Code Camp Experiences II

A review of our first company code camp using Code Retreats like Corey Haines would do. Short summary: It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot. Go try it out yourself!

Last friday, we held a Code Camp instead of an Open Source Love Day (OSLD). We reserved a whole day for the company to pratice together and share our abilities on the coding level. While this usually already happens every now and then with pair programming sessions, this time we all worked on the same assignment and could compare our experiences. And this comparability worked great for us. This article tries to summarize our setup and the outcome of the Code Camp

Setup of the Code Camp

We tried to imitate a typical Code Retreat day in the manner of Corey Haines. If you haven’t heard about Code Retreats, Corey or the software craftsmanship idea, you could read about it in the links. The presentation of Corey at the QCon conference about software craftsmanship is also a valuable watch.

There are some resources on the internet about how to run a Code Retreat event from the organizational and facilitator’s point of view. This material gave us a good understanding of the whole event, even though our setup was different, as we had no explicit facilitator and fixed workplaces, already prepared for pair programming usage. We didn’t invite external programmers to the event, so every participant was part of our development team. We had to end the event by 16 o’clock due to schedule conflicts and started at 9 o’clock, so our retreat count would be lower than 6 or even 7.

Basically, we tried to program Conway’s Game of Life within 45 minutes in pairs of two developers repeatedly. After the 45 minutes have passed (supervised by an alarm clock), we deleted the code and gathered for an iteration review of 15 minutes. Then, we started over again. This agenda should repeat throughout the day. No other activity or goal was planned, but we anticipated a longer retrospective meeting at the end of the day.

Execution of the Code Camp

The team gathered at 9 o’clock and performed setup tasks on the computers (like preparing a clean workspace). At 09:15, we held an introduction meeting for the Code Camp. I explained the basics and motives of Code Retreats and presented the rules for Conway’s Game of Life. The team heard most of the information for the first time, so nobody was particularly more experienced with the task or the conduct.

The first iteration started at 10 o’clock and had everybody baffled by the end of the iteration. The first retrospective meeting was interesting, as fundamental approaches to the problem were discussed with very little words needed for effective communication. Everybody wanted to move into the second iteration, which started at 11 o’clock.

At the end of the second iteration, two of the four teams nearly reached their anticipated goals. In the retrospective, the results were incredibly more advanced compared to the first iteration. This effect was similar to my first code camp: The second iteration is the breakthrough in the problem domain. Afterwards, the solutions are refined, but without the massive boost in efficiency compared to the other iterations except the first one.

We went to lunch early this day and returned with great ideas for the next round. After a short coffee break with video games, we started at around 13:45 for the third iteration.

The third iteration resulted in the first playable versions of the game. The solutions grew more beautiful and the teams began to experiment with their approaches, as the content-related task was mentally covered. This was the most productive iteration in terms of resulting software. But as usual, the code was deleted without a trace directly after the iteration. The iteration review meeting brought up a radically different approach on the problem as previously anticipated. This inspired every team for the fourth iteration.

In the fourth iteration, every team tried to implement the new approach. And every team failed to gain substantial ground, just like in the first iteration. The iteration review meeting was interesting, but we skipped another iteration in favor of the full retrospective of the Code Retreat.

Effects of the Code Camp

The Code Retreat iterations had great impact on our team. We discussed our impressions informally and then turned back to the formal retrospective questions as suggested by Alex Bolboaca:

  • How did you feel?
  • What have you learned?
  • What will you apply starting Monday?

The first question got answered by a “mood graph”, rising steadily from iteration one to three, with a yawning abyss at iteration four. This was another strong indicator that the iterations sort of restarted with iteration four.

The second question (“What have you learned?”) was answered more variably, but it stuck out that many keyboard shortcuts and little helpful IDE tricks were learnt throughout the day. We tracked the origin and propagation of two shortcuts and came to the result that one developer knew them beforehands, transferred the knowledge to the partner in the first iteration and both spread it further in the second iteration. By the end of the third iteration, everybody had learned the new shortcut. It was impressive to see this kind of knowledge transfer in such a clear manner.

The third question revolved around the coolest new shortcuts and tricks.

But we learned a lot more than just a few shortcuts. Most of all, we had a comparable coding experience with every other developer on our team. This isn’t about competition, it’s about personality. And we’ve found that the team works great in every combination. Some subtle fears of “being behind with knowledge” got diminished, too.

Future of the Code Camp

Everybody wants to do it again. So we’ll do it again. We decided to perform one Code Camp every three months. This isn’t too often to wear off, but hopefully often enough to keep our practice level high. We also decided to run dedicated Code Camps with external developers soon. The first event will happen in December 2010.

