A framework for handling difficult conversations

Communication is one of the few skills for which the return of investment is immediate, applies to all areas of life and compounds over time.

personal insight

For a couple of months, difficult conversations have been a topic of great interest to me. The way I used to handle them is to go into conflict avoidance or go into people-pleasing. Ugh, both of these strategies left me unsatisfied with the outcomes. But I’ve found a framework for handling these tough moments.

The framework is coming from a book called “Crucial conversations”. This is the best book that I’ve read on this subject (you might not know it, but this has always been on my radar). The material that I’ve seen so far is either dead obvious, vague/impractical, or “just a bunch of techniques”. In contrast, this book is coherent from beginning to end, with clear action points and world-view changing ideas. In my view, it’s a fully-fledged framework that gives anyone the support needed to start improving their difficult conversations.

I’m excited about this topic, so I’ve been giving a presentation covering some of the essential topics in the book.

If you have a problem with the slides not loading, go here

I could use some help to spread the knowledge even further. If you have ideas or situations you can create (with your friends, family, colleagues, etc.) where I can share this and more, would you be willing to let me know?

Checklist for learning Scala

The moment that Scala blew me away was when I wrote the definition of a set as a function.

Horia Constantin

In a previous article, I’ve proposed the use of a checklist to give structure when learning a new programming language. With writing this article, my intentions are to clarify the application of the checklist for learning a new programming language and to offer a good starting point for learning Scala.

The checklist


  1. Personal why’s for learning Scala: I’ve wanted to start to learn a new programming language for some time. I chose Scala thinking that I can get a freelance gig faster than anything else. And because a former colleague recommended it.
  2. Find a project/application to build with Scala: a web app that supports most technologies that are required these days for a fully-featured website. I called it scalatraseed since it uses the Scalatra web framework at its core.


  1. Find a high-quality online Scala course/book: I’ve found excellent resources here. Scala originated in EPFL, so I started with Functional Programming Principles in Scala.
  2. Find/create Scala cheat sheet: here
  3. Find the official Scala documentation: start with the standard library
  4. Find/create a comparison between Scala and Java: these docs and this course
  5. Find/create a dictionary/glossary of the concepts, keywords, etc.: I haven’t been doing very well at this point because I tend to look up a concept as soon as I encounter it.
  6. Take notes: questions, curiosities, “strange” code: useful point, but the questions and curiosities change from one day to another that it makes it useless to write it here.
  7. Start collaborating on an open-source library: this point was a bit more complicated than I thought. Many libraries are either too big or have too many contributors already or are too advanced for a beginner or don’t have good-first-issues. I decided to settle down on Scalatra because I was already using it in my demo project.
  8. Find/create a roadmap that describes the learning process: this is a good start
  9. Find a code conventions document: the online Scala course that I’ve started uses Scalastyle for enforcing the style of the code. If it’s good enough for the Scala core team, it’s good enough for me.
  10. Find/create a list of antipatterns: I couldn’t find anything, probably because Scala is such a flexible language (allowing full OOP or FP and anything else in between). The small things that I’ve found so far revolve around using the language constructs correctly (e.g., use “if” as an expression, not a statement). So, nothing useful here.
  11. Find and learn how to use the most popular build tool: I wanted to leverage my maven knowledge initially, but it’s a constant uphill battle. Sbt for the win!
  12. Find a list of Scala project seeds: from lightbend
  13. Find the frameworks: Scalatest, Scalatra, Sangria

Having applied the checklist, I’m discovering that some points are part of the continuous process of learning (take notes; create a dictionary/glossary), while others are a one-time task (find the official documentation).

I’m also learning that some tasks are not so useful as others. That can be because they’re part of another, more comprehensive task (the online Scala course that I found uses Scalatest) or because they’re not that important at this stage of learning (they just take up mental and checklist space).

Based on this experience and the idea of lean learning, I’ll be updating the checklist template so that it is a more effective learning resource. For historical reasons, I’ll keep the checklist in this article as it is.

Setting up a “fresh” MacBook

Only for developers that use macOS…

Setting up a “fresh” laptop for development is always painful, be it windows, macOS or Linux.

It’s the second time in the last year when I do a fresh install of macOS on my MacBook. I’m tired of installing all the apps that I need in one-by-one fashion. I’m tired of doing all the small configurations (for macOS and for the apps). Most of the time I forget some of them and there are a couple of settings for which I have to search online.

I start off by making a list of settings and application that I use and then I discover that most of these things can be automated via the command line. I’m sure that someone did this before me and I start searching for some scripts that automate the installation of the development environment on a MacBook. I hit jackpot.

Using a couple of GitHub repositories as inspiration, I create a couple of simple scripts that should install almost everything that’s required for development on a MacBook. The scripts and the instructions are available here: https://github.com/treaz/mac-dev-setup/

I’m curious how much it will hurt the next time that I have to set up a development MacBook.

Maven plugins that I like

I’ve been through a couple of projects until now and I’m noticing that there are a couple of maven plugins that are useful, but are not that famous. I’ll list them below, together with a small explanation of why I find them useful.

Build Number Maven Plugin (org.codehaus.mojo)

Sometimes you want to expose the current build version of your application without necessarily updating the artifact version (when you’re iterating fast and using *-SNAPSHOT). I didn’t get to use this one, but I can image that it would be good to have in a /info endpoint.

