Thursday, January 14, 2021

Developers procrastinating their way to better code

In The surprising habits of original thinkers Adam Grant describes the sweet spot between precrastinators and procrastinators for optimal original thought.

In short, completing your tasks far ahead of time or at the very last minute leads to less original thought.

Think of this in terms of a developer getting their tasks done.

Typically we're pulling tickets off job queue. If you're a developer then you've probably worked with GitHub Issues or Jira or some similar system. Tickets are usually prioritized from most important to least important.

If we've never seen the ticket or problem statement that we've just pulled to work on then our original thought process for solving this is the equivalent of an extreme procrastinator. We're learning about the problem at the same time as we're solving it. This leads to less original solutions and probably the first solution we think of instead of the best solution.

One way to mitigate this is to have grooming sessions. We meet as a team and go through the backlog of tickets and in addition to prioritizing them the ticket creator will explain the ticket in more detail so that we can estimate the effort in completing this. More details are also added to the ticket if needed. The team sometimes discusses possible approaches to solving this. Most important, in my opinion, is that this problem has been dropped into your subconscious and whether you like it or not your brain is noodling on a solution in the background.

Something that I feel we don't do often enough is "kick tickets down the road." In other words, there are tickets that we should procrastinate on that we don't.

Some tickets are critical and need to be done immediately. Major security vulnerabilities fall in this category.

If the ticket is not urgent and can be punted and you or the team are uncomfortable with the current array of possible solutions then do it. Kick that ticket down the road. And do it intentionally and without shame. Add a comment on the ticket stating exactly that:

The team discussed this issue on DD-MMM-YYYY and we were unable to come up with an idea for addressing this in way that we wanted so we're putting this back in the queue to mull on.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

How do you measure the value of a PR Review?

How do you measure the value of a PR Review?

Thinking out aloud. You employ a developer whose sole job is to review PRs submitted by other developers. How do you measure the value that developer is providing?

The formula

The time saved by not having to (1) debug issues in production plus (2) the time taken to fix the code plus (3) the time taken to review and deploy the fixes multiplied by the cost of that time.


The revenue generated by the customers who would have signed up if that bug did not exist.


The revenue that would have been maintained if those customers had not canceled their subscriptions because of the bug that got through.



The cost of the review-developer doing the PR.


The other noise created by the review-developer trying to make the value look obvious by over-commenting on the PR. (A quick aside: If you are being measured or incentivized to do PRs then you will have a tendency to comment more frequently to show value. Sometimes that will be value but sometimes it will be costly noise.)


Review Feedback and Measurement

What if the PR submitter and added value markers to each comment that the reviewer made?

Given that the submitter has to read through all the comments anyway it should be very little effort to tag the comments with a marker. In Stash there's the "like" link and in GitHub you have a collection of emojis.

An automated scripts could aggregate the tags assigned to the reviewer.

What is a valuable comment on a PR?

This brings up the question on value in comments.

"I like that you used reduce() here instead of filter() and map()" - is that a valuable comment? I think that it is. Perhaps sometimes it needs more context. The value here is that your telling the PR submitter that you (1) read through it and understood it and (2) thought that a particular section was well written.

A comment like this has even more value if the submitter has not used an optimal pattern (that you like) in the past or in another section of the PR. I have seen this where a submitter may have used a "perfect" pattern in one file and then something "messy" to solve the same type of problem in another module. Highlighting the good code as well as the "needs improvement" code has as much value.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Architectural Decision is Wrong

Every architectural decision we make today will be wrong at some point in the future.

It will be wrong for one of two reasons:

  1. Information we didn't know at the time we made the decision.
  2. Technology that's changed or become available since then.

This also goes for the technology stack that you choose.

When you make your decision, list all of the reasons why you're taking that path. Do it in your Jira or GitHub Issues (or Whatever tracking system) in the first post or description of the ticket.

Copy/paste the top of this blog post that includes the two numbered points into the bottom of the description and stop wasting anymore time on this. This is a reminder that it's going to be wrong one day.

Months later when you can't remember why you made this decision you can revisit this ticket and make notes about what you could have done at that time to make a different decision if needed. Or perhaps that was the best decision you could have made at that time.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Coaching and the PR Code Review

There is rarely a time when all the members of a team have a deep understanding of all the technologies being used on a project. On top of that the technologies that they're using are evolving and all team members need to keep up with the changes. Some members will learn new techniques and features earlier than the others.

