Red Squirrel Reflections
Dave Hoover explores the psychology of software development

Dave Hoover
dave.hoover@gmail.com

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Wed, 30 May 2007

Rails moves my Bottleneck in Web Development

Geoffrey Grosenbach's latest post reminded me of something I've grown to appreciate over the last couple years: web development with Rails pushes me out of the confines of my codebase and into the other aspects of web development much more quickly than any other web development environment I've used before. Rather than slogging through the painful verbosity of a J2EE codebase, on a Rails project I am (like Geoffrey) hopping around on various servers' command lines, configuring Apache, defining CSS, and crafting Prototype-inspired JavaScript features. For whatever reason, these are all aspects of web development that I had grown to belittle in a previous life when I was more interested in intellectual pursuits.

What I'm realizing lately is that while I cherish what I've learned about objects, agile, and patterns, I'm feeling a bit lop-sided (which isn't surprising if you look at my reading lists over the years). Rails has internalized some the ideals that came out of some of the most important software development revolutions of the last few decades. Martin notes:

...the [R]uby community has formed around the best ideas of the OO and Extreme Programming communities. Listening to the keynote of Jamis Buck and Michael Koziarski I was delighted to reflect on the thought that they were right there in the values of Ward, Kent, and all the other people who've been advocating clean code, well-factored object-oriented design, and testability. These ideas have made a great impact on many other technological communities, but in Ruby-land they are the orthodoxy.
Ruby and Rails' intrinsic values mean that my bottleneck has moved away from application code and (as always) I've got some learning to do in the ecosystem that surrounds and supports a successful Rails project. Thankfully I work on a team of people that have a great diversity of backgrounds and talents. On teams like this, we often have both partners in our pairing sessions switching frequently between student and teacher. It is a priceless dynamic and one of the great advantages of working with apprentices.

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Thu, 24 May 2007

The Dependencies of a Craftsmanship Studio

As we continue to expand our Craftsmanship Studio, I am becoming increasingly aware of our dependencies. In order to grow better as we grow bigger and maintain a healthy mix of apprentices and journeymen (no masters yet), we are absolutely dependent on the essential attributes of a software developer. As Andy said in one of his long-lost podcasts, the two most important attributes of a software developer are the ability to communicate well and to learn quickly. I would add passion to that list.

Mentoring apprentices comes in many forms. Some of it is indirect ... they overhear your conversations ... they read your code ... they read your blog (!). But some of it needs to be direct, and in those moments, I am sacrificing my productivity on some other activity in order to answer a question, provide guidance, or sketch a domain model. That sacrifice is an investment. I believe that 10 minutes now is going to be paid back tenfold in future productivity gains. And I believe that because it's obvious that our apprentices Victoria and Brian have the attributes that Andy was talking about.

A couple of examples ... Victoria's ability to communicate well lightens my workload because as she is implementing features, she can interact directly with our customer, allowing me to stay focused on my development tasks rather than diving into Basecamp or GMail. Brian's ability to learn quickly was apparent after I reviewed our Rails portfolio with him in his first few days and a week later he had single-handedly retrofitted ActiveRecords (with advanced associations) onto a legacy database on his first Rails project.

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Mon, 21 May 2007

Thinking about Portland; Refactoring in Wheaton

I just caught up on a bunch of the blogging from RailsConf. It sounds like it was an excellent time. But I'm surprised that I didn't hear about anything controversial or earth-shattering. Perhaps Rails is stabilizing? Anyway, while part of me yearned to be there, the end of my week in Wheaton turned out to be an excellent experience in its own right (on a smaller scale).

Victoria and Brian are working their way through Refactoring and we are meeting weekly to discuss what they're learning. One of the first questions from the first few chapters was "What is an Abstract Class?" This important and fundamental question launched us into a contrast of Java's Interfaces, Abstract Classes, and Packages with Ruby's Module. I have always said in our Rails course that Ruby's Modules play double-duty (namespaces + mixin), but this was the first time I had illustrated that point to people who know Ruby better than Java. It was a good discussion and I feel privileged to be able to guide Victoria and Brian along their path toward mastery and seed a culture of learning at Obtiva.

I then shared some of my reflections on reading through the Code Smells with my Ruby hat on. The ones that stuck out most to me where Feature Envy and Incomplete Library Class. What struck me about these is how much more freedom Ruby gives you (than Java) to eradicate these smells from your code-base. Specifically, the Move Method refactoring can, in Ruby, move code all the way into the class where it belongs, regardless of whether you wrote that class or not. For example.

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Fri, 11 May 2007

Establishing our Software Craftsmanship Studio

These 20 days of blogging silence were brought to you by...
  • Rolling off of a project at a local client
  • Kicking off a project in Obtiva's Wheaton office
  • Moving out of a flood-prone house and into a house up the road
  • Brian Tatnall joining Obtiva as hour first full-time software apprentice

Working in the Wheaton office has been a most excellent transition. While there are some mundane details to take care of, it's all in the name of establishing a Software Craftsmanship Studio we can call our own. Like any software company that does consulting and training, there will always be some of us at client sites or running trainings in exotic locations. But there will also always be a sub-set of us in the office delivering full-fledged projects from our Studio.

And that is what Brian and I (and soon Victoria will be nearly full-time with us!) are establishing. A place where apprenticeships flourish, where footwear is optional, where collaboration is dialed up to 11, and where we deliver top-notch software to our customers on a daily basis. It's been intense thus far, and I anticipate some great times ahead.

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