A minimal set of skills for software development contractors

You aren’t sure if your developer is professional enough? Here are seven topics you can ask him about to find it out. It’s the minimal skill set a modern developer should use.

“Our company is specialized in providing professional software development for our customers”. That’s a nice statement to inspire your customers with. The only problem with it is: every contractor claims to be professional. You wouldn’t even get a project if you admitted to be “unprofessional”. But how can a customer, mostly unaware of the subtleties in the field of software development, decide if his contractor really works professionally? A lot of money currently spent on projects doomed from the beginning could be saved if the answer was that easy. But there’s a lower limit of skills that have to be present to pass the most minimal litmus test on developer professionality. This blog article gives you an overview about the things you should ask from your next software development contractor.

First a disclaimer: I’ve compiled this list of skills with the best intentions. It is definitely possible to develop software without some or even any of these skills. The development can even be performed in a very professional manner. So the absence of a skill doesn’t reveal an unprofessional contractor without fail. And on the other side, the clear presence of all skills doesn’t lead to glorious projects. The list is a rule of thumb to distinguish the “better” contractor from the “worse”. It’s a starting ground for the inexperienced customer to ask the right questions and get hopefully insightful answers.

Let’s assume you are a customer on the lookout for a suitable software development contractor, maybe a freelancer or a company. You might take this list and just ask your potential developer about every item on it. Listen to their answers and let them show you their implementation of the skill. In my opinion, the last point is the most crucial one: Don’t just talk about it, let them demonstrate their abilities. You won’t be able to differentiate the best from the most trivial implementation at first, but that’s part of the learning process. The thing is: if the developer can readily demonstrate something, chances are he really knows what he is talking about.

The minimal skills

The list is sorted by their direct impact on the overall development quality. This includes the quality perceived by you (the customer), the end user and the next developer who inherits the source code once the original developer bails out. This doesn’t mean that the topics mentioned later are “optional” in the long run.

Source code management system

This tool has many different names: source code management (SCM), revision control system (RCS) and version control system (VCS) are just a few of them. It is used to track the changes in the code over time. With this tool, the developer is able to tell you exactly which change happened when, for what version and by whom. It is even possible to undo the change later on. If your developer mentions specific tool names like Git, Subversion, Perforce or Mercurial, you are mostly settled here. Let him show you a typical sync-edit-commit cycle and try to comprehend what he’s telling you. Most developers love to brag about their sophisticated use of version control abilities.

Issue tracking

An issue or bug tracker is a tool that stores all inquiries, bug reports, wishes and complaints you make. You can compare it to a helpdesk “trouble ticket” system. The issue tracker provides a todo list for the developer and acts as an impartial documentation of your communication with the developer. If you can’t get direct access to the issue tracker on their website, let them demonstrate the usage by playing through a typical scenario like a bug report. At least, the developer should provide you with a list of “resolved” issues for each new version of your software.

Continuous integration

This is a relatively new type of tool, but a very powerful one. It can also be named a “build server” or (less powerful) a “nightly build”. The baseline is that your project will be built by an automated process, as often as possible. In the case of continuous integration, the build happens after each commit to the source code management system (refer to the first entry of this list). Let your developer show you what happens automatically after a commit to the source code management system. Ask him about the “build time” of your project (or other projects). This is the time needed to produce a new version you can try out. If the build time is reasonably low (like a few minutes), ask for a small change to your project and wait for the resulting software.

There is a fair chance that your developer not only talks about “continuous integration”, but also “continuous delivery”. This includes words like “staging”, “build queue”, “test installation”, etc. Great! Let them explain and demonstrate their implementation of “continuous delivery”. You’ll probably be impressed and the developer had another chance to brag.

Verification (a.k.a. Testing)

This is a delicate question: “Will the source code contain automated tests?”. Our industry’s expectancy value for any kind of automated tests in a project is still dangerously near absolute zero. If you get blank stares on that question, that’s not a good sign. It doesn’t really matter too much if the answer contains the words “unit test”, “integration test” or even “acceptance test”. Most important again: Let your developer show you their implementation of automated tests in your (or a similar) project. Make sure the continuous integration server (refer to entry number three) is aware of the tests and runs them on every build. This way, everything that’s secured by tests cannot break without being noticed immediately. You probably won’t have to deal with reappearing bugs in every other version, a symptom known as “regression”.

