Who’s run a guided code kata for more than three people?
Need a definition for a guided code kata? Start here, then add the idea of one person either displaying steps to follow and/or performing the steps on a large screen in front of several people. Guided katas are commonly performed at user groups, lunch learnings, or at a local coding dojo meetup.
Back to my original question: who’s run a guided kata for more than three people?
Still reading? Then you probably relate to the problem. The problem is: how can you tell when a reasonable percentage (or 100%) of the room is ready for the next step?
In my case, I was leading a guided kata for a room of around thirty people. Even with about half the room doing the exercise in pairs, I was spending a lot of time asking, “Who needs more time?”.
The Solution (hint: it’s kata cups)
Cut a notch in two sides of some paper cups, and ask people to put them on their laptop screens when they finish the current step of the kata. When a significant agreed upon group of folks are ready, call out “Cups down!” and move on to the next step.
When you don’t have any cups handy, try having everyone fix a sticky note to the top of their laptop. Post-its work in a pinch, but the cups are more reliable– and fun.
The use of kata cups has spread throughout the office at work. It’s fun to see something so simple aid in the success of a lean-agile culture. So many things we do are about visibility and collaboration and finding the right solution just-in-time. Kata cups are no exception.
I’d like to give a quick thank you to the crowd that night and the one the day before at HealthEquity during one of our Lunch Learning sessions. You all are fantastic. Thanks for the great feedback!
What’s different? Not much, to be honest. Also, in some ways, a lot. But what I realized as I was going through the slides one final time, was this: this IS a major revision. I just didn’t realize it while going through all the multiple iterative changes.
What hasn’t changed? Legacy Code Kata 3.0 is still a code kata about dealing with dependencies in legacy code and getting it ready for unit testing. It still uses the same seed code as previous versions, and you can find that here on GitHub.
So, what makes this version so great? Let me lay it out for you:
Lost the lame presentation theme. I thought I accomplished this with v2.0. NOPE. You’re welcome.
The intro slides have been honed down to only those 100% essential, and they were also prettied up, and some new notes added.
Added the Kata Barometer (patent pending (not actually (maybe))). At any time you always know what state your tests and build should be in.
Broke up quite a few slides that were too complicated and/or the font was too small to read effectively. Much more Kata Cup friendly now. What’s a Kata Cup? Maybe in a future post. Stop changing the subject!
If you want to see for yourself why this version is so much better, check out the old versions: Version 1.0 or Version 2.0.
Well, well, well. Look what the samurai dragged in. An updated version of my Legacy Dependency Kata. I’ll have to update the Coding Kata Resources page.
I’m not proud to admit that there even was a v1.0 at the moment. Let me explain.
Just over two years ago, I was experimenting with writing katas, presenting at code conventions, and running a coding dojo. It turns out. I wasn’t super fantastic at any of these things. Nevertheless, I wrote a kata, ran it a few times with the kind folks in my dojo, and proceeded to share it with the delightful folks at Utah Code Camp 2014. Reviews were mixed, but overall I felt good about it.
Fast forward to the present. While planning the lunchtime learning schedule for our recent SAFe Program Increment, there was an opening, and I, ever so graciously, decided to run my Legacy Dependency Kata for folks who may not have had the chance to see it before. Upon thoroughly embarrassing myself with some of the crappiest kata slides in existence (slides even I couldn’t completely fathom), I recognized that my life would be forfeit if folks were forced to do the kata again with the same slides the following day.
I dashed to revise the slides and spent many hours on the task. When I presented the kata on the second day, it was a much more successful attempt. I’d go so far as to call it a version 1.7. I spent some more time and enlisted the advice of the ever-gracious and capable Kaleb Pedersen in finalizing v2.0. The source code is still the same. Legacy code problems from 2 years ago are still very similar to what they are today.
I think the new slides do their job. Could this kata still be better? Without a doubt. Please submit your recommendations in the comments or feel free to yell at me on Twitter. I’m sure I deserve it for something.
Without further adieu, I give you Legacy Dependency Kata Version Two.
This is the 3rd and final post in my series on continuous developer learning. I recommend you read 2014 Developer Learning Guide Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.
When I started writing about this subject, I thought I would cover all of the options in one post.
One of the wonderful things about learning, is that there is a lot to learn about it! I’m in the process of recording a new podcast with a friend of mine and one of our first episodes will iterate just exactly why we believe continuous learning is so important. Stay tuned!