Blog harvest, February 2010

Some noteworthy blog articles, harvested for February 2010. If you ever asked yourself about the personality of your web framework, you’ll find the link to the answer here.

After the move to the new office is nearly complete, work begins to normalize again. Here is the February blog harvest with a little more entries, as I wasn’t unable to read other blogs, but to write on our own blog. There are many fun articles this time that I found share-worthy, perhaps because they made me laugh even in harder times.

This was the more serious part of this harvesting. Let’s read some articles that share their message in a lighter way:

  • What kind of woman would your web framework be? – If you ever have to sell a new hot (web) framework to management, why not take this plausible approach? At least they could relate to what you are talking about.
  • It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck – Ouch! That hurt. This is a wake-up call for everybody who likes to blame it on higher means. And it reminds me to hurry up with this blog entry and get back to work.
  • I test therefore I log bugs – Ever tried to explain “programming” to your grandparents? You’ll end in esoterics (“teaching machines to have dreams”) or in obviousnesses. This is a story about consensus on the latter.

This blog harvest closes with a video:

  • Uncle Bob on Software Craftsmanship – Much of what Bob Martin says has truth in it, but for me the last two minutes are the most explicit and rewarding. By the way, Uncle Bob looks good in the T-Shirt (I always feared it would be teared, regarding the sounds when he stretches), but needs to switch his cell phone off.

Software Craftsman Project Priority Survey

Answers to a question of project priorities from the upcoming book “Apprenticeship Patterns”.

apprenticeship-patters-coverThere is an upcoming and very promising book title written by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye called “Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance For The Aspiring Software Craftsman”.  It will cover all the basic rules you’ll need to become a Software Craftsman. This is a rather new term to describe professional software developers, eventually leading to the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto. The Manifesto itself reads like an addition to the Agile Manifesto:

As aspiring Software Craftsmen we are raising the bar of professional software development by practicing it and helping others learn the craft. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Not only working software, but also well-crafted software
  • Not only responding to change, but also steadily adding value
  • Not only individuals and interactions, but also a community of professionals
  • Not only customer collaboration,but also productive partnerships

That is, in pursuit of the items on the left we have found the items on the right to be indispensable.

© 2009, the undersigned. this statement may be freely copied in any form, but only in its entirety through this notice.

A very good question

When i read the blog of “Apprenticeship Patterns“, i noticed a very good question about project priorities:

Rank the following 3 project attributes in order of importance and explain why.

  • Test Coverage
  • Timely Delivery
  • Code Quality

This question really got me hooked, because there is no single valid answer, only personal statements about values.

An informal survey

I’m in the lucky position of meeting a lot of senior developers and a great number of software engineering students. So I instantly decided to perform a survey on this question and watch out for emerging answer patterns.

I gave each project attribute an unique letter, C for “Test Coverage”, D for “Timely Delivery” and Q for “Code Quality”. There are six possible answers, here are their rates in the survey (when 58 persons gave their answers):stats-all1

  • CDQ: 7 percent
  • CQD: 9 percent
  • DCQ: 5 percent
  • DQC: 7 percent
  • QCD: 41 percent
  • QDC: 31 percent

The vast majority of developers stated Code Quality as their highest goal. This isn’t very surprising to me, as most developers take pride in writing high quality code.

Comparing the answers

But what about the answers of only senior developers? Lets have a look at the numbers without student answers:stats-senior1

  • CDQ: 7 percent
  • CQD: 14 percent
  • DCQ: 7 percent
  • DQC: 14 percent
  • QCD: 21 percent
  • QDC: 36 percent

The big pattern still applies: Code Quality first. It’s amazing to see the other attributes gaining importance, though. To me, that’s a sign that code-centric thinking is one pattern of apprenticeship.

What’s not in the numbers

When i held the survey, the relevant group of people was gathered together, so a discussion of the results arose every time.  But the discussions followed different patterns:

  • The teams (of senior developers) gave very distinct answers while working on the same project. The answers were driven by personal conviction rather than project necessities.
  • The courses (of students) gave more similar answers while having a wide variety of backgrounds. The answers were mostly explained with current project necessities (like security-critical systems as reason for Test Coverage being most important).

When I have to compare the two groups, I tend to say that younger developers are more driven by extrinsic demands while more experienced developers act on their own internal values.

Our duty as Software Craftsman

In conclusion, I see a duty for experienced developers: to share their experience. Leading a discussion about “Team Values” at your current project is the least you can do. Helping others to develop their own set of internal values, even if it isn’t yours, seems crucial to me.

The upcoming “Apprenticeship Patterns” book and the brand new “97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know” are perfect starting points for this.