Your developer might be really enthusiastic about testing. While every developer hour costs your precious money, this is money well spent. Think of it as an insurance against unpredictable behaviour of your software in the future. Over the course of development, you won’t notice these tests directly, as they are used internally for development. Talk to your developer about some form of reporting on the tests. Perhaps a “test coverage” report that accompanies the issue list (refer to the second entry)? Just don’t go overboard here. A low test coverage percentage is still better than no tests.

If your developer states that he is “test driven”, that’s not a psychological condition, but a modern attempt to test really thoroughly. Let him demonstrate you the advantages of this approach by playing through an implementation cycle of a small change to your project. It may foster your confidence in the insurance’s power.

Project documentation

Every software project above the trivial level contains so many details that no human brain is able to remember them all after some time. Your developer needs some place to store vital information about the project other than “in the code” and “in the issue tracker”. A popular choice to implement this requirement is providing a Wiki. You probably already know a Wiki from Wikipedia. Think about a web-based text editing tool with structuring possibilities. If you can’t access the documentation tool yourself, let your developer demonstrate it. Ask about an excerpt of your project documentation, perhaps as a PDF or HTML document. Don’t be too picky about the aesthetics, the main use case is quick and easy information retrieval. Even handwritten project documentation may pass your test, as long as it is stored in one central place.

Source code conventions

Nearly all source code is readable by a machine. But some source code is totally illegible by fellow developers or even the original author. Ask your developer about their code formatting rules. Hopefully, he can provide you with some written rules that are really applied to the code. For most programming languages, there are tools that can check the formatting against certain rules. These programs are called “code inspection tools” and fit like hand in glove with the continuous integration server (refer to the third entry). Some aspects of source code readability cannot be checked by algorithms, like naming or clarity of concepts. Good developers perform regular code reviews where fellow developers discuss the code critically and suggest improvements. The best customers explicitely ask for code reviews, even if they won’t participate in them. You will feel the difference in the produced software on the long run.

Community awareness

Software development is a rapidly advancing profession, with game-changing discoveries every other year. One single developer cannot track all the new tools, concepts and possibilities in his field. He has to rely on a community of like-minded and well-meaning experts that share their knowledge. Ask your developer about his community. What (technical) books did he read recently? What books are known by the whole development team? As a customer, you probably can’t tell right away if the books are worth their paper, but that’s not the main point of the question. Just like with tests, the amount of books read by the average programmer won’t make a very long list. If your development team is consistent enough to share a common literature ground, that’s already worth a lot.

But it’s not just books. Even books are too slow for the advancement! Ask about participation in local technical events, like user groups of the programming language of your project. What about sharing? Does the developer share his experiences and insights? The cheapest way to do that is a weblog (you’re reading one right now). Let him show you his blog. How many articles are published in a reasonable timespan, what’s the feedback? Perhaps he writes articles for a technical magazine or even a book? Now you can ask other developers for their opinion on the published work. You’ve probably found a really professional developer, congratulations.

There is more, much more

This list is in no way exhaustive in regard to what a capable developer uses in concepts, skills and tools. This is meant as the minimal set, with a lot of room for improvement. There are compilations of skills like the Clean Code Developer that go way beyond this list. Ask your developer about his personal field of interest. Hopefully, after he finished bragging and techno-babbling for some time, you’re convinced that your developer is a professional one. You shouldn’t settle for less.

Depth-first programmers

Depth-first programmers are always busy creating horribly complicated solutions that are somehow off the mark. Here’s why and what to do against it.

Just as there are at least two fundamentally different approaches for searching, namely depth-first and breadth-first search, there are also different types of programmers. The depth-first programmer is a dangerous type, as he is prone to yak shaving and reinvention of the wheel.

The depth-first programmer

Let me try to define the term of a “depth-first programmer” by a little (true) story. A novice java programmer should make some changes to an existing code. To secure his work, he should and wanted to write unit tests in JUnit. He started the work and soon enough, first results could be seen. But when he started to write his tests, the progress notifications stopped. The programmer worked frantically for hours and then days to write what appeared to be some simple data-driven tests.

