Summary of the Schneide Dev Brunch at 2013-03-03

brunch64-borderedYes, you’ve read it right in the title. The Dev Brunch I want to summarize now is over two month ago. The long delay can only partially be explained by several prolonged periods of illness on my side. So this will be a rather crisp summary, because all the lively details have probably vanished by now. But let me start by explaining what the Dev Brunch is:
The Dev Brunch is a regular brunch on a sunday, only that all attendees want to talk about software development and various other topics. If you bring a software-related topic along with your food, everyone has something to share. This brunch was very well-attended, but we still managed to sit around our main table. Let’s have a look at the main topics we discussed:

XFD presentation

In a presentation of a large german software company, our Extreme Feedback Devices were thoroughly mentioned. We found it noteworthy enough to mention it here.

Industrial Logic’s XP Playing Cards

This is just a deck of playing cards, but not the usual one. One hundred different cards with problems, solutions and values wait for you to make up some game rules and start to play. The inventors have collected a list of possible games on their website. It leads to hilarious results if you just distribute some cards in a group of developers (as we did on the brunch) and start with a problem. Soon enough, your discussion will lead you to the most unexpected topics. We ended with the “Power Distance Index“, but I have no recollection how we got there. These cards are a great facilitator to start technical discussions. They seem to be non-available now, sadly.

Distributed SCRUM

A short report on applying SCRUM to a multi-site team, using desktop sharing and video chat software. The project landscape is driven by an adaption of “scrum of scrums”. I cannot dive into details anymore, but these reports are a great reason to really attend the brunch instead of just reading the summary. The video chat meetings were crucial for team-building, but very time-consuming and wearying due to timezone reasons.

SCRUM User Group Karlsruhe

Speaking of SCRUM, there is a SCRUM User Group in our city, Karlsruhe in Germany. It might not be the biggest user group ever, but one attendant of our brunch reported that all participants are “socially very pleasing”. There are very interesting presentations or gatherings for specific topics. If you have to deal with SCRUM, this should be on your agends.

Retrospectives

We had a prolonged talk about retrospectives and how to apply them. Most retrospective activities tend to be formalized (like “cards and priorities”) and lose effectiveness due to the “comfort aspect”. A hypothesis during the talks was that when moderation isn’t necessary anymore, its more likely to be a negative smell. We talked about moderated vs. non-moderated retrospectives quite a bit, also exploring the question what role should/could be moderator and why. The “Happiness Metric” was mentioned, specifically its application by the swedish company Crisp, as described by Henrik Kniberg. Some sources of ideas for retrospectives were also mentioned: the Facilitator Gathering or some noteworthy books that I forgot to write down (sorry! Please ask for them in the comments).

Internal facilitator

We also discussed some problems that “internal” facilitators face day-to-day. Internal facilitators work within the team they try to facilitate.

Presentation about acceptance testing by Uncle Bob

A big event in February this year were the workshops and the presentation with Robert C. Martin about testing. His talk presented Fitnesse in the context of acceptance testing. There was some confusion about the amount of available seats, so most of us didn’t attend (because we weren’t able to register beforehands). Some of our participants were there, nonetheless and found the presentation worthwile. Only the usual pattern of Uncle Bob’s presentation lacked some virtue this time, but this can easily explained with the flu. Here’s an external summary of the event. Check out the comment section for potential first-hand accounts.

Definition of test types

In the wake of our talk about Uncle Bob’s presentation, we discussed different test categorization schemes. We’ve invented our own, but there is also a widely used definition from the International Software Testing Qualifications Board. We didn’t dive deep into this topic, so lets say it’s still open for discussion.

Book about money counterfeiter

Somehow, I’ve written down a notice about a german book about a famous money counterfeiter, Jürgen Kuhl: “Blütenträume”. This talented artist drew dollar notes by hand so perfectly that even experts couldn’t tell them apart. Regrettably, I don’t remember the context anymore. It might have something to do with Giesecke & Devrient, a manufacturer of money printing machines. But even then, I don’t remember what that context was about.