Apache Maven Shade Plugin

Sometimes you need to package all your dependencies into a single jar file. If you’re using Spring-Boot, you’ll have an easier life if you use the spring-boot-maven-plugin. Most of the time I use it for small projects, where I want to keep everything compact.

License Maven Plugin (org.codehaus.mojo)

Sometimes you need to add a license header to all the files of your project or you’ll need to pack with you application a file with all the licenses of the 3rd party libraries that you’re using. I wish i would have known about it three years ago when I was updating THIRD-PARTY.txt files manually.

Versions Maven Plugin

Sometimes you want to update the libraries that you’re using to the latest version. This plugin makes managing that update a lot easier. You have good control over the strategy of the version advance. This plugin makes your life easier, assuming you have enough tests to make sure that the update didn’t break your application. I just discovered this plugin and I like that it makes the library update chore a breeze.

Apache Maven Enforcer Plugin

Sometimes you need to make it clear what versions of OS, Java etc the application can be built with (because of incompatibilities). I like it that the set of already-made rules is extensive.

Apache Maven Checkstyle Plugin

Sometimes you need to enforce the codestyle that the team has agreed to. A bonus is that it helps the new members of the team to pick up the code standards immediately. I have a love and hate relationship with this plugin, but overall I’m happy to see the same kind of code everywhere.

OWASP Dependency-Check Plugin

You always want to have an application that is as secure as possible. This plugin allows you to automatically check for the latest reported vulnerabilities. I knew about the OWASP Top Ten for a couple of years and I learned about this plugin 2 months ago. I’ll never stop using it.

One last thing: I’m new at writing posts. If you have any suggestions to make this post more clear, please write a comment.

Testing JPQL queries straight from Intellij

In my current project, most of the queries are written in JPQL (Java Persistence Query Language). As with any xxx-QL (that eventually gets translated to SQL), it’s cumbersome to do the translation of the xxx-QL to SQL and back. This translation is generally done when you’re creating a new query or trying to debug an existing query. It would be great to be able to send JPQL queries directly to the DB.

One way to do this is to configure the JPA console in IntelliJ IDEA. Note that this feature is only available in the paid Edition.

For those that are in a rush, this is the minimal configuration needed to get the JPA console going. To keep things simple, let’s assume that you have a single module project, called test-jpa:

  1. Add a new data source to the project (View | Tool Windows | Database). This data source should point to the same DB that your entities use.
  2. Add “JavaEE Persistence” framework support to test-jpa (right click module | Add framework support…). Click OK
  3. Open the Persistence Window (View | Tool Windows | Persistence)
  4. In this window, you will assign a data source to test-jpa (right click module | Assign data sources)
  5. In the Assign Data Sources window, you will see a line with the value “Entities” which points to an empty Data Source field. Click on this field and select the data source from step 1. Click OK.
  6. In the Persistence Window, expand the module and right click on Entities | Console. You have a choice between JPA and Hibernate Console.

Some cool features that both Consoles support:

  • Navigating to the declaration of a class or field
  • Auto-completion
  • Parameterized queries

Reference: https://www.jetbrains.com/help/idea/using-jpa-console.html

One last thing: I’m new at writing posts. If you have any suggestions to make this post more clear, please write a comment.

Inspecting in-mem HSQLDB

Sometimes, for automatic testing of your Java application, you need to configure a DB connection. Most of the times the decision is to go for an in-memory database and HSQLDB is a prime candidate.

And some other times your tests will be failing and it would be great to see the DB status before the failure. I already knew of the option of running HSQLDB as a server, but a colleague showed me a simpler way, with less configuration.

Simply add the following lines to the beginning or the test:

System.setProperty(“java.awt.headless”, “false”); // to prevent an exception related to awt running headless
DatabaseManagerSwing.main(new String[]{“--url”, “jdbc:hsqldb:mem:testdb”, “--user”, “sa”, “--password”, “”}); //to launch a separate a simple DB-inspector window

Normally, you’re going to put a breakpoint in your test right before the failing assertions. If the DB-inspector window freezes it’s because the breakpoint is configured to stop all threads. You will need to configure your IDE to not stop the DB-inspector thread (on IntelliJ IDEA, right click on the breakpoint and you’ll get the menu that allows you to change this).


One last thing: I’m new at writing posts. If you have any suggestions to make this post more clear, please write a comment.

Excluding Hibernate entities from auto-generation

Today I had to do something completely new with Hibernate, within the scope of a unit test. I had a group of entities and wanted to exclude one of them from the schema auto-generation (hibernate.hbm2ddl.auto=create).

After spending a couple of hours trying out different things and reading Stackoverflow answers, I hit jackpot with this cool solution:

  • implement the SchemaFilterProvider and the SchemaFilter interfaces
  • in the SchemaFilter implementation, add an if condition to includeTable so that it returns false for the table that you don’t want to create
  • add hibernate.properties to the classpath and define hibernate.hbm2ddl.schema_filter_provider to point to the SchemaFilterProvider implementation

What follows is an example of an implementation. In my case, I want to exclude all entities that would create a table that has namespace in its name.


Reference: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/6212144/how-to-disable-schema-validation-in-hibernate-for-certain-entities

One last thing: I’m new at writing posts. If you have any suggestions to make this post more clear, please write a comment.