Finally, the novice java programmer reported success and showed his results. He wrote his tests and “had to extend JUnit a bit to do it right”. Wait, what? Well, in JUnit, the test methods cannot have parameters, but the programmer’s tests needed to be parametrized. So he replaced the part of JUnit that calls the test methods by reflection with an “improved” algorithm that could also inject parameters. His implementation relied on obscure data structures that provided the actual parameter values and only really worked for his needs. The whole mess was nearly intangible, a big bloat and needed most of the development time for the unit tests.

And it was totally unnecessary once you learn about “Parameterized” JUnit4 tests or build light-weight data drivers instead of changing the signature of the test method itself. But this programmer dove deep into JUnit to adjust the framework itself to his needs. When asked about it, he stated that “he needed to pass the parameters somehow”. That’s right, but he choose the most expensive way to do so.

He exhibited the general behaviour of a depth-first programmer: whenever you face a problem, take the first possible solution to a problem you can come up with and work on it without evaluation against other possibilities. And continue on the path without looking back, no matter how long it takes.

Stuck in activism

The problem with this approach should be common sense. The obvious option isn’t always the best or even a good one. You have to evaluate the different possible solutions by their advantages and drawbacks. A less obvious solution might be far better in every aspect but obviousness. Another problem with this approach is the absence of internal warning signs.

Getting stuck is an internal warning sign every programmer understands. You’ve worked your way in a certain direction and suddenly, you cannot advance further. Something blocks your anticipated way of solving the problem and you cannot think of an acceptable way past it. A depth-first programmer never gets stuck this way. No matter how expensive, he will pursue the first thing that brings him closer to the target. A depth-first programmer always churns out code at full speed. Most of it isn’t needed on second thought and can be plain harmful when left in the project. The depth-first programmer will always report progress even when he needs days for a task of minutes. He is stuck in activism.

Progress without guidance

This isn’t a rant about incompetent programmers. Every good programmer knows the situation when you suddenly realize that you’re shaving a yak when all you wanted to do is to add a feature to the code base. This is your self-guidance system regaining consciousness after a period of auto-piloting in depth-first mode. Every programmer behaves depth-first sometimes.

This can be explained with the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition. On the first stage, called “Beginner”, you are simply not capable of proper self-evaluation. You cannot distinguish between good and not so good approaches beforehands or even afterwards. Your expertise in the narrow field of the problem at hand isn’t broad enough to recognize an error even when you are working on the error yourself for prolonged times.

In the Dreyfus Model, a beginner needs external guidance. Somebody with more experience has to point out errors for you and formulate alternatives as clearly and specific as possible. Without external guidance, a beginner will become a depth-first programmer. We’ve all been there.

 Be a guide

The real failure in the story above was done by me. Instead of interacting with the novice java programmer after a few hours when I thought he should be done by now, I let him “advance”. I could have avoided the resulting mess by providing guidance and a few alternate solutions for the immediate problem. I would give an overview of the problem’s context and some hints about the general direction this task should be solved.

Every depth-first programmer works in a suboptimal environment. The programmer tries his best, it’s really the environment that could do better.

So, the next time you see somebody working frantically on a problem that should be rather easy to solve, lend him a hand. Be gentle and empathic about his attempt and work with proposals, not with instructions. Perhaps you’ve spared yourself a mess like an unnecessarily extended JUnit library and the depth-first programmer the frustration when his hard work of several days is silently discarded.

Get the basics right

Nowadays with all the fancy stuff around, with features over features, bells and whistles it is even more important to get the basics right.

Nowadays with all the fancy stuff around, with features over features, bells and whistles it is even more important to get the basics right. But what are the basics?
If you apply for a job the first basic would be to read the job posting carefully. Many corporations require you to use a special keyword or cite the reference in a certain way. This is an easy way to avoid that the email ends up in the spam folder and it shows that you can also see who really read the job posting. But many get this wrong. Why? For me that’s one of the basics. Another basic breaker is many or highly visible typos. Once in a while we get some unusual and fancy looking applications with typos in the job title or in headlines. Hmmm.. why bother with time-consuming layouts and colors and have typos all over the place?
This trend can be seen in many places. We have a new and modern door opener. The buttons are in white and pastel colors. Which ruins the contrast. When the light is dim, I cannot make out a difference between the one for opening the door and switching on the light in the hallway. Looking fancy but useless.
The IT business is also good in breaking the basics. In the last weeks some of the major IDEs or frameworks brought out versions which had regression in one of the most basic places: version control. Why didn’t they catch it before release?
Why are features nowadays more important than the basics?

