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10x Codebases

There has been talk of 10x developers for as long as there has been software engineering.

I have had the good fortune to work with some profoundly great engineers, and it is fantastic.

But do you know what is much more motivating? 10x codebases.

The codebase you can’t fuck up because you have tests covering your ass.

The codebase you can add new features to without breaking step, because it was thoughtfully designed with change in mind.

The codebase you don’t have to wait for, because the build, test, packaging and deployment are automatic and rock solid.

Is the 10x developer a myth? Who cares. But we have all worked on 0.1x codebases. Do the math.

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Christopher Alexander

In my life as an architect, I find that the single thing which inhibits young professionals, new students most severely, is their acceptance of standards that are too low. If I ask a student whether her design is as good as Chartres, she often smiles tolerantly at me as if to say, “Of course not, that isn’t what I am trying to do. . . . I could never do that.”

Then, I express my disagreement, and tell her: “That standard must be our standard. If you are going to be a builder, no other standard is worthwhile. That is what I expect of myself in my own buildings, and it is what I expect of my students.”  Gradually, I show the students that they have a right to ask this of themselves, and must ask this of themselves. Once that level of standard is in their minds, they will be able to figure out, for themselves, how to do better, how to make something that is as profound as that.

Two things emanate from this changed standard. First, the work becomes more fun. It is deeper, it never gets tiresome or boring, because one can never really attain this standard. One’s work becomes a lifelong work, and one keeps trying and trying. So it becomes very fulfilling, to live in the light of a goal like this. But secondly, it does change what people are trying to do. It takes away from them the everyday, lower-level aspiration that is purely technical in nature, (and which we have come to accept) and replaces it with something deep, which will make a real di ff erence to all of us that inhabit the earth.

Christopher Alexander, Forward to Patterns of Software (pdf available here)

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Prefactoring re-coined

Two pieces of input struck me this week that caused a bit of a brainwave.  The first stimulus I chanced upon was Michael Feathers’ article on the sloppiness of refactoring, in which he proposes a nice solution to getting the habit of refactoring to completion: do it first.

For every story/feature that you accept in planning imagine how you would implement it if the code was in a state where it would accept the feature easily.  Then, create a task for that refactoring work and make sure it is done before the other tasks for the feature

I like this idea a lot, and I want to introduce it in to the working agreement (how I hate that term) of our team.  This would solve a lot of forgotten refactorings that seem to only be remembered at retrospective time.

The second thing that I chanced upon is The Mikado Method book.  In it the authors propose a method for improving legacy code that begins with determining the dependency graph for the mini-tasks in the implementation, then starting the work at the leaves of the graph (these are the most independent areas of change in task).

What both these approaches essentially give us is a pre-refactoring step in implementation.  I was so excited by both these commalities that caused me to coin the term Prefactoring.  Imagine my dismay at learning that not only Prefactoring was already coined as a term in our lexicon, but also that there was even a book written with that title.  Unfortunately it means something entirely different…

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Metricide (or The Curious Consequences of Counting)

This is a PowerPointPoem I gave at the ACCU 2012 conference

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Retrospective – Global Day of Coderetreat, Beijing!

On the 3rd of December a small collection of developers gathered in a basement conference room in Beijing to practice the craft of software development. The participants came from diverse backgrounds: architects, developers, students, and managers. There were people comfortable with C++, C#, Java, Python and others hadn’t programmed in a couple of years. Here are my notes from the day:

Introduction

Coderetreat is a day-long, intensive practice event, focusing on the fundamentals of software development and design. By providing developers the opportunity to take part in focused practice, away from the pressures of ‘getting things done’, the coderetreat format has proven itself to be a highly effective means of skill improvement. Practicing the basic principles of modular and object-oriented design, developers can improve their ability to write code that minimizes the cost of change over time.

A coderetreat is a language-agnostic event. In each session, the pair chooses what language they want to work in. The day focuses on practicing the fundamentals of software: TDD and the 4 rules of simple design; these are applicable regardless of language.

Alex and Zilong pairing

Chocs Away!

After a brief introduction, we went into the first session to familiarize ourselves with the task: Conway’s Game of Life. Participants struggled with deleting the code at the end of the session; this was one of the biggest challenges that they faced throughout the day. The second session was to swap pairs and have a second go at the problem with a clean slate. The third session introduced the concept of ping-pong TDD.

Gospers Glider Gun

For lunch we went out to a local restaurant to get a chance to stretch our legs and have a fresh perspective.

Lunchtime!

Lunchtime!

In the afternoon we tried a couple of CyberDojos. The first session we didn’t change pairs so we could have a chance to get familiar with the CyberDojo software. After a few technical issues we were on our way. In the second session we changed the pairs every five minutes, really challenging ourselves to write code in very small increments.

CyberDojo

CyberDojo

The final session I gave the participants a choice: we could agree as a group to either try to create the absolute best code we could for the solution, or we could try to create the absolute worst code possible that implements the solution. It was a tough call but the dirty code challenge won out. In this session there were many creative approaches and a notable visual implementation that looked great in the UI and was a hornets nest in the implementation – you know who you are! ☺

At the end of the day we held the usual Closing Circle, where we each share with the group our feelings on what went well, what was surprising, and what we can take away from the event. There was a general consensus that the day was fun and that it highlighted the importance of communication, both between people and through the code. Also surprising was how many different approaches there were to the same problem.

Globalization

Hello from Japan!

Hello from Japan!

The event is called a “Global Day” for a reason; the same event was happening in over 90 cities across the world on the same day. There were many ways the events connected, lots of activity on twitter with the hashtag #gdcr11, and several events talked to each other via google hangouts or skype. We had a quick chat with the coderetreat in Tokyo in the morning, and before lunch we managed a chat with the folks in Perth, Australia. This was a lot of fun and helped to energise the group.

Hello from Perth!

Hello from Perth!

Thanks to Corey Haines and Jim Hurne for organizing the global day, and also thanks everyone that helped me organize in Beijing. Thanks to Tokyo and thanks to Perth. And special thanks to everyone in Beijing who came along on a blue sky day to spend their Saturday in a basement coding with other software craftspeople.

p.s. I am starting a local software craftsmanship meetup group here in Beijing, sign up to hear about future events and meetings!

Related Posts:
Interview with Corey Haines
CyberDojo

Tags: software testing craftsmanship coderetreat coreyhaines tdd

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