How I Made My Dream Come True

It’s been a few weeks ago. It has been a highlight in my life: SoCraTes 2012!

It started out as an idea around 2 years ago. I had been visiting quite a lot of events here in Germany: conferences focussing on programming, on agile coaching. – They have been OK. Still, something was missing:

Passion for “Good Programming”

The events were either focussing on technology or on processes. Truly, both are important. Yet, you do not need a fancy process nor do you need the latest technology to create great software. What you definitely need is great developers. People who know their craft. A craft that consists of much more than a programming language or frameworks or mastering the skills. It requires a sharp mind, curiosity, passion as well as communication skills, discipline, creativity.

The dream

Let’s organize an un-conference similar to the Agile Coach Camps focusing on Software Craftsmanship.

It started during XP-days 2010 as an open space session. There we founded the initial organizing group. The result was SoCraTes 2011 with about 50 attendees. During the event some of the attendees decided to continue the experience of learning and sharing by creating user groups all over Germany. That has been the ignition of Softwerkskammer. Currently it consists of more than 350 members and 9 regional groups.

This year we followed up with SoCraTes 2012. The event was sold out in less than two weeks and was really satisfying to me and – at least some folks told me – to others, too. I cannot imagine a life without events like that anymore. It has been energizing to see so many great and passionate developers sharing their knowledge and experience and setting a great stage for themselves.

Every End is a New Beginning

Shortly before SoCraTes 2012 I started to think about withdrawing my engagement for the future. The reason is simple: I always wanted the event to be a community event, not my personal thing.

I am really happy to have found volunteers for next year’s SoCraTes and I have no doubt that it will be great again. Nonetheless I am curios about how it will turn out to be.

Last not least I want to thank everybody for his/her support, especially Nicole who invested lots of her time and always took the load off me. It wouldn’t have been possible without her loving support.

If it’s Crap, Call it Crap – not Legacy

Tonight we were discussing code quality issues. During this discussion one thing came up to my mind:

Everybody is calling old code “legacy”, and now legacy is used as a synonym for code of poor quality.

Why that?

My first guess is: If it was me who wrote the code, “legacy” sounds much nicer than saying “this code is crap”. “Crap” sounds harsh, brutal, nasty.

But there’s more to it. Many developers have to deal with existing code on a daily basis. Much code. Code that is running at customers’ sites. This code cannot be all crap. People use it, so it must be somehow valuable to them. We even earn money with selling it to new customers. – But it slowly kills us. It kills our ability to change it to modernize it.

Why bother?

Most of us are aware of the fact that today’s produced code will be tomorrow’s legacy. If we allow the use of the word “legacy” as a synonym for “crap” then we have a perfect excuse for producing crappy code. – We should care more of tomorrow’s legacy. We should be proud of yesterday’s work. Today, tomorrow, next year, in five years!

For example: We live in a legacy house, more than a hundred years old. And we are proud of it. We are proud of the people who have built it. Of course there are necessary refurbishments and modernizations, but performing them is usually possible with quite low effort. – I drive a car that is 20 years old. And I love it. – Both the house and the car are legacy, but not crap.

I have a Russian friend that possessed a 7 year old Lada. It was slightly legacy but complete crap. We once bought a brand new replacement part (a rear axle). It was cheap, but crap from the start. Of course the car was running most of the time, but we often had the feeling that we were lucky to reach our destination.

Examples

Let’s imagine a huge class hierarchy. Nowadays we know that in most cases huge hierarchies are not a good idea if you want to write maintainable code. Some years ago this knowledge was not so wide-spread. But the now so big hierarchy started small, believe it or not. So if you start building a hierarchy today you are potentially laying the foundation for tomorrow’s hell. And you should consider yourself a crap-maker, because you should know better than – let’s say – 10 years ago. The knowledge that deep hierarchies are problematic and should be avoided is now a “best practice” and has been around for at least five years. This means that if you are now dealing with a deep hierarchy that is less than five years old, you can frankly call that crap.

If you even think of extending this hierarchy with more depth, that is also crap. No excuses. If a structure you have to deal with already is too complicated, adding more is not a way of producing legacy, it is just a horrible practice and it always has been. As soon as you sense the code you are working on is getting too complex, stop. Refactor or refurbish it. It will never get easier in the future. The more you add, the more difficult it will be.

Remember

Think – don’t just code!

Legacy Software – Why I love working with it!

For years I worked as a consultant and coach. Both on agile methods and coding. I guess I was of some help on a few occasions. At least that is what some customers stated. But in the end I always left them alone. I often felt relief when I left them. But on the other hand it was also like surrender. The software was not finished. Most software is never finished; development goes on and on and on and …

This is probably nothing new to you. Maybe you have similar experiences. But probably you belong to the majority of people in software development: employed developers.

Buried Under Tons of Code

Old code. Untested. Unreadable. Unloved.

Is this what you dreamed of when you started your career? – Probably not. You may have dreamt of creating new shiny software from scratch using great technologies and fancy tools.

But you don’t quit your job. Perhaps you are a masochist? – I don’t think so. There are many reasons to face the challenge working in such an awkward place:

  • Responsibility: You feel responsible for the product. Although it is not the “Big Fun”, it is your job to keep the thing alive and even add more features to it.
  • Challenge: You think it is much harder to work in a situation like yours than to do small projects from scratch. You know that every software will become legacy after a certain age or size.
  • Fear: You are afraid of being the one to produce the nightmare from scratch that you are now working on. For you it is easier to say: “I just clean up other people’s mess!”
  • Hope: You are just staying because you have hope that you will be amongst the chosen few to start the next product from scratch.

In my case, it is a mixture of the first two aspects. In addition I have a strong belief that every legacy product can be changed to the better so that further development will be possible for a long period of time. This work is not funny but deeply satisfying. In our current product everyone in the team is trying his best while working on the huge codebase. And you know what: The software and the code become better each day.

We are all learning. We are all improving ourselves. Maybe some of us will become masters in the end. Who knows…