Give open source some love back!

Like many others our work is enabled by open source software. We make a heavy use of the several great open source projects out there. Since they help us doing our business and doing it in a productive way, we want to give some love aehmm work back. So we decided to dedicate one day per month to open source contributions. These can be bug fixes, new features, even documentation or bug reports. I believe that every contribution helps an open source project and many projects need help.
The whole development team will work on projects they like. One day per month does not sound much but I think even starting small helps. And maybe you can suggest a similar day in your company, too ?
Besides the obvious boost in developer motivation (and therefore productivity) there are several things your company will benefit from:

  • help in your own projects: fixing bugs in the open source projects you use is like fixing bugs in your own project
  • image for your company: being active in open source gives a better image regarding potential future employees and also shows responsibility in the field they work in
  • PR for your company and an edge over your competition: writing about your contributions and your insights in your company blog, remember: out teach your competition

So get your company to spend just one day per month or so for open source. It may not be much but every little bit helps!

On developer workplace ergonomics

Most developers don’t care much about their working equipment, especially their intimate triple. That’s a missed opportunity.

workplace_failMost developers don’t care much about their working equipment. The company they work in typically provides them a rather powerful computer with a mediocre monitor and a low-cost pair of keyboard and mouse. They’ll be given a regular chair at a regular desk in a regular office cubicle. And then they are expected (and expect themselves) to achieve outstanding results.

The broken triple

First of all, most developers are never asked about their favorite immediate work equipment: keyboard, mouse and monitor.

With today’s digitally driven flat-screens, the monitor quality is mostly sufficient for programming. It’s rather a question of screen real estate, device quantity and possibility of adjustments. Monitors get cheaper continuously.

The mouse is the second relevant input device for developers. But most developers spend more money on their daily travel than their employer spent for their mices. A good mouse has an optimal grip, a low monthly mouse mile count, enough buttons and wheels for your tasks, your favorite color and is still dirt cheap compared to the shirt you wear.

The keyboard is the most relevant device on a programmer’s desk. Your typing speed directly relies on your ability to make friends with your keyboard. Amazingly, every serious developer has her own favorite layout, keystroke behavior and general equipment. But most developers still stick to a bulk keyboard they were never asked about and would never use at home. A good keyboard matches your fingertips perfectly and won’t be much more expensive than the mouse.

Missed opportunities

The failure is two-fold: The employer misses the opportunity to increase developer productivtiy with very little financial investment and the developer misses the opportunity to clearly state her personal preferences concerning her closest implements.

Most employers will argue that it would place a heavy burden on the technical administration and the buying department to fit everybody with her personal devices. That’s probably true, but it’s nearly a one-time effort multiplied by your employee count, as most devices last several years. But it’s an ongoing effort for every developer to deliver top-notch results with cumbersome equipment. Most developers will last several years, too.

Some developers will state that they are happy with their devices. It really might be optimal, but it’s likely that the developer just hasn’t tried out alternatives yet.

Perhaps your organizational culture treats uniformity as professionality. Then why are you allowed to have different haircuts and individual ties?

Room for improvement

Our way to improve our workplaces was to introduce an annual “Creativity Budget” for every employee. It’s a fair amount of money destined to use one’s own creativity to improve productivity. It could also have been named “Productivity Budget”, but that would miss the very important part about creative solutions. There is no formal measurement of productivity and only loose rules on what not to do with the money. Above all, it’s a sign to the developer that she’s expected to personally care for her work environment, her equipment and her productivity. And that she’s not expected to do that without budget.

The Creativity Budget outcome

The most surprising fact about our budgets was that nearly none got fully spent. Most developers had very clear ideas on what to improve and just realized them – without further budget considerations. On top of that, everybody dared to express their preferences, without fear of overbearance. It’s not a big investment, but a very worthwile one.

An highly profitable investment

Some analysis on the financial aspects of using a second monitor on your computer. Dual monitoring is an investment with high payoff rates.

coinsWhen it comes to workplace ergonomics, oftentimes money matters most. And money is always short, except for a really good investment. A profitable investment is what every businessman will understand. Here is an investment that boosts both, ergonomics and finance.

