’t about the differences in NoSQL definitions, but rather some of the huge benefits that do exist in whats often grouped into the schema-less world that could easily be applied to the relational world.

Forget migrations

Perhaps the best thing about the idea of a schemaless database is that you can just push code and it works. Almost exactly five years ago Heroku shipped git push heroku master letting you simply push code from git and it just work. CouchDB and MongoDB have done similar for databases… you don’t have to run CREATE TABLE or ALTER TABLE migrations before working with your database. There’s something wonderful about just building and shipping your application without worrying about migrations.

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Where to Start With Developer Content

Commonly at developer focused companies the question from a marketing team will come up of “How do we get content that developers find interesting”? Or how can I get our developers to blog more? Or some other similar question. I general the question of creating content and engaging with developers is a very common one, and often theres a mismatch between what marketing wants to do and what developers appreciate.

Stop marketing

Forget trying to “market” to developers. Hopefully you at least have developers that believe in the product their building, if thats not the case then find a new product or a new team. If you’ve got a product targetted at developers and a team that believes in it then you’re already half way there to marketing it. Now back to the first point, forget trying to market it. Start with building some form of an audience, reputation, respect among other developers. This isn’t done through ads, email marketing, SEO or any of that. Its done by creating content that developers find interesting, as a first step forget your product entirely, but don’t worry we’ll get there soon enough.

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The Best Postgres Feature You’re Not Using – CTEs Aka WITH Clauses

SQL by default isn’t typically friendly to dive into, and especially so if you’re reading someone else’s already created queries. For some reason most people throw out principles we follow in other languages such as commenting and composability just for SQL. I was recently reminded of a key feature in Postgres that most don’t use by @timonk highlighting it in his AWS Re:Invent Redshift talk. The simple feature actually makes SQL both readable and composable, and even for my own queries capable of coming back to them months later and understanding them, where previously they would not be.

The feature itself is known as CTEs or common table expressions, you may also here it referred to as WITH clauses. The general idea is that it allows you to create something somewhat equivilant to a view that only exists during that transaction. You can create multiple of these which then allow for clear building blocks and make it simple to follow what you’re doing.

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Tooling for Simple but Informative Emails

Emails are one of my favorite methods of communicating with users. Its works as a quick test for product validation. It works well at one->some->many-> all. Its still highly effective even as much noise as we receive in our inboxes. Over the years I’ve tried a lot of email tools from custom built solutions, to newer entrants that help around drip actions (intercom.io and customer.io), to more “enterprise” tools such as Marketo. While I have varying opinions on all of those, I still find myself coming back to a simple one off script setup to deliver clear concise emails.

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Disabling Muting While Typing in Google Hangouts

Google hangouts is awesome, its my preferred method for most audio/video calls these days. When running a group call I often dial into a separate phone if I have a better phone available for the group. It also got around the annoyance that when you are typing google automatically mutes you. This for most people is pretty subpar. While dialing in to the hangout can still be nice, you don’t have to do so to get rid of the annoying muting while typing. To fix such simply open up your terminal and run:

 defaults write com.google.googletalkplugind exps -string [\"-tm\"]

This clever hack discovered courtesy of @timtyrrell passed along to me by @mattmanning and @blakegentry

Diving Into Postgres JSON Operators and Functions

Just as PostgreSQL 9.3 was coming out I had a need to take advantage of the JSON datatype and some of the operators and functions within it. The use case was pretty simple, run a query across a variety of databases, then take the results and store them. We explored doing something more elaborate with the columns/values, but in the end just opted to save the entire result set as JSON then I could use the operators to explore it as desired.

Here’s the general idea in code (using sequel):

result = r.connection { |c| c.fetch(self.query).all }
mymodel.results = result.to_json
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The Rule of Thirds - Followup

Several months back I wrote about how we do higher level, long term planning within the Heroku Postgres team. If you haven’t read the previous article please start there.

The exercise or rule of thirds is intended to be approximate prioritization and not a perfect science. Since that time I’m familiar with some teams both in and out of Heroku who have attempted this exercise with varying levels of success. We’ve now done this process 4 times within the team and after the most recent exercise attempted to take some time to internalize why its worked well, creating some more specifics about the process. Heres an attempt to provide even more clarity:

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