An effective way of cross training team members is through the Pull Request (PR) Code Review.

Comments on a typical PR will be:
  • This looks like a mistake because...
  • This doesn't conform to our standard because... (This should rarely happen because a lint step should have caught this earlier. If it is happening then the lint rules should be reviewed.)
  • This works. I would do it this other way because...
  • Please add/modify a test for this.
In addition to that, as a reviewer, you should be asking:
  • I'm new to this technology, what does that do?
  • Please can you add a comment above this line explaining what this does?
  • I haven't seen this syntax before, is it the same as?
  • This is fantastic! I never knew you could... (Call it out when someone does something you haven't seen before or does something really well and you learned from it. Everyone loves positive feedback.)
If you submit a PR that has new features or techniques then consider immediately adding comments (in the PR) about them to help the reviewers if know that they will not understand what something does.

The question then arises, should I add a comment in the code or a comment in the PR? My take on this is that comments about how a language, framework or technology works, in isolation, should go in the PR comments. You don't want to clutter the code with information that can be found through a search on the web. The comments that go in the code are how the code works.

These are the advantages of learning through code reviews:
  1. The reviewer is learning in the context of the project domain. You don't get more real world than that. Not only will the reviewer be learning new syntax/constructs but they will also be understanding the business domain and gain knowledge in part of the code base that they may need to maintain in the future. Compare this to learning contrived examples in a class.
  2. The reviewer is learning a subset of the technology as it pertains to this domain. We would all love to learn all aspects of each technology we touch. Time constraints do not make this possible. Learning like this in situ provides the most time efficient way of learning the essentials. Again compare this to class learning where you may gain some super interesting knowledge and then not apply it.
  3. The coach, the person who submitted the PR, is forced to look at and explain their code. When you ask your seemingly naive question you may see a comment like "This construct in this language does... Now that I look at it again I see a problem/way-that-I-could-improve-it."
Using this technique you get a better code review on the PR and a great contextual training session at the same time.

Monday, November 23, 2015

MomentJS Notes


npm i moment --save
npm i moment-timezone --save


var moment = require('moment-timezone');

Create moments in and out of DST:

var cdt ="2015-07-23 08:30", "America/Chicago");
var cst ="2015-11-23 08:30", "America/Chicago");

Check that offset from UTC is what you'd expect:'America/New_York').format()
> '2015-07-23T09:30:00-04:00''America/New_York').format()
> '2015-11-23T09:30:00-05:00'

Check that zone aware format output is what you'd expect:'America/New_York').format('HH:mm:ss')
> '09:30:00''America/New_York').format('HH:mm:ss')
> '09:30:00'

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Node Foundation Membership Election

Mikeal Rogers recently posted Nominations for the 2016 Election for individual representation on the Node Foundation board.

I'm putting myself forward and answering the question "Why would you like to represent the individual membership of the foundation?"


I think that Node.js and the ecosystem around it plays a critical role in our current technology stack. This is going to become more important in the future.

I would like to be able to help shape the success of this platform. One way to do that is to understand what the membership wants and needs to get out of what we have today. More importantly what do they expect from the future. As part of the bridge between membership and the board I will be working to ensure that members' opinions are represented at the leadership level.


Leadership: In the past I've served as a director of engineering for a large IT company managing a team of 35+ managers and developers.

Technical: I have a few open source projects that I manage. I also contribute to open source projects I can improve through pull-requests. My day-to-day work is mostly writing JavaScript against the Node.js platform and system design and architecture.


I've intentionally kept this brief. I'll answer any questions. If you ask them as comments to this post then we can keep them in one place. Anyone else reading this will be informed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Babel Cannot read property error of undefined

This is more a reminder to myself about how to solve this error that I've stumbled across a couple of times with Babel 5 & 6.

If you downgrade Babel from 6 to 5 and leave a .babelrc file in your project with a Babel 6 specific setting like:

  "presets": ["es2015"]

then you might get an error like this:

if (!option) this.log.error("Unknown option: " + alias + "." + key, ReferenceError);

TypeError: Cannot read property 'error' of undefined

The solution is to remove the .babelrc file or remove the Babel 6 specific settings.

Also, if you're using Babel 5 and you require a module from another project that has a .babelrc file which is using Babel 6 and has a Babel 6 setting in it then this will cause the same problem in your Babel 5 project.