The goal

In my definition, an highly profitable investment is money you get a return of an additional 25% in just a year. After that year, the investment does not vanish, but continues to pay off. The investment is socially acceptable at best: Everyone involved will feel happy as long as the investment runs. And the investment can be explained to every developer at your shop with just two words: dual monitors.

The maths

Ok, lets have some hard calculus about it. Here are some modest assumptions about the investment:

You already own a decent monitor, as you are a screen worker. Buying another one of the same type will cost you about 300 EUR, with 25% return on our investment, it needs to earn us about 400 EUR. A monitor that earns money?

Your income, without any additional costs for your employer, is at 40.000 EUR per year. If you happen to have an higher income, the investment just gets more profitable. You work for 200 days a year, according to the usual employment. If you look at the numbers, you see that you earn 200 EUR per day. The new monitor needs to earn two days worth of your work or one percent of your yearly working time.

If the monitor speeds you up by just one percent of your time, it’s a highly profitable investment.

A productivity boost by one percent

How much is one percent of your daily working time? If you work for eight hours a day, it’s about five minutes. You need to accelerate your work by using the second monitor by five minutes or one percent every day, that’s all. All the other goodies come for free: Better mood, higher motivation, lower defect rate, improved code quality.

Some minor limitations

We experimented with setups of N monitors, with N being a natural number. Three or more monitors do not pay off as much as the second one does. Hardware issues rear their ugly heads and generally, overview decreases. This might not be true with rapid context switching tasks like customer support, but with focussed software development, it is.

When using dual monitors, it’s crucial to get used to them and really utilize all their possibilities. Perhaps you might need additional software to fully drive your dual power home. You might have to rethink your application window layout habits.

Assigning a second monitor to a developer is an irreversible action. If you take it away again, the developer will feel jailed with too less screen real estate and might even suffer a mild form of claustrophobia. Morale and motivation will plummet, too.

Conclusion

Introducing dual monitoring to developers is a win-win situation for both the company and the developers. It’s a highly profitable investment while boosting staff morale and productivity. If there is one reason not to do it, it’s because of the irreversibility of the step. But a last word of secret to the management: You can even use it to raise employee loyalty, as nobody wants to work in a single monitor environment anymore.

Make it visible: The Project Cockpit

How to use a whiteboard as information radiator for project management, showing progress, importance, urgency and volume of projects.

We are a project shop with numerous customers booking software development projects as they see fit, so we always work on several projects concurrently in various sub-teams.

We always strive for a working experience that provides more productivity and delight. One major concept of achieving it is “make it visible”. This idea is perfectly described in the awesome book “Behind Closed Doors” by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby from the Pragmatic Bookshelf. Lets see how we applied the concept to the task of managing our project load.

What is the Project Cockpit?

The Project Cockpit is a whiteboard with titled index cards and separated regions. If you glance at it, you might be reminded of a scrum board. In effect, it serves the same purpose: Tracking progress (of whole projects) and making it visible.

Here is a photo of our Project Cockpit (with actual project names obscured for obvious reasons):

cockpit1

How does it work?

In summary, each project gets a card and transitions through its lifecycle, from left to right on the cockpit.

The Project Cockpit consists of two main areas, “upcoming projects” and “current projects”. Both areas are separated into three stages eachs, denoting the usual steps of project placing and project realization.

Every project we are contacted for gets represented by an index card with some adhesive tape and a whiteboard magnet on its back. The project card enters the cockpit on the left (in the “future” or “inquiry” region) and moves to the right during its lifecycle. The y-axis of the chart denotes the “importance” of the project, with higher being more important.

cockpit2

In the “upcoming” area, projects are in acquisition phase and might drop out to the bottom, either into the “delay filing” or the “trash”. The former is used if a project was blocked, but is likely to make progress in the future. The latter is the special place we put projects that went awry. It’s a seldom action, but finally putting a project card there was always a relief.

The more natural (and successful) progress of a project card is the advance from the “upcoming” area to the “present” bar. The project is now appointed and might get a redefinition on importance. Soon, it will enter the right area of “current” projects and be worked on.

The right area of “current” projects is a direct indicator of our current workload. From here on, project cards move to the rightmost bar labeled “past” projects. Past projects are achievements to be proud of (until the card magnet is needed for a new project card).

If you want to, you can color code the project cards for their urgency or apply fancy numbers stating their volume.

