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Mon, 08 Sep 2003

This is an archived blog post. I've switched to using WordPress as my blogging software and have not migrated all my old posts. I believe strongly in not letting an old link die, so this page continues to work. Please do visit mikemason.ca/blog to read newer posts.

Developer Folklore

There’s a lot of information in developers’ heads on most projects. It’s one of the reasons that methodologies that don’t treat people as individuals tend to grate – we’re not actually interchangeable cogs in a machine, we have different strengths and weaknesses, different ways of working and interacting. Agile and XP try to help interchangeability of people through things like pairing and rotation around teams, but at the end of the day knowledge is still tied up in developers’ brains.

We jokingly used the term “developer folklore” to describe this. At the client I’m working with right now, we have around 80 developers. That’s a big project, and we were seeing problems with each team doing things slightly differently – mostly to do with IDE setup, how exactly they’d perform a build and test, etc. We have a Wiki set up as a central “hive mind” but this doesn’t quite solve the problem. How to get things working for us had become folklore, rather than an actual documented process. We’re now working on ways to make sure that knowledge is transferred a little more formally between developers.

For small teams, I don’t think this matters. In fact, it’s a good thing to have a bit of folklore, and if you’re moving fast your current state-of-the-art can change pretty rapidly. Documenting every little thing can slow you down. Paul Hammant talks about “telepathy” between developers, and that only seems to arise in small teams. You and your fellow developers become attuned to what the others are doing, and can half-explain a concept before everyone else jumps all the way to the end without further help. Developers find themselves conversing in half-finished sentences, instinctively moving together in the same direction. Telepathy is something people who’ve done pair programming will easily relate to, and I think finding it with your development team means you’re doing good work. It’s one of the things I think is most consistent with projects I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Also today my colleague Stacy Curl wrote about the Immutable Storycard Anti-Pattern. We ran into it and quite a few of the developers in the room felt instantly that something was a little screwy, without really needing to voice that opinion too loudly. Telepathy kicking in perhaps?

Posted 17:01, 08 Sep 2003.  

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