Sunday, March 15, 2009

The road to mastery - Practice, Practice, then Practice some more...

The craftsmanship movement has hit the ground running. First a conference in London organised by Jason Gorman. Looking through Jason's Blog, and from the video, it looks like the whole Xtc London crowd were in attendance. Jason is an established member of the Xtc crowd, so I suppose it shouldn't have been surprising. Familiar faces like Ivan Moore and Nat Pryce. It brings me back to my early XP days, when I too attended such conferences and the excitement and delight of it all, not to mention the friendships and the insights. What fond memories.

So after going full circle, the "Agile" movement are now back were they started: Writing Code! Or should I call it the post Agile movement? Or better still lets just call them the folks who like to program, get stuff done, and take a pride in doing it well.

Micah Martin was there, and presented his Langston's Ant Ruby Kata. Now Micah's dad, Uncle bob is the guy responsible for teaching me the fundamentals of OO design. So anyone schooled by Uncle Bob, will probably have something to say that would prick my interest. Watch the video. Its a real expose of the Ruby language and the mechanics of programming in general.

Micah borrowed the word Kata from marshal arts. A Kata is an almost ritualised performance of a set of martial art skills, with the desired aim of re-enforcing those skills through practice. So Kata's are meant to be performed again and again, until the practitioner becomes use to the moves involved. Its a wonderful idea, and is synergistic with Ron Jefferies emphasis on practice and learning through doing. Ron's bowling game example could be considered yet another Kata. Hopefully Micah will develop this idea further and I'm looking forward to a whole catalogue of Kata's that the aspiring programmer can learn and practice. Katas to me seem like a great tool when going through the Shu (hold) phase of learning.

Focusing on Micahs Ruby Kata, what was interesting to me was his interpretation of BDD. I have been doing quite a lot of BDD lately, and I have found the style of BDD I've been learning a tad verbose. Micahs BDD style using Rspec is very similar to my own TDD style, and a lot more appealing as a consequence. Given that Uncle Bob learned TDD from Kent Beck, and I learned TDD from a bunch of XPers (Ivan Moore, Steve Freeman, etc) who presumably picked it up from Kent Beck too, its clear to me that Micah and I share a common BDD/TDD lineage. This raises an interesting point about style.

Micahs software shop is called 8th Light, and they conduct an apprenticeship program. Now I always thought of an apprenticeship as something for novices, but 8th Light take a different slant on the apprenticeship idea. Rather then an apprenticeship being just a means of teaching someone the basics, 8th Light also sees an apprenticeship as a means of teaching someone the 8th Light Style. This is another great idea. From my waterfall days, I have known that great programmers will get the job done, using what ever approach is familiar to them, and there is no one right way, No Best Practice, No one style.

Corey Haines explores the idea of style with Paul Pagel of 8th Light in this video. They also talk a bit about the recent Craftsmanship Manifesto and what motivated it. They suggest that programmers should learn more than one style during their Journeyman phase. Again this is something that is synergistic with my experience. I remember working with Ivan Moore and Erik Deorenenberg on the same project. Both great programmers, but each with a different style. Whilst I found Ivans "Smalltalk/Python" biased style more appealing, Eriks prolific nature and practical bias was extremely informative too, and I vowed to get my keyboard skills up to Eriks levels (which is still something on my to do list :)).

So the Journeyman must be prepared to break with his master and explore alternative styles. This seems to me like the Ha (break) phase of learning. At 8th Light they are hoping to facilitate this by organising exchange programs with other software shops.

So there we have it. People walking the talk, and software as a profession actually being practiced. It is interesting contrasting the Craftsmanship movement with the Kanban movement, both recent off shoots of Agile. One group (Kanban) are busy telling others how to manage software development, and are selling their services as Consultants, whilst the other group (Craftsman) are busy writing software themselves for real customers and sharing their practices and insights for free with anyone interested in learning.

I saw this on Jasons blog:

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A. (craftsman): Practice, practice, practice.

A. (consultant): Pay a respected market research company shedloads of money to write a report that concludes you're already at Carnegie Hall, and then make a killing selling maps and directions (even though you've never actually been there)
I think it says it all. All's left for me to do now is to get practicing myself. I'll think I'll start with the Langston's Ant Kata in Newspeak. Now that should be fun!


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Alphadog said...

Ugh. I am extremely tired of all the mystical/zen/"crouching tiger" naming schemes in agile software development.

I mean, I love kung-fu movies as much as the next guy, but can't we get creative without pretending we are folded-leg oracles on cherry blossoms mountains?!?

Paul said...


Its a good thing I didn't mention "sparring" or a coding "dojo" :) I know the names do bring to mind those old 1970's Kung-fu movies with the bad dubbing!

As long as we don't take ourselves too seriously, I have no problem with it. I see such names as a bit of fun. Kata has got to be better than something boring like "Programming practice exercise, solo".

What kind of names would you prefer?