What’s the benefit?

The Project Cockpit enables every member of our company to stay informed about the project situation. It’s a great place to agree upon the importance of new projects and keep long running acquisitions (the delay filing cases) in mind. The whiteboard acts as an information radiator, everybody participates in project and workload planning because it’s always present. Unlike simpler approaches to the task, our Project Cockpit includes project importance, urgency and volume without overly complicating the matter.

The whiteboard occupies a wall in our meeting room, so every customer visiting us gets a glance on it. As we use internal code names, most customers even don’t spot their own project, let alone associate the other ones. But its always clear to them in which occupancy condition we are, without a word said about it.

Ultimately, we get visibility of very crucial information from our Project Cockpit: When the left side is crowded, it’s a pleasure, when the right side is crowded, it’s a pressure 😉

“Tag, you’re it!” – how we manage our blog heartbeat

We successfully revived a nearly abandonded blog by using a token and a few metaphors.

The new year 2009 just started. A great opportunity to review some things. Here is a review of our blogging.

heartbeatWe started this blog in February 2007. Soon afterwards, it was nearly dead, as no new articles were written. Why? We would have answered to “be under pressure” and “have more relevant things to do” or simply “have no idea about what to write”. The truth is that we didn’t regard this blog as being important to us. We didn’t allocate any ressources, be it time, topics or attention to it. Seeming unimportant is a sure death cause for any business resource in any mindful managed company.

The Revival

This changed in late August 2008, after we heard from several sources that our articles published so far were very promising. Some new contacts even asked about our Code Flow-O-Meter before they asked any other question. So we sat together and thought about a way to revive this blog with minimal possible effort. We came to the conclusion that, being a four-man-show company, it would be sufficient for everyone to write one blog article a month in order to show a weekly blog heartbeat. It’s simple math. The same discussion led to the conclusion that blogging in english would reach a broader audience.

It’s a management problem

This laid the foundation for a few new blog entries, as everyone was eager to tell some news. But how could we manage the blog heartbeat in a sustainable fashion, with minimal effort and attention of the individual?

blogtoken

We decided to give the “Blog Token” a try. This token is nothing more than a little index card informing you that you are responsible for the blog entry in the next week. You can keep the index card on your desk or take it with you to remind you of the task. If you published your entry, you hand it over to the following team member in line. The token order is defined on a very viewable whiteboard. It took us 5 minutes to set up the token and define the order. Everything else is managed by the one who wants to get rid of the token and the one who receives it.

It doesn’t work without metaphors

When we reviewed the process, we realized that without a few maxims and their impact, things would have gone astray even with the token in place. Here are some of our maxims, spelled by the metaphors we found for them:

  • “blog heartbeat”: When you want to “keep it flowing” in a sustainable pace, you need to have a pace first. We defined that our blog is alive when it has a periodic heartbeat. Weekly articles seemed to be a good start and were approved in every review yet.
  • “to grow vegetables”: Good ideas (and good blog topics) need to evolve and grow. You need to care about them for an amount of time and publish them when they are mature. But first of all, you need to put the seeds for ideas (and blog topics) in your garden. Whenever somebody mentions something that might be worth a blog entry, somebody calls “this is a vegetable!”. A first sketch of a new blog entry (a new vegetable in your garden) is born in this moment. To be honest, some vegetables starve over time.
  • “it’s not a competition”: We try to publish high quality blog entries. But it’s more important to us to tell you about our favorite vegetable (see second metaphor) than to win a pulitzer price for every article. We even try to remind ourselves that we do not compete for the recoginition from our readers (you, in this case!). To be honest here, too: Though it’s not a contest, we issued an internal price for our most read article: Using Hudson for C++/CMake/CppUnit

Reviewing the Revival

We revived our blog with three ingredients:

  • Our commitment (“it’s important to us”)
  • The Blog Token (“tag, you’re it!”)
  • Metaphors (“everyone can grow vegetables”)

Telling from the statistics, it simply skyrocketed us:

blog-stats

Thank YOU, our blog visitors, for making this possible. It’s been a great experience for us and we are looking forward to continue our blog heartbeat in 2009 with fully stacked vegetable gardens. Stay tuned and if you like, share your thoughts (or just say hello) by adding a comment. We really appreciate your opinion.