Now, the finale…
In-Person (Larger Groups/Formal Training)
This is one that I need to get more involved in. I’ve heard great things about hackathons. I only attended my very first one a couple weeks ago and it was a good experience (all WiFi issues aside).
Additional personal experience is more related to startup work even less formal than these events. There have been a couple of times I’ve tried to put together a quick app or program in a short amount of time using the MVP or “Minimum Viable Product” approach from The Lean Startup. I found that I learned a remarkable amount in a short amount of time.
I learned even more when I did this together with some friends who ranged in skills from entrepreneur to systems admin to programmer to business development.
Code Camps/Large Conferences
I’ve considered writing an entire post about these. There is nothing like being surrounded by others who are looking to improve and be awesome at what we do.
This kind of event can run from half a day to a full week. They tend to be a little heavier on the pocketbook, but you can find lower cost options as well. If you live in an area with a very active tech community, you will probably have many great local options that at least save you on the travel costs.
Conferences really get the creative juices flowing and keep you fired up about your work. Most major tech companies have at least one developer conference per year (Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft).
Employers with a decent training budget send their developers to 1-2 larger conferences per year (almost never 3+).
I try to mix it up like so:
1-2 out of town conferences. I enjoy travel and this is a nice opportunity to get out of the state for a few nights.
2-3 local conferences. To help keep the budget down.
As many code camps as I can reasonably attend.
Why so many? There are a lot of topics I’m interested in and it just so happens that they are all related to my work. This year, I attended an AngularJS conference (ng-conf), an Agile conference (AgileRoots was amazing), Utah Code Camp, and DevFest Family. I’m still planning to attend a large UX conference and a more hard-core software engineering/architecture conference.
I’ve also found it extremely valuable to speak at some of these events. No one learns more than the person who stresses over getting in front of a bunch of smart people to tell them about something!
This type of training is great when you have a team that all needs to get on the same page. Schedule a trainer to come out to your company on your schedule. I will turn you loose on Google for this one… do a little research and you will find many companies offering this type of service.
My experience here is positive. On-site training sessions can be highly valuable just make sure you get a great trainer. Interview them first or suggest a trial session.
Costs, I’m not super sure on but what is published online is $1000-5000 per session. If you think you will have an ongoing need for this, negotiate a better rate.
Certifications are highly valuable for IT people although they are not be as well recognized in development circles. I have a former boss who refused to interview candidates with Microsoft’s developer certification on their resume…
Advanced degrees are valuable if you are specializing in certain areas of our field. Machine learning, concurrent programming, and human computer interaction are all excellent examples.
Both certifications and advanced degrees become considerably more valuable if your company is willing to pay for part or all of the tuition. Without that, I would probably avoid them because your return on investment may not be very good.
As you can see, the options for learning run the full gamut of price, time, and commitment. The great news is, even if your company has little or no budget for training, all you need is a couple committed developers to get started with the less expensive (free) types of training. Even better if your company agrees to a budget or commits to learning in other meaningful ways (time/food/support).
I recommend that you seek out employers who understand and value learning. I have and I couldn’t be more glad.
Remember to read 2014 Developer Learning Guide Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already. Follow me on Twitter (@dubmun) for comments about development and other shenanigans.
In Part 1 of this sequence of blog posts, we covered online and print learning. Part 3 is now available as well. This time we will review some of the in-person options for learning and focus in on smaller groups. But first…
An Elaboration On “The Best”
I suggested in 2014 Developer Learning Guide: Part 1 that A-players, top developers, etc. only want to work for companies that have a great learning culture. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they already ARE working for these companies. The point is that, given the choice, the best developers know the value of learning and want to be part of groups where everyone is actively engaged in it. If you are already working for a company like this, I congratulate you on your outstanding choice!
The most common argument I’ve heard for choosing or sticking with a company with poor learning policies/funding: “If a company pays well enough, I can afford my own learning/training.”
This is true. The fallacy is that all of the developers will use their “extra money” for this purpose. We all have obligations and sometimes paying off that credit card or taking a family trip might take priority over paying for our own training. When the employer provides budget and opportunity specifically for training, the entire team is far more likely to take advantage of it. This leads to the entire team learning and growing together. You avoid the situation where stragglers are content to stagnate and contribute a steadily degrading quality of work (and contribute steadily degrading quality of feedback on teammates’ work).
TL;DR I stand by my original statement with a few caveats.
This is not to say that everyone should try to learn in the same ways. Some people don’t take much away from certain types of training and learning opportunities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, in fact, it is the purpose of these posts to provide a comprehensive list of the options that are out there! My hope is that you won’t focus on only one type of training. A rich selection of options awaits. I encourage you to try many and find out which work best for you.
In-Person (Smaller Groups)
Start or join a book club/group/discussion. If you don’t like the word “club” find something different. Oprah won’t mind… why do you even care what she thinks? Hopefully your company is willing to sponsor a book group with lunch provided and books paid. This is a minimal expense and provides a great return on investment. Reading books alone often isn’t enough. Having discussions with peers (who will definitely have takeaways you didn’t consider) is a great way to help maximize learning. In addition, adding coding exercises that pertain to the book topic occasionally really helps to cement the knowledge. More on that later…
One thing I’d like to call out here: if your group is larger than six people, consider breaking out into smaller groups for the majority of your discussion time. This is a neat trick I picked up from Mike Clement at Utah Software Craftsmanship meetups. Large groups tend to lend themselves a couple of antipatterns:
At best some participants may not participate because the more dominant voices in the room are taking up too much time.
At worst, you may have people napping in the back.
We implemented the breakout approach at my current company with great success. We get back together for an overall discussion for 10-15 minutes at the end of the hour and cover the points each group thought were most important.
Selecting the right kind of book is a very important concern here. Voting as a group is a nice way to get an idea of what people are interested in. Always be sure to select titles that will be good for discussion. Code cookbooks are an outstanding example of what not to read. I tend to prefer books grounded in theory, patterns, practices more than how-to books on specific technologies. If you aren’t sure where to start or don’t have money for books initially, there is a lot of great free material for discussions available online. Many blog post make for excellent discussions (hint, wink, nudge).
Presentations/User Groups/Meetups/Open Space
This section is a little more broad. Intentionally. There is an entire class of in-person interactions that can be extremely valuable learning tools. Many are existing groups and some you’ll have to go out of your way to create.
Presentations – The most formal entry of the section. Presentations are sometimes more valuable for the presenter than they are for the people watching. Nothing cements knowledge in your brain like stressing over sharing it with 5 to 500 other people all at once (for me anyway).
What you will take away from attending a presentation depends on your own personal learning style, the effectiveness of the presenter, and how much attention you actually pay to the presentation. I get nuggets from attending presentations but in general they have moderate value for me. So, “Present, present, present!” becomes my mantra.
“But where can I present?” you ask? The opportunities are out there. Present at work, user groups/meetups, coding dojos, code camps, large conferences, or just record yourself and post it online. Not sure how to get started? Go and watch someone present and ask them how they did it. This is also a topic I may write more on in the future.
User Groups/Meetups – Unfortunately I missed a great one of these (Utah Software Craftsmanship) last night because of pressing matters elsewhere. These groups are somewhat hit and miss, but if you find a few that are a good cultural fit and really match your interests they can be fantastic. User groups/meetups are a great place to learn, practice presentation skills, mingle with fellow techies, and often get free food.
If there isn’t a local user group that fits your interests, start your own. The most difficult part is securing a venue but local colleges and businesses are often willing to host your group. In addition, larger groups will attract sponsors who may provide swag for giveaways and/or food.
The best current place to look for a public group (or start one) is on Meetup.com.
Open Space Technology – I’ve only participated in one open space-style of meeting/collaboration unfortunately. It was at an Agile Roots conference back in 2009 and had a fairly profound impact on me. If you have the opportunity to attend an open space, I highly recommend it.
Coding exercises are a general term for writing code following a format lead by a presenter. There are many different subsets of exercises including design, gamified, and code katas. All of these have value, but I’m going to focus on the latter.
If you aren’t familiar with the term code kata, here is what Wikipedia says: “A code kata is an exercise in programming which helps a programmer hone their skills through practice and repetition.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kata_(programming). I like to compare it to a martial arts kata where we work to develop the equivalent of “muscle memory” for certain coding techniques. Coding dojos are specialized meetups of people who perform code katas as a group. Participating in a coding dojo is something I look forward to every week. I always learn something new and almost always have the opportunity to help others do the same.
I have a future blog post queued up about my experience with starting a coding dojo at HealthEquity over the past year.
It turns out I have too much to say for a 2 part post. In the third and final part of this post I will cover more in-person options for learning. It focuses on larger groups and formal training. Find it here: Part 3.
Also, be sure to check out Part 1 if you missed it.
I’d love to see your thoughts and comments below or to @dubmun on Twitter.