Traceability of software artifacts

Our last topic circled around the question how software artifacts are registered and traced in our practice. The interesting part of this question is the ability to make connections between different artifacts, like an automatic report about what existing features are tangented by a change and should be tested again (if manual tests are necessary). Or you want to record the specifics of your test environment alongside your tests. Perhaps you are interested in the relation between features and their accompanying tests. The easiest connection can be made between a change (commit) and the issue it belongs to. But changes without issue (like almost all refactorings) are problematic still. It was an interesting discussion with a lot input to think about.

Summary

One thing I’ve learnt from this Dev Brunch is that it isn’t enough to write down some notes and try to remember the details some weeks later. The summaries have to be written in a timely manner. I didn’t succeed with it this time and try to blame it on my lack of health. I promise a better summary next time. The worst part is that I know that I’ve forgotten a lot of important or interesting details (like a youtube channel about ideas – please provide the link in the comment section, Martin!) but cannot recreate the memories.

As usual, the Dev Brunch contained a lot more chatter and talk than listed here. The high number of attendees makes for an unique experience every time. We are looking forward to the next Dev Brunch at the Softwareschneiderei. And as always, we are open for guests and future regulars. Just drop us a notice and we’ll invite you over next time.

Extreme Feedback Device (XFD): The Code Flow-O-Meter

This is a free translation and revision of an earlier article written in german.

Since March 2007, the Schneide uses another Extreme Feedback Device (XFD): the Code Flow-O-Meter.

So what is this thing?

We bought a portable fountain made of slate, filled in water (no additives) and connected the power supply cord with a X10 application module. Then we programmed a litte IRC Bot (using the ten-minutes-to-success java IRC library pircbot) that triggers the module. We were then able to control the fountain by speaking to it over IRC.

Afterwards, we piped the commit messages of our source repositories to a little script that determines the “impact” of the commit by measuring the amount of changes to the code. This sounds more sophisticated as it really is, the number of changed files was a good enough guess for it. This impact is related to a duration, the more impact, the longer the timespan. Now the script tells the IRC bot to activate the fountain for that amount of time.

This way, we have a direct but unobtrusive notification about what is going on in the repositories, as this is the most important location of our company (talking about the numerous safety nets we applied to it would require another blog post). Initially, we thought about playing an audio sample singing “alleluia”, too, but this became ridiculous soon.

But why do you want this notification?

One of the rules of agile (or good) programming says “commit early, commit often”. But as soon as every little commit gets examined by a continuous integration server, all automated tests and a large number of software quality metric tools, the liability to keep the changes local a little bit longer grows. “After all, it’s ready when it’s done, and this is soon enough to check in” was a common justification especially among the less experienced programmers. But that’s the best way to miss the early feedback. And early feedback is effective feedback.

So we installed our portable fountain as a counter-incentive against late commits and started a little game. The rule of the game is simple:
Keep the Flow-O-Meter running!
When you commit, the fountain flows. The size of your commit is not as important as the commit itself, so its better to commit often. If everyone does it, the fountain may flow the whole day.

The Code Flow-O-Meter may be regarded as a measurement device of “progress”. Things are in a state of flux as long as it is running.

And did it work?

Yes, definitly. The Code Flow-O-Meter has become our little pet. Everyone loves it because it’s friendly and comforting. Think of a tamagochi, but without the annoyances. You only need to change and commit something to feed it and get the reward, nothing more.

As an additional gain, everybody else loves it, too. When we show it to a customer, they first see an ordinary portable fountain. When we explain and demonstrate our working cycle (code, commit, review) to them, something magical happens. I tend to think they involuntary get the notion of something happening after the commit when the fountain comes to life. This may be the concept of a build server, otherwise being invisible and intangible, materializing in the fountain. When we continue to explain what happens after the build, like the ONOZ! lamp lighting up to indicate a failed build, it’s already clear to them that the process does not end with the waterflow. The Code Flow-O-Meter serves as a link between the developer’s local work and the build feedback arriving out of nowhere some minutes later.


Read more about our Extreme Feedback Devices: