Women in Tech

Improving Code Reviews with Github’s Copilot

How does GitHub Copilot and Codespaces help data scientists to write, understand, and review code?

Do not punish learning in software engineering teams

What does it take to foster a workplace culture where employees, specifically coders, have the liberty to learn without feeling punished for it by the system? Innovation is impossible without failure, but most work cultures suffocate creativity without realizing it.

In this episode, I talk to Dr. Cat Hicks, a data scientist, a behavioral scientist, and a creative entrepreneur.

We talk about:

  • how she deviated away from a traditional path of a researcher to start her company, Catharsis Consulting, 
  • how to foster a learning culture within your engineering team
  • what learning debt is and 
  • how learning debt hinders software engineering teams to reach their full potential. 
Dr. Cat Hicks

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

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Transcript: Foster a learning culture in engineering teams

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

Dr. McKayla 00:03 Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked Podcast. I’m your hosT Dr. McKayla, and today I have the pleasure to talk to Dr. Cat Hicks. But before we start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring this episode Codiga. Codiga is a code analysis platform that automates the boring parts of code reviews and lets you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab and BitBucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now, and I love how it guides me in discovering the, well, not so nice parts of my code base. But there is more: Codiga also has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you are coding. Codiga has a great free plan, and so there is nothing that actually stops you from giving it a try. Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Cat. Cat, or Catherine Hicks holds a PhD in experimental psychology and is a principal researcher in Team Lead at catalysis consulting. She has designed researchers at places like Google Khan Academy and co founded a startup that builds tools for software engineers, and she led multi institutional collaborations in online learning. So I’m super, super, super thrilled to have a cat here with me, Cat, welcome to the show.

Dr. Cat Hicks 01:30 Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here.

Dr. McKayla 01:33 Yeah, me too. I’m following you for a long time now on on Twitter. And I was very impressed because you have a similar not the same, obviously very different. But you have a similar background, like coming from academia and then going independent. And and so yeah, so it was very interesting to see how you built Catharsis Consulting. And you’re the founder of Catharsis Consulting, right?

Dr. Cat Hicks 01:59 That’s correct.

Dr. McKayla 02:00 How did it help people with empirical research and also empirical research? I really a software engineering area, and you are now empirical researcher coming from experimental. How do you help companies?

Dr. Cat Hicks 02:14 That’s right. That’s right. So it’s delightful to connect. I think there are a growing cohort of us out there, you know, in the world who have made this journey, and there’s not really a roadmap for us. So I’m always I love to talk about it.

Dr. Cat Hicks 02:27 I like to call catharsis and evidence-science consultancy. So this means that we help partners use evidence to inform their decision making and tell their stories. And in particular, we’re very focused on meaningful measurement. So I describe it to people as not just data for the sake of data, but creating research methods that give us data that’s fit for purpose. So I try to help partners who are trying to learn something real about the world they’re working in, and how to move forward. And we have a couple

areas of competency and special focus. But we’ve led projects, it’s easier to give examples right, then talk high level. So some recent projects are, I’ve asked things like how can we find evidence that a product design change in a language learning game actually increased the learning that was happening for children using the game. Another recent project is using surveys to help a small nonprofit tell the stories of how community members that they worked with, were helping people in their own families and in their social networks, learn about the COVID vaccine and make the decision to try to get that vaccine. So both of those projects, very different scale for those projects, very different types of data. But both of those projects connected to really immediate impact, whether it was on product design, or on an intervention, and programming that help doctors have better communication with their patients. So at catharsis, you know, we try to bring a few core principles to all of our research projects. One of them is just that people deserve to understand their data, and to really use the data that they already have maybe special access to, and to try to bring the tools of empirical research to everyone, even small organizations that may not have invested in learning those skills before. So one thing that we bring in a lot of our partnerships is an emphasis on teaching those research methods and taking it not just from, you know, findings on one project right now, but actually fitting any work that you do with data into a larger plan of moving forward.

Dr. McKayla 04:39 Yeah, and it sounds really, really exciting. And it reminds me, I’m more on the training side, right. So I’m helping a lot of software engineers actually get better at code reviews, but all of that also based on empirical research that I did around code reviews, but recently this year, actually half of the year I spent on I’m a research project with this startup and help them come up with a framework on, you know, what makes developers developer experience really great. And they created a product out of that. So I can totally relate to that. And it was really a wonderful experience. But the experimental nature of research and startup somehow there was also a lot of tension, I would say, right, there was a lot of, you know, it’s very different than in an academic world, you have like these questions, and here was, every day, I want to squash the question, is this impactful? Is this impactful? Right? I don’t know if you experienced that as well. And how do you handle that in your work?

Dr. Cat Hicks 05:42 I think we all experience right, right, you know, there’s a tension between things that you’re doing for the long term and, and needs that are in the short term, and then, you know, just to be really real about it, I think there’s a lot of people who have agendas about what we’re going to find. And yeah. And I, you know, I try very hard to always work with partners who, who have told me, you know, we are going to make changes based on what we find, even if the changes are uncomfortable to us for even if it it, it helped, we learned something that conflicts what we thought was before, this is very important for social impact work, you know, is very important for equity, when you’re going to do anything that has to do with people’s well being, but it is a core tension. And I think that researchers, we tend to be people who love the truth, right? And we’re just all about finding out the truth. And that can ruffle feathers. I love to do exactly what you described, where you go from working closely with people who are living an experience, and then translate that, you know, to leaders and to organizational structures. And I think it’s a beautiful role to be in, but it requires a lot of invisible work, right of explaining both sides to each other.

Dr. McKayla 07:00 Yeah, and, and working with this tension, right, which I think, is tell for me, it was a very challenging time at a time that I learned a lot. Because I’m, you know, for me, the rigor of the methodology is the most important thing. Right? And, and then comes time for the sort of, it’s more the time and then the rigor I think, right? Like, yeah, obviously, you know, like, at least a little bit, there is the priority or they are more stressed by a timing, then you know, then a researcher probably, yeah, and so on. So you have to deal with these tensions. And I think it was a very, very interesting learning experience for me. But what I really love this, that I could see, this research transformed into a product. And this was, this was actually the reason also why I loved academia because I was missing that. Yeah, getting real, right, I created a lot of prototypes in my in my research career, and actually think some of them maybe would even have had some potential even for open source, right, maybe not making tons of money, but some open source software that people would have used. But it was never the time. Again, we are coming back to time, but in a different way. Right. So the time was up after the paper is published, the time was up to work on that. And so I felt like I couldn’t really translate it into what I would like to see. Right. And that’s why I left for example, academia. How is that for you? Why did you leave this traditional path of a researcher and and start your own company and do your own thing go independent? Right?

Dr. Cat Hicks 08:40 Yeah, for sure. So you know, I think that it’s interesting because I am a researcher who likes to study environments. So whenever you ask someone about their choice as an individual, I think you have to see it also as a choice about what was around them. So I’ll be uh, you know, I’ll be real about that. I mean, academia is very hard to succeed in, not, not because of the quality of your work, but because of the opportunities that are around. And I but I think that there was a really core piece of what I loved. So I started out working in classrooms, I started working, asking about the beginning of how we learn to learn and even in my academic work, I was very interested in being in real schools talking to real children was where I started I did a dissertation with 3 to 11 year olds, so you can imagine Oh, yeah, yeah, asking young children about their how they were thinking about mistakes and how they were thinking about learning. So from the very beginning, so cool, you know, it’s amazing how much it pays off, right? Because we all we all start there and even now I work with adults, you know, and, and yet, all of the same questions come up all the time. So, you know, I think getting I found it beautiful and amazing that people are constantly scanning around them asking whether it’s okay to make mistakes and asking who they can talk to. And I just, you know, I saw a lot of exciting stuff out there in in tech. I think the journey for me too, there’s a personal, you know, that’s kind of the problem space. But being an entrepreneur is also a way for me to carve out this role that I did not see existing. So I always felt a little bit like, I’m a social scientist and a data scientist. I’m a data scientist, who cares, you know, about how we measure things. I like meaningful data more than big data. You know, it felt like with catharsis, it was a way to make the job that I wanted to have, you know, to do these kinds of projects.

Dr. McKayla 10:47 Yeah, that’s exactly what I did as well. I love create the job that I would like to do that, then that I feel like I can strive it.

Dr. Cat Hicks 10:57

And it takes courage. Yeah, no, you have to have to say, I know this is valuable, which I think you do as a researcher, just like you were talking about that startup, sometimes you have to be the person who’s saying, I know that this will pay off if you will do it, you know, you haven’t measured it. So you can’t see it yet. But I know it will. Because I’ve been there working with people and I see their pain and frustration or whatever else. And then they build it into a product. Right. And it does pay off.

Dr. McKayla 11:23 Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. So I looked at your newest report, which was super interesting for me, because it is around the software engineering teams. And there you shed light on the learning debt that we have, and how that can affect engineering teams. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this report is about what this software? Or what is research actually investigated? Or looked at? And what is what is learning data? And why do we have it as software engineers?

Dr. Cat Hicks 11:56 Yeah, great question. So as a part of Catharsis’ work, I can occasionally invest in this sort of work basically, for the field. So this is a report I did, because I found it really interesting, and shared publicly, and it’s called coding in the dark. I interviewed 25 software engineers or developers, and I asked them to share about their active problem solving as they were ramping up on an unfamiliar codebase. So this was people talking about their real jobs right now. They shared about code review, they shared about how they asked for help, how they collaborated. And I’ve shared a lot about, you know, what we talked about. And essentially, you know, what I found was even at these really big tech companies, most of the people I was talking to, we’re all at big tech companies. Even at these places, people’s experiences were really quite frustrating. So I called this report coding in the dark, because that was a quote from one of the people I interviewed, describing how they felt every day, like they were showing up, and the lights were all off, you know, and that they were having to fumble their way through learning without any help from anybody. And there was this core tension that they experienced between feeling like it was so important to learn to build their understanding, to experiment, iterate, but then when they showed up, you know, to code review, and to other moments where they were being evaluated, that learning was not being valued. So I described this cycle, you know, of needing to do this work, and then finding it devalued. And going back to your kind of heads down at your desk, you know, I describe that as learning debt. And learning is essentially the dynamic that happens when people know they need to put a lot of effort into learning. And they know that the kind of work they need to do requires these mistakes. And it requires this long term understanding. And there’s kind of all of this stuff that you’re doing that’s sort of invisible, because it’s not showing up in your productivity. And they also know that the environment around them is only measuring that short term productivity. So in this kind of environment, where there’s a lot of learning, debt, accumulating, essentially, you know, learning you have to be do that you’re not getting rewarded for there’s also a lot of performance, pressure, and what’s worse, you know, things like documentation, writing code, comments, trying to help other people, you can actually feel actively punished for doing that. Another quote in the one of the interviews I led was that learning would be seen as a waste of time. And I think one of the engineers called documentation and code comments, a red flag about your abilities as an engineer. So you can imagine how that feels. You’re in an environment that’s telling you to do all this complex work, but also telling you that it’s a waste of time if you help anybody else. Learn from what you’ve learned. So, you know, a big conclusion that I have in this report is this debt cycle this learning debt cycle can accumulate

damage for a long time because teams might look very productive on the surface, but you’re building what’s really an inefficient experience for learning. So I’ll stop there and kind of Yes, more.

Dr. McKayla 15:09 So yeah. Tons of question for now, the first one is really what kind of persona did you interview? You were saying people that are new to a code base, but it is, are you? Did you ask them when they were onboarding? And is that the onboarding experience for people? Or is that somebody that’s already on a team, but within you problem, it sounds more like an onboarding, experience. And, and, and heavy onboarding experience. But

Dr. Cat Hicks 15:37 yeah, it was a mix, it was a mix. So I think that one thing that’s interesting is that you might think, Oh, this is somebody who’s just new to a whole company, you know, they’re experiencing the, but actually, I found this was a repeating cycle. So some people were fairly junior, you’ll see there’s a, there’s a cross section of seniority. So we really wanted it is a qualitative project. So it’s, it’s not intended to be a representative sample, I think, you know, follow up surveys on this kind of thing would be really, really fun to work on. But in this cross section, we did have a good number of junior folks, but also senior folks, even a couple people who are leading the engineering teams at their organization, I did ask them to bring in an exam, think about before the interviews, when they were a recent problem they had of basically trying to understand someone else’s code. So if this for some people, this was a really brand new codebase, right, like the whole thing as they were joining a company, but for some people, it was just a piece that they hadn’t really touched before. So yeah, it was happening really all over the place. Right? Yeah. So the

Dr. McKayla 16:48 other question that I had, when I tried to envision this is, what kind of learning because there are many things that are you know, that we can learn as software engineers, and I feel that everything that has to do with technology is rewarded, and is seen as something, you know, that that you get some credit for at least, and that it’s also very internally, a lot of engineers like to learn new technology. But then if you’re coming to code basis, the main knowledge, right, all the work that you have to do to understand this piece of code for code review, and so on, right? I can maybe relate more than this is the kind of learning where would see this, you’re, you’re supposed to already know it. Right? So let’s skip that step. You know it, and then you do your productive work? And why do you you know, this is somehow the invisible thing? Is that is that, you know, is my just guess, here? Is it going in the right direction? Or what kind of learning? Did you? Did you investigate here?

Dr. Cat Hicks 17:48 Absolutely. And I love that you have called out the complexity of learning. And you know, it’s learning is a big word for a lot of different things. Right. And, of course, you’ve had some really phenomenal thinkers who have broke out on this podcast that I’ve really enjoyed, who’ve talked about, you know, productivity is not one thing, satisfactions not one thing, the same could be said for learning. So, you know, I, I thought a useful contribution in this report would be to talk very broadly about the beliefs we have about learning. But the actual specific examples are a lot of different things. And I think it does map on right to, to exactly what you said. So developers feel like, Oh, if I’m learning a new language, or

a new piece of, you know, a new tool, something that’s very explicit, right, that’s easier to defend. And it’s easier to justify. But the focus is always on the technology, right? And the production and not so much on, oh, now I really understand how this other team has a mental model of, you know, this connection piece, or I really understand this dependency that happens. And I understand these trade offs.

Dr. Cat Hicks 18:55 So you know, there’s actually a tremendous amount of content I got in these interviews, that’s not even in the report, because it was so much. I think it could be another report on the kind of active learning that they were doing. And a lot of it felt, you know, almost secretive, like people were saying, oh, you know, I’m sure no one else has to do this. Like, I do have to go back and remind themselves, you know, because I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m afraid I won’t look like an engineer. But the reality was, to me a lot of that stuff, like thinking about the trade offs of different decisions you made thinking about whether a design decision, you know, that we put on paper really was that way in the code and even questions that are kind of like, is it worth the investment to fix this inefficient piece when I could instead be working on this other piece? You know, these are very abstract things for people to be thinking and learning about but they’re really, really critical. And I was reminded to, there’s a lot of myths around learning, right? And as a social scientist, I recognize some of these myths. So people will tend to think, once I learned something, it’s just learned forever, right? It just goes into like, my brain is a bucket, and I just dumped something in there. And it’s always gonna be there. But actually learning is really a behavior over time. So the mourn environment cannot see it as shameful, but see it as beautiful and productive and great that sometimes we’re asking each other for help. We’re reminding ourselves how things work, you know, and you see that when developers talk about googling for answers, right, and asked on Stack Overflow, and all of these other kinds of things that people do. But it was interesting to me how much they hid that stuff from their environment. Yeah,

Dr. McKayla 20:44 yeah. Because the real engineer knows all the keyboard shortcuts.And I think it’s so it’s so true, what you say, right? So learning what is learning? And if we are making a decision around trade offs, I think very often it’s not framed as learning. And then it’s also how, you know if I can write it down. And you know, if it’s not in a book, if it’s a very specific instance of something, another general thing that I can learn. What does this even mean? Right? So we learn, for example, about object orientation, and you know, how to how to have objects, but then to really think about this piece here. And the instance of should I create an object here? And how should the object look like and that I have to think about that is a little bit shameful, because, obviously, I learned object oriented programming. And so it should be easily coming to me, you know, what methods I should put in here, or naming, right? naming a method? Yeah, it’s also learning somehow, or we have to put the time into, and then it’s hard. And even though we make jokes about it, if somebody sits next to you, and you have to think about a good name, and only stupid names come to your mind. It’s horrible.

Dr. Cat Hicks 22:07 Yeah, and I think you’re, you’re, you’re pointing out something that’s actually really, really important here, which is, you know, there are good jokes and bad jokes, right. And we’ve, we’ve been around, we’ve all probably been around someone who has made a joke, you know, that has made us feel really

bad about how we learned or a mistake that we made. And this is something that came up in the report to that, you know, I think one of the quotes was, I’m always watching, like, I’m from a junior code writer, or someone said, I’m always watching the senior members of my team, because I want to know, what an engineer is supposed to sound like. And that can be really beneficial. If the people around you are saying things like, we all make mistakes, we all forget something, you know, we all help each other. That’s a good learning culture. But a negative learning culture, right? A bad culture is a place where people are, are saying, oh, you know, don’t waste your time, like doing this documentation. Like in order to get ahead, what you actually need to make sure you’re doing is putting on this performance. You know, things are very multifaceted, as you know, all of these things are always happening at once. But I do think that there’s in engineering culture, there’s a lot of myths around what brilliance looks like. And this is where I’ve pulled from some research from people like Andre Symbian, who’s done some work on, you know, when a field thinks that you don’t make mistakes, you have to just be born brilliant, then that is a story. That is not how it works, right. But we’re all kind of upholding that myth.

Dr. McKayla 23:41 Because we all want to be the 10x Engineer, right? And then we had to have 10x engineer. Oh, my God. Yeah. No, but something.

Dr. Cat Hicks 23:51 Yeah, something that, you know, just just hurts my heart, honestly, to is is like, the people who people do this work, right. People do mentor other people, they do support learning. And that actually is what creates 10x results. It I mean, investing in learning is one of the most evidence backed ways that we have to you need to do work together. And I had, if we could see it as something that we are sharing, and that we’re all working on outside of ourselves, you know, it’s it’s never about, you write bad code, I write bad code. All right, fine. Like we work to make the code better. It’s outside of us. And it does not tell me who you are as an engineer. In fact, a good engineer is someone who’s written a lot. Yeah, I mean, we need to, you know, we need to improve things and give feedback, right. But I think we need to value the messages that that feedback sends.

Dr. McKayla 24:47 Yeah, I think that I want to come back to this different kinds of things that we learn and, you know, writing good code, whatever that means. And it’s also I think, changing over time. What is good code, right, whatever, what is a good way to write code but a good applications, how to structure them that also evolves? But again, I would say this is this textbook knowledge, right? And then I think what’s, and this comes back to code reviews and to the data day to day work that we have to do and to productivity a lot as well, is this constant learning? Right? I cannot stop learning. I cannot, you know, it’s not like, Oh, now I work. You know, obviously, you get better at this code base, and more familiar with the terminology and with your, how your team works, and so on. Yes, right. But still, even if I’m at this team for three years, and have worked with this code base for X years, right? If I have a new change that somebody else wrote, then I have to look at this code. Yeah, starts right there. And you know, and I cannot come in and have this full bucket of knowledge of how that works. And then, you know, supposed to already point out what was going wrong here. And maybe it has to do with how we measure time, and then a lot of people I think, have really problems with time, I have a lot of problems with time, like, when when should I leave the house to be on time, right? And I think very similar, we

estimate, for example, how long will it take to make to look at this code and give comments. And very often people reduce that to the time to make the comments, but this learning part that is never stopping continues and will have been added nobody wants to talk about and you know, nobody actually wants to have and nobody has time for it. That’s that somehow gets forgotten or is forgotten. Right? Yeah. Oh, I

Dr. Cat Hicks 26:42 agree. I agree. And I time came up a lot in these interviews. And it doesn’t surprise me because, you know, we all have felt this time pressure. And what I kept asking was, you know, if you’re experiencing this time, pressure, like, what is the the first thing that gets cut? is, honestly, to me some of the most valuable stuff, and that is really hard for people. So, you know, there is a sense in which I think I totally agree that doing this work, the learning will never stop. And you’ll you know, it can feel a little overwhelming. But I think that that’s a reason to say, you know, what success is not you getting to the end of your learning. Like that’s not what success is success is having enough space to make a good decision instead of a bad decision about how we move forward. And I, I did see people go through that. And actually, you know, I agree that it’s very difficult sometimes with this work to predict how much time it’s going to take. And I experienced that with my own work. People ask you to do a research project. And you say, okay, like, it sounds, it all sounds good. But I need to get in there and see what the truth is. And we might learn, it’s way more complicated. So I think about things like, you know, can we have measurements of productivity, that is dynamic, that we’re able to come back to and change it, and I think people will get get very, very frustrated, you know, when they are assigned a project, they dive into it, they do all this learning, actually mapping out how complicated it is, is a very valuable piece of learning that they’ve done, and they turn around and they want to share that with somebody, and there’s no way to share that, you know, there’s no way to kind of get credit for it. So that’s, you know, that’s one thing I think about is if we can make some of that more visible, right, like, like, allow you to use the learning and share it with collaborators, I think that people really enjoy that they feel the productivity of it, even if your goals of the project change. Another thing is, you know, can we talk about where time pressure makes sense? And where it doesn’t make sense, right? So can we prioritize and and see the cost of putting everyone under a time crunch all the time? And where that is just creating these learning cycles? Yeah. So

Dr. McKayla 29:06 what I want to understand a little bit more is, there were definitely some outcomes from this report, tell us how prove right? How can we reduce these learning that how can we have this growth mindset? How can we, you know, how can we in our at least in our engineering team, a celebrate learning and make it a bigger priority? What are some of those outcomes? What can you suggest engineering teams that want to improve their learning experience? And, and the valuing of that?

Dr. Cat Hicks 29:40 I think there’s a piece of this puzzle for every different role, right? So, you know, from leaders, from engineering leaders, these people could have a really outsized impact on the culture and I think that you know, a lot of places will put a poster on the wall that says everyone could learn or or maybe there’s a bullet point in a slideshow about like we’re alerting culture. But if you go to work and you see someone actually get rewarded for a complicated learning situation like, hey, you know, we gave, we

told you to go try to do this thing in the codebase, it turned out the thing we, you know, the thing that we proposed was not possible to do. But you did all this learning, you figured out a better way forward, we’re gonna celebrate that instead of, you know, coming down on somebody for it being not what we expected, those kinds of moments. And I think leaders have the ability, you know, to, to notice that to try to push themselves to amplify that that can have an impact. Another thing I would suggest, you know, that I suggest in the report is, we honestly need to separate some of our development feedback from some of our performance feedback. So okay, I don’t know how many conversations you’ve had with engineering friends, about perf cycles. But perf cycles are a huge source of stress. And even though we have invested, this is a whole area of research this ton of people, you know, who look at this, but even though we have invested huge structures into it in tech companies, a thing that I keep seeing as a learning scientist, is that we are rarely letting people have psychological safety to talk about them learning. So I think that a very simple step that leaders could take, is to make space to separate when you’re talking about how you want to learn and grow and develop and maybe explore areas of growth for you. And separate that from promotion, performance, reputation management times that you are trying to defend yourself, which is very difficult, you know, you can’t really do those two things. At the same time. I have a number of other recommendations in the report, you know, I think that there are some simple steps like, have we put any time in our calendar for documentation? Or are we just acting like that’s gonna happen magically by itself? You know, so there are small and big steps to try to make yourself a learning culture. Does that all make sense?

Dr. McKayla 32:05 Yeah, totally. And I think documentation again, is, maybe it’s the last thing that I want to talk a little bit about. Because I think there again, we have these two different kind of learnings of information of sharing. So you have this external documentation of how things work, right? And, and people agreed, and you know, in API needs documentation, but then the nitty gritty part becomes a little bit translucent, right? It’s like, oh, this method, actually, you should be able to understand it just by looking at the code. Otherwise, the code is not good. And don’t put a comment there. That’s really bad. Right? And I, I, sometimes I, I really can’t understand the problem here. Because while it’s great, if you know, and there are different learning types, and you know, in different people that maybe somebody is easier, you know, it’s easier for them to look at the code and really get it then skip the skip the comment, right? And some people like the comment, and it gives them context. And you can really know in, in, you know, native in your native language or in in, you know, in written language instead of code. But again, here, there comes this the myth a little bit as well, right? We say, well, code shouldn’t actually be documented. And you shouldn’t need documentation to read this. And there is also some research around that. And they showed that if there are comments in the code, people are slower with reading the code. But why? Because they are reading the comments. Right? And would they read the comments if the comments are useless? No, they are reading the comments, because they’re actually helpful. Right? And

Dr. Cat Hicks 33:45 that’s such a good example. Yeah, that’s such a good example of a measure that like is taken to be a negative measure. But why it might actually be a positive measure? Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s, you know, you bring so much rich lived experience on this, and I love hearing it because it’s, the reality is that these are going to be contextual decisions, like a code that was as you said, code that was good,

quote, code, quote, unquote, in one time, my deal if the context has changed, and then that then, you know, you need to make a different decision. And I think that there’s, there’s there were these interesting quotes, you know, when I interviewed people about who, who is this for? Is the documentation actually, for me? Or is it for, you know, like, some idealized scenario where we’re describing the technology and point of view that I have in my consulting, you know, is that I like to focus on people as the heart, you know, and that code writers as learners, like if we, if we take this approach, where we center they’re learning, we can be a lot less afraid of things like sometimes the trade off is that you have more comments and that that doesn’t work for all situations, but you have preferred did some really deep losses in efficiency and invisible losses that are happening? So if someone’s able to ramp up a lot more quickly, that’s a huge game. And I think something difficult about it is that sometimes that gain is really invisible. But you know, it’s, it’s not really possible to have a single way of describing code that’s going to work for everyone who’s ever learning. Yeah. And similar to measuring developer productivity, I think it’s, it’s a question of what is the best thing for us right now. And what’s going to pay off the most, even if it slows us down a little bit in this way, then I think it will really pay off. If you know, later, this person who we gave all the support to is able to become this champion contributor. And I just think, you know, I use the learning debt cycle, like the learning debt metaphor to, to evoke tech debt, because we understand tech debt right in this field. And we understand that technologies with all these dependencies can start to break apart, even if it made sense when we built it. And I think the same is true for collaboration. Yeah,

Dr. McKayla 36:11 Yeah. Yeah, there’s so much goodness in that. And I really want to dig into the productivity. So maybe what I want to do is I’m going to invite your again, a whole episode just on productivity if you’re up for it. Yeah. And then we can really dissect that, because I would love to hear your, your opinion also on, you know, you mentioned or hinted a little bit towards that. Can we measure learning as part of our productivity? Right. And I had a podcast where was just me talking about productivity. And there, I was asking the question, I was saying that all these productivity measure that we have focused around activity, right, coming from an area of the industrial age, right, where, well, it was the activity that better Yeah, exactly. And it was that the activity that we did, right, you had only to do very mechanical tasks, and the small task, and so you could count them, and so on. And all those measurements actually stem from there. And now we put them on knowledge workers, were probably the most productive thing is that I’m sitting here doing nothing, but I make a really good trade off this session. Right? That’s right,

Dr. Cat Hicks 37:21 that’s right, or you help someone else and they do something, I would love to have that conversation. And I do think there are ways we can measure learning. And you know, if anyone is going to be listening to this, like, go to your team right now and ask, what are the things that we do that really make a difference, that are not being captured anywhere that are not being rewarded? Like what is the stuff that you know, is important to do to keep this all of this running? And they will tell you?

Dr. McKayla 37:53 Yeah, yeah. And coming back to what you say, with the sharing, I think what I have seen work really well is small things like brown bags, right? Where we come together, and somebody just explains what they have learned this week. Or if you go back to code reviews, right, that you that every Friday, for

example, that’s happening on GitHub every Friday, they are sharing, and sometimes they are sharing, what did I learn this code review? That was really excellent. Right? You know, it’s a comment that, uh, no person really took the time and gave me great comment. Or I’m showing some code that I have seen that I haven’t seen before, or, you know, some some Yeah, paradigm or something that I’ve seen. So and we are sharing, we’re making some of those very implicit things that are internal that are not, we are making them explicit and sharing them. And I think this is a celebration, as you said, I think those are themes can maybe do to celebrate what’s also often referred to as blue work, right? Oh, this, this colleague helped me or that person, you know, they didn’t work on their ticket, which had them for their promotion, but they actually went out of their way and did this and that, right. And so, we open openly sharing this and making it explicit. And I think, especially in our remote world now is more important, right, that we have shared that somehow. Yeah, no, I

Dr. Cat Hicks 39:16 think that that’s a beautiful point. And really, really important. And, and something that I also thought, you know, something again, that people people said in the interviews, which was, I want to see specific examples. I want to sit next to somebody and see them, see them code, you know, and, and that just I think people don’t know how much that doesn’t happen. I think they assume it’s happening or they say, oh, go get coffee, you know, with this person who wrote the code, you’ll, you know, go talk to them. But people often struggle, especially if you’re remote, you know, if you’re new person, there’s all kinds of ways in which people you know, reasons that people might not ask for help. And as I told you, I started out my career looking at Three and five year olds and in classrooms and when they ask for help, and even when we are four and five years old, we’re looking at the people around us. And we’re asking, Can I Can I ask for help? Can I talk to you about my real learning? So that continues? And the more you see those small messages, and those small social moments can just have a huge impact.

Dr. McKayla 40:23 Yeah, yeah. And I think team culture and psychological safety, and all of that is so important. And it’s, it’s, it’s not something that you can just fix by doing three things today, right? It’s something that you can start. But it’s a continuous process. And I think this is one of those very rewarding things and you know, things that pay off, but are a little bit invisible, that you have to constantly work on that right, and that you have to raise the bar and say, we are actually allowed to have questions be wrong, you know, growth mindset, and I think it’s really, it’s a continuous work in a team, but the teams that managed to do it, they are so much better off than That’s right.

Dr. Cat Hicks 41:07 And it just is a beautiful part of it, you know, I try to make these problems easier for myself, and for other people by saying, who’s already doing this, right? Like, how do we give them a stage to do it? Like, you’re who’s the person that someone always everybody goes to this person to ask for help? You know, how do we make sure that they are instead of being like, burdened by this invisible work, they’re actually rewarded for all this support that they’re doing? Yeah.

Dr. McKayla 41:34 Yeah, that’s so true. Well, it kinda, it actually brings us to the end of this show. I said, I’m going to bring you back. If you have time. I will continue. We can continue this discussion a little bit more. But is there

anything that you want to tell my listeners, maybe that you think, you know, wraps up some of the learnings that would be powerful for them for the software engineering teams? How can they, you know, be in a better place? What are what is the one advice, you know, that you would give them?

Dr. Cat Hicks 42:08 Yeah, great question. How, what a lovely question to be asked, you know, I think I end the report that I recently released, saying, learning matters. And I would I would like to leave with that, which is that, you know, learning matters and measurement matters. Like whenever we measure something, I think, Who is this measurement for? And is it bringing us closer to this culture that we want to have, you know, where we feel free and happy and, and like, we’re all learning together, which is what we need in order to tackle these huge, complicated problems in the world, you know, we need to get past some of these myths about where brilliance comes from, and the myths that we all need to hide, you know, are learning from each other. But that people will only be able to do that if we make the environment around them safe. You know, so it kind of comes from both sides from from us building the environment as individuals in it, but also from people who are able to kind of say, well, I’m gonna, I’m going to do something to make this environment safer. So that’s what I would say, you know, learning matters, it pays off. Let’s let’s work for it.

Dr. McKayla 43:18 Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s really great. So thank you so much cat for being on my show. And I will definitely ping you again and ask you for more of your input. Thank you so much. Okay. Bye bye.

Dr. McKayla 43:35 This was another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please help me spread the word about the podcast, send episode to a friend via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Bell, whatever messaging system you use, or give it a positive review on your favorite podcasting platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. This would mean really a lot to me. So thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe and I will talk to you in two weeks. Bye.

 

Running a developer community

In this episode, I talk to Bekah Weigel, who runs the virtual coffee community about community building. 

Bekah graduated from a Bootcamp in 2019 and quickly created a striving and very special developer community in just under two years. 

We talk about:

  • how she kick-started the developer community virtual coffee
  • what it takes to run the community
  • how sponsorships make it possible to be sustainable, and
  • how community members take over a large part of running the community. 
Bekah Weigel

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: Kickstarting and running a developer community

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Michaela. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Bekah Hawrot Weigel, a web developer and creator of the virtual coffee developer community.

But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring today’s episode: Codiga.

Codiga is a code analysis platform that automates the boring part of code reviews and lets you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab and Bitbucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now and I really love how it guides me in discovering and improving, well, the not so nice parts of my codebase.

But there is more. Codiga has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you’re coding. Codiga has a great free plan, so there’s nothing that stops you from giving it a try today. Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Bekah. Bekah graduated from the bootcamp Flatiron school in May, 2019. And since then she started a consultancy specializing in front end development and created the developer community virtual coffee. She also recently started her new job as a technical community builder at deep gram.

She’s also a mom of four, so I’m totally impressed. And yesterday I went to pick her brain on how she could develop this awesome. Develop a community so fast in just a little bit under two years.

So that come to my show background, I’m really, really excited that

[00:01:41] Bekah: you are here. Thanks so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here. Yeah.

[00:01:45] Michaela: So can you tell me a little bit about virtual coffee, what it is? And for me it seems a little bit different than other communities. It seems a little bit, a little bit more niche, grit, like closer.

W how would you describe

[00:01:57] Bekah: it? Yeah, I think that’s a great way to [00:02:00] describe it. We always like to say that we like the intimacy of virtual coffee because we’re a small community of developers where all stages of the journey. So if you’re just learning, if you’ve been doing it your whole career we’ve got everybody and we’re tech agnostic, so it doesn’t matter what, what tech tools you’re using.

If you want to meet up with other developers and share and support each other. We’re here for it. So we meet up twice a week when we meet up on Tuesdays at 9:00 AM, Eastern and Wednesdays at 12:00 PM Eastern for some chats. So we go into breakout rooms. So we have small group conversation. We like to maintain that intimacy.

And then for members, so people who have attended at least one virtual coffee, they’re welcome into our slack and our members only. So we have lunch and learns on most Fridays, we’re running our third round of lightening talks soon. We’ve got monthly challenges and some other small groups that meet that are building within the slack community, which is just so great to see everybody supporting each other and working to meet the needs of the community.

[00:03:04] Michaela: Yeah. So there’s a bunch of things that you just mentioned. Right? So a virtual coffee. When I came to know it, it was mainly there’s. The weekly, or I don’t know if it was even PVT at the start, but it was like this virtual coffees where you. We’re seeing each other and chatting to each other and now it grew into something really big.

Right. And so you say you it’s, it’s a small community, but, but how large is it? Like how many people are participating here and, you know, , what else do you do to keep this , intimacy, Ronaldo and Messi. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. How do you, how.

[00:03:43] Bekah: , Well, you know, we’ve got our slack has almost 600 people in it, but I would like to just note that I think that, you know, there’s a lot of people who used to be active that aren’t active anymore.

And one of the things about the community is we’re really close, but it is transient in nature [00:04:00] because sometimes people are looking for their first job and they get it and they can’t come around much anymore. Sometimes people change jobs and their availability changes.

So, you know, one of the things that we really like is being able to celebrate wins with other people.

It’s bittersweet a lot of times because you know that they won’t be around much anymore, but you know, like occasionally I’ll get messages from people who came at the very beginning and it’s just so great to, you know, still have that connection and know that, you know, we support each other, whether we’re in slack or not.

So I would say maybe we have about 200, 200 or 300 active members, which I think is still pretty good. 30 to 50% of our slack is fairly active. And I think, you know, We maintain that intimacy by doing, by focusing on small group conversation and a lot of ways. So the small group conversation that happens when we meet up on zoom twice a week we try and keep our breakout rooms between eight and 14 people, but we have.

Start in the big zoom room together. And we go over some announcements, like our code of conduct and what the mission of virtual coffee is a little bit of our history just to allow people to get a glimpse of this is how long we’ve been doing things. And this is how, how things have grown. And so. By having that interaction with other people by seeing faces or hearing voices or interacting and a synchronous way, it provides some kind of connection and friendship that doesn’t happen as easily in async only environments.

And then it’s great to see what the community members are doing. We have let’s see here, we’ve got all of these small groups meeting within the community and. Tech interview study group. These are all led by members that happened on Monday. We have an indie hackers meetup on Wednesday, a react meetup on Wednesday and [00:06:00] a monthly challenge check-in on Friday.

So, you know, the members are really there to support each other and to see what the needs are. And so not, everybody’s going to come to indie hackers. I like to go to that one. It’s one of my favorites. You know, maybe there’s like. To eight people there, but it’s great because you can really dive into those deeper conversations and get to know people in the, those small moments in ways that you can’t when you’re in a large group of people.

So I think that’s one of the things that, that we’ve done well is have people who care about each other and, and see them supporting each other in their new.

[00:06:39] Michaela: Yeah, that sounds really good. And there are a couple of things that I want to touch base on that you mentioned, first of all. So I can imagine that there are like a hundred people joining your soup, and then you have this announcement.

Remember you’re members of what is all about, which I think is really good for the mission also, and for new members to, you know, Just introduce them to your culture code of conduct and them so on, but then how do you announce the different breakout rooms? Do you know, do people speak up and say, oh, I want to do a breakout room.

Is it like, I don’t know if this is an a term in English by the bar camp where you, and non-conference where it just self-organize itself or do you have to announce it beforehand? Did you know already, these are the topics of, you know, today’s

[00:07:24] Bekah: Yeah. So that’s a really great question. So we also, I should have mentioned this before, because I think one of the ways that we also have been able to support everybody is we have documented most of our processes thoroughly.

And that allows us to bring new volunteers on and to support new people. We think of pretty much every interaction as a opportunity for onboarding new members and to constantly remind people of the things that matter to us, which is, you know, being kind and recognizing that the impact of our words matters.

And so we have all of that created and we [00:08:00] have let’s see maybe about 30 room leaders in note takers. And so we have a process on Mondays where we see who’s up for volunteering to be a room leader or note taker. And we pick a introduction question, just a random question. It can be something silly.

Like what kind of dinosaur would you be? And so everybody in the breakout rooms answers a couple of questions, including that. And we have a Backpocket topic, but we always say that we like to prioritize what folks who are in the room want to talk about. So if they have a question or if they have a topic they want to talk about, we start with that.

And then if not, we’ve got that back pocket topic. We had virtual coffee today and our back pocket topic. I’ll read it to you. Just so you have a sample of some of the things, actually, all of them I think are listed on our discussions in our repository. Our topic today was what are some transferable skills you bring to tech either from a previous career or from other parts of your life.

And so actually my breakout room did talk about that. And so everyone there’s okay. So we have the. MC he’ll gives all of the announcements. And then we have a host who controls zoom and the host puts everybody into breakout rooms. So we already know who our room leaders and note takers are. Those have already been set up the day before.

And so we make sure that they all get in room and we try and have backup ones. So, you know, if we need a fifth room, then we’re going to have this person as a backup room leader. Which today I think we did end up using our backup And then the host goes through and fills all of those rooms and we do our best.

It gets chaotic when people come in late or at the end or drop off and come back in. But we do our best to make sure that we get a pretty well-rounded room. So new folks, people who have been there for a while, you know that some people maybe are leading for the first time. And so you want to put some.

[00:10:00] Dependable talkers and their room. And so you try and make sure that you do that, but that’s kind of the process for what we do and how we do it. Wow,

[00:10:07] Michaela: that sounds like you’re having a conference and the organizational, like I say, not a burden, but burden ID. It doesn’t seem like it’s a burden to you to organizational fun.

Every week, twice sounds like a lot of work.

[00:10:22] Bekah: Now that we have the process down, it makes it a lot easier. And we’ve got some, you know, Slackbots reminding us about some of the things that we have to do and where to look for things. And it, it is a lot of fun. There is definitely work behind the scenes that happens to make sure that we have a, a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

But, you know, it’s worth it. If people feel like this is a safe space that they can grow. Yeah, definitely.

[00:10:46] Michaela: And I can really see like with this organization, I mean probably if, if, you know, like if you started there like five people come in, you know, showing up, you don’t need a lot of organization. Right.

But then if 10 people, and then it’s 20, then you know, you started developing those processes and you probably see also what works and what does not work. And what are some of the things that you tried that didn’t work out. So.

[00:11:08] Bekah: Well, I will say that when I first started virtual coffee, I didn’t even know that zoom had breakout rooms.

So that was a totally new concept to me. And I feel like I’ve got some expertise in it. Initially. I so virtual coffee started. I had been working as a developer for about eight months when the pandemic hit. And then I lost my job because of the pandemic. My kids were sent home from school. That same day.

They never went back to school that year. I think. And so I was really interviewing for the first time for jobs and I just didn’t have a great sense of the developer community out there, what the expectations were, how to make it through the interview process. And so I asked, you know, Hey, does anybody want to meet up for virtual coffee on Twitter?

And, and that’s why we’re so called virtual coffee. And so I’ve learned so much. And [00:12:00] initially I was kind of resistant to having a slack because, oh, I don’t know if we need it. You know, this is just going to be something we do for a couple of months. So I, I would say that maybe some of the things that didn’t work were, you know, pushing some of those things off for a while or being resistant to.

Adding we, we lean on project boards and get hub issues a lot in our organization. We want to make sure that we use tools where our members lived. And so I initially I was resistant. I was like, I can not look at one more repository no more. And now I’m like, yes. Yeah, we need a repository for that.

So. I think that my, my, the thing that didn’t work was my frame of mind around it, because for a long time, I thought this was going to be a temporary thing. And when we did our first heck Tober Fest event two years ago, that’s when I finally thought, oh, this is, we’re not going anywhere. We’re w this is not just a pandemic thing.

Like we’re filling a need for a lot of people, even outside of the pandemic. And so that’s kind of where. Things started shifting in my mind, like, what is the, what are the long-term processes and how can we make this sustainable?

[00:13:12] Michaela: Yeah. And it’s really nice. Yeah. I’m also like, I, I’m often thinking of creating a community around se unlocked, for example, the podcast.

Right. But I’m not sure about how it will, you know, what are the right tools? What is the right kind of community. I’m also more a person of like, I’m not really good at. Participant in the slack channels and this core channel, I get very easily overwhelmed. And then, you know, like maybe a week I’m trying really hard, but

If it already starts with that, you know, I don’t, you know, I don’t think that I can run a community like this, but having, you know, chats or, you know, soon conversations. I was also thinking about Twitter spaces. Is that something that came to your mind that you could maybe do as well?

[00:13:57] Bekah: Yeah. So I [00:14:00] went through, I ran a lot of Twitter spaces myself.

I went through a string of them. I was doing them weekly, and then I started live streaming, I think instead just trying to get a feel for everything that’s out there. But I think with my job at deep gram, we’re going to start doing some Twitter spaces that I’m really excited about because of the support of the team.

And we can do some really great stuff. Start build community and fill some of the needs that we see out there in the tech community right now.

[00:14:31] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. And do you think that there’s a difference between a zoom? It assumed seems a little bit more intimate for me because you know, it’s, it’s a community that’s not completely public it’s public, right.

Because people can just respond and be part of it, but to the spaces for me, just because it’s there on Twitter and then you see at least some of the bubbles and then it’s broadcasted through other, you know, sort of followers of the people that are in there. And so on. People can drop in and go out.

Do you think it’s different and, and has a different need or fills a different need, a different purpose for the condition?

[00:15:07] Bekah: I think, you know, there are expectations when you meet with other people in a small group setting, face-to-face, you know, you, and we say like, if you want to leave your camera off, if you want to stay muted, that’s totally fine.

If you want to throw things in the chat, that’s a great way to communicate as well. But still you see other people there, whereas Twitter spaces, you can kind of come in and out. You, there’s not the sense of, oh, I have a roll hill here that I have. Bill because you’re not a speaker. You can be a listener.

And so in. Twitter spaces I think is closer to watching a live stream because you can interact through the chat, but it’s a little bit more personal because if someone’s live streaming at Twitch on Twitch, you don’t see everybody who is there, but in Twitter spaces, you can see those other people and they do connect you.

Other like, you know, if we follow [00:16:00] each other, I can see whose space you’re in. I’m like, oh, okay, well, she’s there and she’s cool. So I’m going to go check out, you know, what she’s listening to. And so there’s a, I think a little bit, maybe more community happening in Twitter spaces, but there’s less like barrier to entry or friction if you’re shy or an introvert or, you know, just kind of want to check something out one time.

so

[00:16:24] Michaela: another thing that I wanted to talk with you, and I think they are a little bit connected. One is that, so I looked on your website, virtual coffee.io, and there are a couple of people publicly listed. Right. And apparently they are not all of them. Not everybody wants to be listed there or it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Hasn’t edited themselves. But a couple of people are really listed there. And then I also saw that there are different roles, right? You were also talking about the different roles for the meetings, but there were two particular ones that were like labeled there. And one was the, the. Maintainer and the other was the community maintainer.

So what are those two roles? Is that all the roles that you have and how do you select people or how are people selecting themselves to be in those

[00:17:07] Bekah: roles? Yeah, that’s a really great question and it’s kind of evolved over time. We’ve had so many people step up and offer support and offer help. And Sarah, McCombs, they were really great support at the beginning of.

Virtual coffee and, and making sure that we got this stuff done and helping build out these processes. And when we launched our first hack Tober Fest, we had a whole team that was focused on that. And a number of the people who were on that team ended up coming on as maintainers and. I’m both a, a core maintainer and a community maintainer and, or a, an org maintainer rather.

And what that means is we kind of look at the overall organization, the health, the strategy where should we go from here? What decisions need to be made in terms of the entire organization? I would say the community maintainers are [00:18:00] looking more at the day-to-day, the community management project planning that, that kind of more day-to-day focus, I guess, in, in making sure that the team is supported there.

So we all work together as a core team and we make decisions together and there’s always going to be overlap in all of those things. But it’s funny that you ask about these roles because I was just working on this. Actually we have some team leads and they should be going up on the site there.

They’re already listed there, but. You know, we have leads for our monthly challenges as Areli, Varo, and Andrew Bush for our audio visual stuff. So getting things put up on YouTube, helping with live streams, that’s bogged in. For documentation, we just onboarded a new team lead named . Who’s absolutely great.

I met with her this morning to kind of like walk through the process of, you know, how do we prioritize, what needs documented, where do we put these things? And she’s so great about, you know, asking questions and getting issues up on the site before I even think about them. So I hope I didn’t miss anybody.

I know that, that we work with. A number of other people as well to support the organization. But I think that, that those will go up on the site soon. We want to also have like a community health team lead and we’re talking to someone about doing that. Job search is a big thing at virtual coffee.

It doesn’t matter what stage you are. Somebody is always looking for a job. And so we have some great folks who do a lot of work on that. And so, you know, that might be up on there soon too. So, you know, we’re, we’re, I think we’re in the phase where we’re trying to figure out how do we best support our members and help provide those leadership opportunities that we want.

[00:19:56] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So when you describe all [00:20:00] of that, it seems to me this is a full-time full-time job already, but so how much, how much time does really go into that? I mean, there’s the meetings themselves, right? That you’re a participating and I’m even, I’m not part of virtual coffee because I don’t have the time to do it as.

Just as a participant. So I can imagine you have to be at the meetings, you have to plan the meetings and there’s the chat and you’re making all this. You have all these thoughts and meetings also with other members of the community, how to grow the community, how to, you know, keep it alive and make it healthy.

So how much time off your week goes into data? I can imagine

[00:20:39] Bekah: a lot. I don’t know. That’s a good question. At some point, I think. Stopped keeping track of how much time was going into it because it was a lot and it’s not a job, right. It’s a volunteer position. But I think, you know, now we have so many supportive members and with the core team that I’m able to do, where like we’re all able to do a lot more and to lean on each other.

And to grow in that way. And a lot of the stuff is almost like muscle memory. Now, you know, I’ve been doing it for so long that it doesn’t feel like it’s one more thing to do. There are always things that, you know, I have a whole board of things I would love to do for virtual coffee and I have to try and pace myself because sometimes I go for it anyway, and then I.

Well into something and I’m like, oh, I, I might, I might die after that. So I try to avoid that feeling now.

[00:21:38] Michaela: Yeah, I can imagine. So I have seen on the GitHub page, there are some, there’s some sponsoring going on, right? Is there, are there other ways that you’re monetizing this community or that the community monetize it itself, that it has some budget around that you can also do cool stuff.

[00:21:55] Bekah: So right now, sponsorships, we launched [00:22:00] sponsorships maybe in September. And so up to that point, we were just paying out of pocket for everything. But sponsorships is the primary way that we cover our costs. We had a monthly challenge sponsorship, which was nice. We have the podcast there’s opportunities for sponsorship there.

Oh, oh, we just launched a store, so, oh yeah. Cool. That’s really exciting. It’s just really exciting to see people like wearing the virtual coffee and sharing their stickers. So those are some ways that we’re, we’re working on covering, covering the cost of what we want to do, and then, you know, hopefully providing new services and.

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:22:38] Michaela: I think at one point you have to think about it because even like this lag is probably not free, right. You have to pay per month membered and.

[00:22:46] Bekah: Nope. So we’re on the free version of slack because it costs, I think $6 per member per month. Yeah. I saw there’s no way that we could cover that.

That’s so

[00:22:59] Michaela: crazy. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So there’s a free version of that as well, because I looked into that, I thought like maybe, you know, slack channel and it’s not like $6. Why am I God, not.

[00:23:11] Bekah: Right, right. Discord, discord, we’ve gone back and forth about it. It has a lot of great tools. We’re just not in love with the user experience of discord.

But you know, we have class. So one of the things that we have Put a lot of money into zoom because we have accounts for our core team, but also we have a coworking room that stays open all the time. So folks can join in slack and the coworking room is always open. So that’s its own account. We, you know, producing a podcast can be costly you know, producing.

Transcripts and providing the services for that. We’ve got like Zapier and air table. So, you know, like we’re, we’re using all of these tools that we can to you know, make things a little bit easier for us, but do cost money. And so what we, we try and keep our costs minimal, [00:24:00] but you know, there, there are some, but I think that.

Covered right now for our CA our monthly costs by our sponsorships, which is really, really great. Yeah. That’s

[00:24:10] Michaela: really good. Yeah, that’s really cool. So what would you say to the listeners today that would like to, you know, start their own community, have a community? What would be the MVP, a MVP version of a community that you, you know, from your experience would.

Suggest to them, should they start with fitness spaces or should they have like a meeting or a slack or a discord channel, you know, what are the options and what are the pros and cons for each

[00:24:38] Bekah: one of those? That’s really a great question. I think that, first of all, I feel strongly that. You, there are a lot of really great communities already out there, and a lot of them really need support.

So if you are not all on board and starting your own community, explore some of those and see how you can help because, you know, you might be able to be on a core team or something that allows you the experience that you want from that. So I’m not convinced that every, every person needs to start their own community.

But I would say that I think trying to fill a need within the community is a really great way to start one, because if you see that there’s a gap or that people are asking for things, or, you know, like one of the things we’ve been doing virtual coffee for almost two years now, and we get the same questions in our Our zoom sessions.

All the time. And so I can tell that there’s a real need for more work, to be done around interviewing about supporting junior developers about creating positive workspaces. So for sure there are. For groups that focus on those things. And then I would say for me, if you start a slack or a discord, that’s probably the most time-consuming [00:26:00] thing that you can do because you want to keep people engaged.

You want to keep them talking, you need to answer questions. So if you don’t have a core group of people, Then it’s going to be really, it’s going to be a lot of work to try and keep up with that. I also think that we’re in the pandemic now and people have been collecting slacks and discords, and when things in the pandemic start to ease up, we’ll see that a lot of those communities, I think, start to fade off just because, you know, people are going to prioritize the couple that they’ll keep and stay active with.

And, and then they’re going to be, you know, doing. In really stuff.

[00:26:42] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. Which is good. I’m I’m waiting for that.

[00:26:47] Bekah: Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, thinking about like, okay, maybe you want to then create some kind of hybrid model or, you know, do an online meetup that translates into an in-person thing. Or if you, if in-person is not your thing, then, you know, figure out how you can build your online environment around that.

I think it’s tricky because it’s not one size fits all, but you know, in-person or async, if you’re a really async person, then, then slack or discord is a great way to go. So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot, there’s a lot there. Yeah.

[00:27:21] Michaela: I think it probably really about personality as well. I think a lot of people really enjoy.

Writing and, you know, participating in this estrone coroners conversation, even though they are often very synchronous right in discord. That’s why I always feel like I missed that conversation. Oh, I missed that conversation as well. And then I just leave without writing anything like anyway, so the last question that I have for you is you just started as a technical community, like.

What, what are you doing dead? Are you doing actually the same thing that you just learned yourself? And you’re not like your master now and the expert here for, for deep gram or what’s your role there?

[00:27:58] Bekah: Yeah, it’s kind of, I [00:28:00] feel like it’s such, it’s been such a good fit for me. My background, I spent 10 years teaching college English.

And so deep gram is a speech to text. AI company. And so there, there are so many different experts in different fields there. So, you know, whether it’s data science or linguistics or engineering and, you know, the devil team I get to talk to everybody and. Understand where they’re coming from, but I sit on the dev REL team as a technical community builder, so I can do dev rally things.

I can write if I want to I can contribute code, but my focus is on creating those systems and processes for community and the external community at deep gram. I always say that your community starts with the internal community. You want to make sure that you have a strong internal community before trying to start an external community, because you have to have that support network to help you and that trust to be in guidance.

So I’m doing. You know, some educating I am doing well, hopefully some speaking in the near future and hopefully some writing and building out that community strategy and trying to figure out, you know, where, how can we. Fill a need in the tech community or how can we support existing communities out there?

So it is, it’s pretty much a mixture of everything I’ve ever done in my life to this point. And it’s been really fun in the first three weeks now having a team to work with them. Yeah,

[00:29:31] Michaela: it sounds super exciting. Yeah. I can’t imagine everything coming together for you. And you can really strive now with the competencies that you, I think not only developed you probably had already from the beginning, right?

Because it’s not something that you. You make the first virtual coffee? I think a lot of people did that and then it grows into something that’s, you know, so probably not in the deaf community as well, so well rounded. So yeah, so [00:30:00] congratulations to that. And thank you so much for sharing so much about the process and about virtual copy, how it worked.

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Is there something that you want to tell our listeners? Maybe how can they sign up for virtual coffee? He said, you know, do you, do you have to have some commitment there or accountability?

[00:30:21] Bekah: That’s a great question. So we make everybody come to at least one virtual coffee for before getting an invitation and to our slack and that’s to, you know, help them experience, you know, our community and to see what it’s like, because, you know, we feel that we demonstrate that pretty well in those meetings.

And so it’s really. Figuring out if it’s in the community for you, because it’s not the community for everyone, we all have different needs and, and things that we like. And don’t like, and so if it’s for you, then it’s great. Then join our slack, fill out our new member form. You can find those events@virtualcoffee.io slash events.

So come and check out a virtual coffee and then.

[00:31:05] Michaela: Yeah, cool. I will link everything in the show notes. And thank you so much for talking to me being here today with me. I enjoyed it.

[00:31:14] Bekah: Great. Thanks so much. I’m going to, can I mention one more thing? Yeah, sure. I just want to say to ’em if you follow deep gram devs on Twitter, I think we’ll be running some very cool Twitter spaces through there soon.

So if you want to check out some Twitter spaces, you can do that as well. And thank you so much for having me. This has been great. Yeah, I really

[00:31:35] Michaela: loved it. Okay. Thank you for caring. Thank you. Bye

[00:31:38] Bekah: bye.

Are happy developers more productive?

Are happy developers more productive? Let’s look at some research together and explore whether happiness and satisfaction affect developer productivity.

How to build a strong engineering culture through engineering values

Learn how engineering values can help you build a strong engineering culture and empower your developers to make decisions that are aligned with your goals.

Measure developer productivity using the SPACE framework

Dr. Storey explains how to best use the SPACE framework to measure the productivity of software engineering teams. Dr. Storey is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Victoria and a distinguished expert in empirical software engineering.

We talk about:

  • Productivity metrics for software developer
  • Developer experience as a different mindset to improve developer performance
  • The SPACE framework, which focuses on giving a well-rounded understanding of developer productivity. 

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Transcript: Measuring Developer Productivity with Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey 

[You can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey. Dr. Storey is a professor of computer science at the university of Victoria and a distinguished expert in the field of empirical software engineering.

[00:00:18] I had to pleasure to work with Dr. Storey on many occasions. Even this year, she joined me during a research I led on developer experience, looking at what makes developers happy and productive and leads them to stay longer and more engaged in their job. Today, I have her here to tell us more about developer productivity and especially, I want to know how can we measure it? How can we improve it? And so I’m super happy to have Dr. Story or Margaret-Anne, or actually Peggy how friends call you. Here on my show. Peggy. Welcome to the show.

[00:00:52] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Thank you very much, Mikayla. It’s great to be here.

[00:00:55] Dr. Michaela Greiler: In the last episode. I talked about my perspective on developer experience and developer productivity and well sort of, there was a little bit of a conclusion, uh, bottom line, which is that I think organizations and teams should stay right away from focusing on measuring develop. productivity and more think about developer experience. This means like, how do the developers feel about their work? Are they, are they feeling productive or are they happy? You know, do they feel that they make progress? Are they bothered by some tools and so on? But what is your take on measuring productivity?

[00:01:32] I know you did a lot of studies there, so you have a lot of expertise. What do you see? think?

[00:01:37] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: All of my research that I’ve done over the last few years has really pointed towards taking a lot of effort and understanding what you mean by productivity before you try to measure it. So what does productivity mean to you? I know that in your last podcast, you mentioned the space framework, and that is the summary of a lot of years of research that shows that, that there are many different dimensions to productivity.

[00:02:01] To some people it’s about pull requests or lines of code they committed or features delivered to the customer or ability to be able to learn something new or help other people. You can’t just say that there’s one way to understand productivity or define it. There’s many different ways and consequently, there’s different ways of measuring it as well.

[00:02:23] It’s interesting to say that we shouldn’t measure productivity, but the fact is a lot of companies will still try to do that. And I think a lot of developers also try to think about how productive am I being? Am I being as productive as I think . I really like this pivot towards thinking about developer experience, which is what we worked on together.

[00:02:45] And you invited me to join that wonderful project that you’ve worked on. And I loved that because a lot of my earlier research really distinguished developer satisfaction from developer productivity, they’re definitely related. So more satisfied, happier developers will be more productive and feel more productive and vice versa.

[00:03:05] But there is this difference. Developer productivity to me really it’s about measuring what they do, right. Or how they do it. The amount of work that they were able to do, or the amount of value that they provide, whereas developer satisfaction or developer experience is more how they feel.

[00:03:22] And those are two quite different things. So I really like that nuanced change that you brought to that through developer experience.

[00:03:32] Dr. Michaela Greiler: You brought up two things, which I think are also in my opinion, two extreme different things, which is the things that they do and the value that those things bring. I thought about this, especially in my entrepreneurial journey it even impacts me much more, so that everything that I do should also lead to impact and have impact and have value.

[00:03:54] Sometimes I see in literature that it’s productivity versus performance where performance, a little bit more output oriented. But even there, I think it’s really hard to grasp . So what is productivity? In my last podcast, I was comparing it to the industrial age where we really have off producing something which comes back to lines of code, and impact has nothing to do with lines of code.

[00:04:16] You can have one line of code in. it can have a huge impact. It can be a drastic bug, or it can be a line of code that really is such a satisfying thing for the customer. I think there are really a lot of nuances, and I wonder, people very often, I see them measuring productivity because it’s the easier metric. I actually really liked the SPACE framework. I’m super inspired by it, but I’m also a little bit skeptical on the metrics side of it. I think it’s so great to have it as a mental model to think about productivity in all those different variations. But then on the end we have like these metrics that are very isolated and then we try to stick them together.

[00:05:01] As I understand it. Right. You’re the expert here. So I I’m happy to hear much more about that, but so we should have different dimensions and take at least three or something. Um, but then in the end, like we were taking very different metrics and how are we going to combine them? What will the combination tell us?

[00:05:18] Can we even interpret it? So these are all questions that are racing up in my hat. What do you think about that?

[00:05:25] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: I’m not a fan of developing a lot of metrics, honestly. Let me just maybe step back a little bit and just remind our listeners what the SPACE framework is about in case they didn’t get to listen to your last podcast, which by the way was great. I loved your discussion. SPACE framework is very much an overarching framework to think about different dimensions of developer productivity. The goal behind it wasn’t so much defining metrics, but just thinking about when we talk about productivity, what are the dimensions about productivity that we may mean, or other people may mean. So SPACE is an acronym, and the first letter is S and that stands for developer satisfaction and wellbeing. If we think about understanding developer productivity or improving developer productivity, if we make some change, say to improve developers productivity, we need to think about the impact of that change on developer satisfaction and developer wellbeing. The second one is P which is performance. So performance or the outcomes or the quality of the work that you’re doing. And again, what performance means really varies from developer to developer, engineer to engineer, or managers. They all have different views about those performance outcomes that they care about.

[00:06:44] And then the last three dimensions, the A is for activity, which is what a lot of people think about when they think about development productivity. They think about lines of code. They think about pull requests. They think about features that are delivered to the customer. So that’s kind of the typical one that developers tend to think about when you ask them about developer productivity. C is communication and collaboration. In the research that I did with now, thousands of different engineers, when you ask them, what does being productive mean to them?

[00:07:15] For many, they say it’s about collaborating with others. How well I helped others and how well I collaborated with others. And that’s not surprising because software development is such a collaborative activity. You don’t write code by yourself anymore. And then finally, E which you also touched on is how efficient I can be. My ability to be able to get my work done without a lot of interruptions and my ability to get in that very pleasant flow state, so that I really feel immersed in the work that I’m doing. The work that I’m doing, isn’t so challenging that I feel overwhelmed, but it’s at that sweet spot of being challenging enough that I feel that it’s very rewarding.

[00:07:53] Arty Starr also talks about flow in her book called flow about software development, and talks about the joy of development, which relates again to that experience and developer satisfaction. The SPACE framework honestly is very high level because it impacts all of those things, right? It impacts how developers feel their satisfaction and their wellbeing, the performance.

[00:08:15] So the quality, the outcomes of the project that you’re working on, or the tasks that you’re doing. And then it also looks at the activities that you do and then how you collaborate with others. And then that efficiency and flow part, which again, relates into satisfaction and has an impact on performance.

[00:08:32] So these dimensions, they’re not stand alone dimensions. Maybe you make a change that makes developers feel more satisfied and their wellbeing goes up. So for example, you make a change that allows developers to spend one day a week learning something new.

[00:08:47] That could have an impact on their ability to collaborate with others. If they don’t all work on that same day, they won’t hear back from others and it might have an impact on their activity, at least in the short term. So you have to think about these together. In the SPACE framework paper that we wrote about, we spent a lot of time talking about these different dimensions and the fact that there are these different metrics. None of us, I think really believes that, okay. Take SPACE, choose three dimensions and then choose three metrics and you’re done. That’s not really the best way to use it. However, doing that would be better than choosing one metric.

[00:09:26] The benefit from space comes is thinking about these different dimensions and thinking about. What is it we understand about these different dimensions. What do you, and I understand about activity and what that means to have more outputs. When I say software quality, what does that mean to you? What does it mean to my peers on my team? What does it mean to my manager? What does it mean to my manager’s manager? And when I say that I’m spending a lot of time collaborating. What does that mean to you? And what does that mean to other people and so on. So really thinking about those different dimensions, realizing that any change in one is going to have an impact on the other dimensions and coming back continuously to reflect on those and to reflect on how do we each think about these and how do we each think these will be affected if we do make a change to try to improve overall.

[00:10:18] Dr. Michaela Greiler: One thing that came up also in the developer experience work that we did is this idea of between short-term and long-term. And I think, especially in measurements are falling short in that regard, right? With your example where you have wellbeing coming or going up because they’re spending one day learning and then two other dimensions going down because now they have less overlap for the collaboration and they are writing less pull requests or lines of code. There’s also another dimension, which would be maybe learning right. And learning then in terms of what’s actually the performance of the engineers? Do they create better things, maybe they are inspired and all this becomes really intangible. How do we measure it? Is it happening right now? Maybe it’s happening. We see this. If you measure the things wellbeing, let’s say we have a survey and we ask people and we see well-being goes up, then we see from Git, well, the commits go down. We see maybe collaboration overlaps go down. We can measure that as well, but what’s really hard to measure here is that, maybe somebody has an innovative idea. Or maybe somebody had this idea and learned something and this saved us from a bug or created the more maintainable software system because of the things that they learned here.

[00:11:35] This is a little bit my critique point here, and I really like your stand on it. It’s just a mental model to help get all these different dimension, a little bit more organized, because there are so many things floating around. So this helps us looking at the SPACE framework.

[00:11:50] We can at least go through some of the dimension and we’re not measuring it, but we make a thought experiment like I did right now and say we have a very strong feeling that in the long run our engineers will be more innovative. We’ll be up to date. They will learn. They will maybe stay longer with us. I know that for every job that I was stuck, where I felt like I’m not learning. I was very unhappy . And I think a lot of engineers are like this, they want to learn. so I think maybe it’s a nice mental model to think around those things.

[00:12:20] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: That’s a really good summary. I’m going to just mention some of the more recent work that I did with Brian Hopkin and Tom Zimmerman, where we looked at alignment between different developers and their managers in terms of how they define productivity.

[00:12:34] And we also ask them how they define software quality. And what we found is that there are many, many different views of what productivity and software quality mean. If you’re saying to somebody, should we use this new tool? Should we allow engineers to spend time learning?

[00:12:51] You have to unpack what are all of your assumptions about what the impact of that change will be on developer experience or the quality of the product, whether it’s in the short or long-term and literally expose all of those assumptions, but also expose what it is that you don’t know.

[00:13:11] If we make this change or introduce this new tool, what are the things that we need more information about? And often enough, I’ve sat in on a lot of meetings and people are using terms like productivity and quality, and it’s clear that they don’t even mean the same thing. And yet they’re in these meetings trying to make decisions, and these decisions are very strategic and the decisions are often made without really unpacking.

[00:13:37] We have comfort when we have signals of what’s going on, but software development is a very complex sociotechnical activity and you can’t reduce it to these very simple metrics.

[00:13:49] This came out in the work that we did too Mikayla, but not everybody’s the same, right? Some engineers might be happy not knowing what the impact is and they may be happy helping the people around them. And that’s what they really care about. I helped four people today.

[00:14:06] I’ve worked with people like that. They’re not egocentric at all. And they’re less focused on understanding the vision. They’re happy to help the people around them. There’s no single way to measure this, even if we use surveys as well.

[00:14:19] Dr. Michaela Greiler: There’s so many good things that you just said that I want to touch upon. why are organizations striving for measurements? the higher up, the more we want some tools. We want to understand the world. And I think it’s this idea of models. Of abstractions, because it’s just too hard to grasp. So if you are the team lead and you have like five engineers. You probably have a really good idea of how things are going.

[00:14:45] Are we productive. Are we performing and so on? If you then the manager of managers and you have a team of 50, I think it’s really hard to understand everywhere. Like, are we doing good? If you have an organization of 500 engineers, it’s like, I’m flying blind, right? I’m still really, really skeptical about building a model, which is so abstract that every model is wrong, that it doesn’t reflect the reality.

[00:15:12] And it doesn’t really help us. And I like what you said about, there are things that we know, but there are unknown unknowns? We don’t even know what we don’t know. And I think a lot of. Our activities in engineering or some of the else is about the unknown unknowns.

[00:15:27] We have to make decisions with the information that we have right now, to the best of our ability. And I’m really wondering if those metrics, if they’re helpful, or is it just that we feel that it’s helpful? Maybe it’s, I think it’s maybe helpful for somebody that has some agenda, right.

[00:15:43] So they want to come up and so now to make the metrics look great. And it’s, again, this short-term vision of, oh, I want to Excel here. I want to be the VP of engineering here. So I make this because it’s easy, right? And even if you have like five or six or seven metrics, we can tune them.

[00:16:00] We know that we can make people respond to it. We can’t show that this is really the outcome that we strive for longterm, but it enables us maybe for some hidden agenda. And it’s more personal than what we are actually going for this main goals. What’s your perspective on that?

[00:16:19] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: I think that a lot of organizations use metrics because it helps have a handle on complexity. If I can somehow measure what’s going on, then I can have confidence that the decisions that I made last week or last month or a year ago were the right decisions. Or I might get data back that indicates that those decisions were not right. And that we need to make a change. Good managers know that there isn’t just one metric. They’ll know that there’s a host of metrics. And I think really good managers and really good leaders will also listen and ask the right questions to find out more nuances, more deeper understanding about what those metrics mean.

[00:17:02] I’m not saying don’t use metrics. Use metrics and also have rich insights and be continually reflecting and revisiting your assumptions and thinking about, you know, what are are your goals.

[00:17:15] Are our goals to sell more of our product? Well, yes. Right? Because we need the money to be able to make sure that our developers are well paid. But once we’ve done that what else are our goals? Is it to improve the culture so that when people come to work, that they feel secure and they feel safe and happy and they have psychological safety.

[00:17:33] Is our goal to retain our really best talent over the long-term and, and how will we do that? Understanding those goals and then understanding which of these metrics from a whole different set of possible metrics, I think is one thing to do, but really looking at what do our metrics tell us.

[00:17:52] But what do they also allied? Right? What do they hide? What are they wrong about? What is our data gathering? What is our data not gathering? Every time we define a metric, what risk are we introducing by using it? And what else do we need to gather? Like maybe some stories or insights to give us that full picture.

[00:18:10] That’s why I think the SPACE framework is quite powerful because it helps us kind of identify a whole set of things that we need to ask questions about and that we need to listen to those answers, to be able to make better decisions in the future and make change.

[00:18:26] Whether it’s change to address a problem or change to make some kind of improvement. There’s a lot of different things to consider and it’s an attempt to get people to slow down and not to rush, to define metrics and then create a dashboard and then look at it once a week and say, look, our numbers have gone up, wait a minute what’s happening behind the scenes here.

[00:18:46] Dr. Michaela Greiler: So what comes to my mind when you talk about that is the goal question metrics framework ? And it’s a little bit of a different approach. I always say, do not measure productivity. You know what I mean by that is in this very simplified way. I think the data is so, so powerful. And I think those things are two very separate areas. The critique that I have for how people use it is that they are creating metrics. But they’re not data driven. I always felt like this connection because you had the same thought about data-driven investigations and research, which is we combine qualitative with quantitative. I personally really think that they’re only in combination, they become powerful.

[00:19:32] I think that only qualitative isn’t as powerful, only quantitative can be extremely misleading. This is the metrics area that I’m talking about in the net critiquing so strongly. But I think that if we combine them, this can be extremely powerful.

[00:19:45] In industry, it hasn’t really landed. It’s also quite complex to combine that to have mixed research approaches. And behind the research approach, there is also a hypothesis. Questions that have to be tackled and so on.

[00:19:59] I’m consulting organizations, where we look at their data because I think it’s so powerful and it can help us guide and make decisions in this very complex world. But I’m always missing this qualitative aspect that we actually go and say, what does this mean? And so coming back to code reviews, it’s turnaround time is on one hand super interesting metrics. On the other hand, it’s completely meaningless. If I take it as face value, if I built a dashboard and I’m printing out turn around time there it’s maybe meaningful for the first week. It only becomes meaningful if I do the qualitative work which means that now I’m digging deep and I’m trying to understand what’s happening here. Why I’m seeing this number? Is this even a number that I should take at face value?

[00:20:51] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Probably not most of the time, not. And I wonder how can we bring that to industry ? How can it be applicable and manageable for industry what’s your take on that?

[00:21:01] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Oh, that’s such a great point. I think that there are a lot of cases of industry that do use mixed methods and do use qualitative data and quantitative data. I’ve seen some examples of this and I’ve seen some examples be used really, really well. I don’t want to mention any company or any person in particular, but I saw it with large companies.

[00:21:23] And I saw one colleague in particular. He went and he sat and he watched developers to see what their pain points were. And that was incredibly valuable to identify some really easy to solve pains.

[00:21:37] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Another example, this was more research that I did with, with Microsoft and we published this in our Tripoli software or my student, Laura McCloud. She was looking, we were looking at the data and looking at the. And she was going around and following sort of jumping from office to office and seeing what happened behind the scenes.

[00:21:57] The code review tools collect all of the telemetry of what happens that the tool records, but it doesn’t record the engineer jumping over to somebody’s office and saying, ah, by the way, I just tagged you in a, in some code that needs reviewing. Do you think you could do this quickly for me?

[00:22:13] Or, oh, I see that you submitted this code and it’s got this really big problem with it. Do you want to fix it before you really send it to me to review it? Because they don’t want to embarrass somebody by finding a big bug. So understanding what kind of happens behind the tools and behind the data is really, really critical.

[00:22:32] Sharing examples of this with companies and showing them why that’s powerful to have these rich quotes, these rich stories. about what’s going on to augment the data, to go hand in hand with the data, I think does shift how people approach it.

[00:22:48] Data only tells us what’s happening. It doesn’t tell us the why. It doesn’t tell us what we should fix. It doesn’t always tell us what is actionable in here that we can change. So we may see over time that engineering productivity, according to the activity metrics goes down. But that doesn’t tell us why it’s going down, necessarily. We have to observe, talk to developers to find out what’s going on here. Why are you not committing as much code as you used to? And then by talking to them, you can then get insights that help you make changes, and then you can use your metric to see, okay, is there a change? Do we see this change?

[00:23:26] Dr. Michaela Greiler: And I think especially with that one, it could be just a change of how people use the tool. Maybe they squash commits and we are commits

[00:23:34] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Yes

[00:23:34] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Right.

[00:23:35] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Yeah.

[00:23:35] Dr. Michaela Greiler: I think the, the biggest problem here also is that okay, if you have one team it’s normally quite simple, but if you have several teams and they have very different work styles, then, these numbers really become meaningless.

[00:23:48] I would love to find more ways for organizations to bring that insight . This ability to actually have metrics. But not only have metrics really have measurements. I distinguish between measurements, investigations instead of metrics. I define it once and then, half a year later, they are outdated. They’re not reflecting reality, but I’m measuring and I’m having data. I’m looking at data, I’m doing investigations . This investigation mindset. I think that would be so strong for organizations and the ones that I’m working with I see so many really good results. It’s almost like enlightenment ? Where metric is a light somewhere making a little bit, in the dark, something visible.

[00:24:28] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: The other thing that I’ve come across is that a lot of folks in industry think that interviewing or observing developers is very time-consuming and it doesn’t have to be, you can learn a lot from sitting with your team at lunch and asking them, what are your barriers? What are the challenges that you face? How is your experience. And gathering those insights just even once a month can lead to a lot of insights that you can then use to make change.

[00:24:59] Dr. Michaela Greiler: I think one perspective that I also want to add here is that this qualitative aspect that I’m talking about, doesn’t always have to be talking to people or observing people. It could be that there’s a person that has this task and they’re going in, they’re investigating, let’s say 50 pull requests. And they writing down what’s happening here, or the last three bugs, why did that actually happen? Some quality metrics or if you’re thinking about metrics again, metrics for me would be oh, line coverage. But then a person really doing the investigation going and saying, why is this project so different in line coverage than that project ?

[00:25:36] Or why are people having those large pull requests over here and not there? And very often, if we then do the work, and I call this also qualitative, because you’re not collecting data. It’s not quantitative. You have to look at it, you have to investigate and you have to see, oh, actually this is very coupled ?

[00:25:52] This is the reason maybe there’s a framework.

[00:25:54] And metrics, don’t tell you this story . And I think that this is really what’s so important for engineers to improve the experience and to improve their productivity, their performance. To reduce their pain points

[00:26:06] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Actually, you reminded me of one good example when you talked about coverage We did this study that I mentioned that looked at the quality, how developers define quality and how managers defined quality. And we have this framework called truce, which is the timely delivery of robust features that delight users, support future collaboration and future evolution of the product. This definition of quality came from the developer and managers words that they gave us in the survey we did. Again, there are five dimensions ? Quality you can think of according to these different dimensions and test coverage is quite interesting because that would fall under robustness.

[00:26:48] That you have really good tests for the code that you’re delivering so that it will potentially catch some of the bugs that you have in the code that you push out today. But you might also have tests that don’t necessarily cover the code as it is today, but are there to support change in the future. So they allow you to make changes in the future. Obviously they cover the code still, but they’re more focused on not finding bugs today, but allowing somebody else on my team to make changes in the future. So how do you tease that apart? Understanding what it is that you’re looking at is really, really critical.

[00:27:24] Metrics, if you use them or measurements, any measurements, if you use them in a blind way, you’re going to be missing that nuance and they’re gonna get stale. And people will misuse them. And they’ll be abused and they’ll be gamified. So really bringing that nuance in is critical and addressing the misperception, I guess, that it takes a lot of time to bring that extra information and it doesn’t . We need to think about it and build a culture that it’s important to ask these questions along all of these different dimensions.

[00:27:56] Dr. Michaela Greiler: I think there also have to be role models. But I totally agree with everything that you said. I actually think we are at the end. I’m so happy that you were here and I definitely will invite you again.So thank you so much, Peggy, is there something that you think makes this conversation a little bit more rounded that is still missing from this productivity idea?

[00:28:17] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: I guess, just to sum up that if you’re thinking about developer productivity, also think about developer experience, and also think in terms of quality, like product quality and to really kind of think about those three independently and to think about if you make some changes or you’re making decisions, what are the dimensions of each of those three things? What are those dimensions that you need to think about? And if you’re working with other people. Find out what their assumptions are. If you’re talking in a team and somebody is talking about developer experience or developer productivity or software quality to say, hang on a second, what does that mean to you? Even if you do that, I think it’ll shift the conversation in the room quite a bit.

[00:29:03] Dr. Michaela Greiler: Unpacking their assumptions, this is so powerful. So thank you, Peggy. Thank you so much for joining my show.

[00:29:09] Dr. Margaret-Anne Storey: Thank you so much. It’s been great.

Driving innovation and engineering practices with Dr. Holly Cummins

In this episode, I talk to Dr. Holly Cummins. Holly was the development practice lead for IBM Garage for Cloud, before becoming an innovation leader in IBM’s corporate strategy team. She drives innovation for companies in various industries, such as banking, catering, retail, or even nonprofit organization. She is also a Java Champion, a JavaOne Rockstar, a published author, and a regular and vivid speaker. 

We talk about:

  • What it takes to drive innovation in an organization
  • Test-driven development (TDD)
  • Ensuring a healthy and welcoming company culture
  • The benefits of Pair programming

This episode is sponsored by IBM – where innovation and transformation come together.

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: 

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

Michaela: Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Mckayla and today I have the pleasure to talk to Dr. Holly Cummins. This episode is sponsored by IBM. IBM not only produces and sells hardware, middleware and software, but also offers hosting and consulting services. The part that is the most interesting to me, is that IBM is also an active research organization, and an enabler for innovation and transformation. One interesting business area is called the IBM garage – which focuses on accelerating digital transformation, by helping people generate innovative ideas while it also equips them with the practices, technologies and expertise needed to rapidly turn those ideas into business value.

Dr. Cummins was the development practice lead for IBM Garage for Cloud, before becoming an innovation leader in IBM’s corporate strategy team. She drives innovation for companies in various industries, such as banking, catering, retail or even nonprofit organization. She is also a Java Champion, a JavaOne Rockstar, a published author and a regular and vivid speaker. So what should I say? I’m super thrilled to have Dr. Holly Collins here with me today. Holly, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:56] Holly: Thank you so much. It’s yeah, I’m really looking forward to our chat. 

[00:01:00]
Michaela: Yeah, me too. I mean, my introduction was really, really long because yeah. You have so many accomplishments. It’s really cool to talk with you. So how does that work? Driving innovations for organizations? Can even one person drive an innovation for a whole organization? Or do you need like, that everybody is on board. How do you. 

[00:01:21] Holly: I think one person can make a whole organization innovate, but one person can help create an environment where innovation flourishes. I think we’ve certainly all seen the opposite as well. One person, if they do it wrong, can really best innovation across the whole organization. And I think. With innovation. It’s about making this sorts of environments where ideas can grow and where there’s the second, the logical safety for people to express ideas, but then also the organizational tolerance for risk too, to be able to invest in those ideas. But then also I think you need some methodology or, or some rigor to try and. Manage your innovations, because I think a lot of us have as well have seen innovation labs where there’s all these amazing ideas and then none of them actually make it out the door of the innovation lab. And that’s fun for everybody, but it’s not really moving things forward. And really what you need is innovation that matters. 

[00:02:29]
Michaela: Yeah. . I’m currently working on a research project where we look at cultures, especially for development teams. How do they have their cultures? What makes them happy? What makes them productive? What makes them innovative and psychological safety and, you know, being able to speak your mind. This is also important. And I conducted a couple of interviews. I also have worked in different organizations and it’s just really tricky, right? I mean, it’s really tricky to be in a work environment and being able to voice your opinion. And some people get really lucky, but a lot of people really struggle with that, I think. And I don’t know if it’s, if it’s bigger organization, I can’t, can’t even say like a bigger organization. It’s more tricky than in, in smaller. I’ve been in startups. So you think, well, innovation should really flourish down. There were like brilliant people on the team, but they’re are also. They take all the space, right. They’re very dominant people. So then all the others conferee so much, then there are like larger organization where you can strive. Is there some recipe that you can recommend for people to, you know, follow to get more psychological safety or do you know, be, be more self-aware if others even can speak their mind or, you know, like, how does that work? 

[00:03:40] Holly: Yeah, that, that that’s yeah. Super interesting about the startups. I I sometimes feel at a disadvantage talking about culture cause I’ve worked for IBM, my whole career. And IBM clearly is not a startup. It’s about as opposite a startup as, as you can get in terms of its history. But one of the things that I. Like to talk about, which I think is probably quite related to your, to your research is the importance of fun in the workplace. And I deliberately talk about fun because it’s a little bit provocative because we all have this sort of instinctive reaction that says work is a place for work. It’s not a place to have fun. And so then. I think by sort of choosing something that seems counter-intuitive and then peeling away the layers to talk about why actually that fun environment is really closely correlated to a productive work environment. And I think as well, it’s, it’s quite closely correlated to psychological safety. And I think, you know, the psychological safety manual, certainly doesn’t say let’s have achieved psychological safety by, you know, installing. Ping-pong or, you know, that kind of thing, but, and it’s, you know, and I think what I mean by fun as well, it’s not those sort of that superficial layer of fun. It’s that, that deeper thing where you feel the connection to your colleagues and you feel the work gives you joy. 

[00:04:55]
Michaela: Yeah. I also saw that coming up in my own research, but also related research, right. That satisfaction, happiness and productivity. They are really concepts that are very intermingled. ? So engineers also having fun if they are feeling productive and productivity also means connectiveness. ? So a lot of developers that are interviewed, they talk about supportiveness and how they have to know that there is another person that I can. Call or no call before we could walk up to them, but now we call them and they are there and they’re helping us. If you’re stuck, we don’t see the siloed. Right. There’s a friendship coming up as a concept. Right. People want friendship in their workplace. Yeah. I can totally relate to that. I felt really lonely last year working as a solopreneur. And so that’s also why I stepped a little bit away and was taking on more customer work again, because now I’m in teams and I’m feeling, you know, I’m talking to people more and this is really, I mean, it’s also joy and yeah, so I can totally relate to that. How, how do you engage with organizations? So you are at IBM, but you got into different other organizations or is that all internally where you have like little labs that you, you know, that you try to get to flourish? 

[00:06:09] Holly: So my role at the moment it’s somewhat internal and somewhat external. We’re always working with clients, but sometimes I’m working with an IBM team who is working with a client, but in, in the garage we were, we were very outward facing client facing. And, and I think there’s, there’s lots of different answers for how do you engage with an organization? How do you change an organization? Right. The, the answer that we chose in the garage is really sort of support at the top and then making the change bottom up. So we would try and get buy-in from the senior stakeholder. And the organization wanted to try working in a new way that it wanted to try bringing some of these, the psychological safety in the innovation. But then also some of the other things that we talk about a lot, like, I mean, agility is an overused word, but that, you know, that ability to respond to change that, that tolerance for risk. But I think sometimes know. If if we try and make that change only at the top level, then it just ends up being as a lot of words on slides and so in. And, and there’s a lot of resistance to these ideas as well because people work in the way they work for a good reason. It’s not like everybody’s sort of set out and said, I know we’re going to make our organizational cut culture so that it, you know, crushes the spirit and destroys productivity. You know, the intention was always to, you know, to try and achieve something good. It’s just that the side effects. Yeah. We’re not good. So then what we do is we work with a particular team on a particular project, and we say, we’re going to, we’re going to do this particular thing and we’re gonna get a result and we’re going to do it in this new way. And you can see that while we work in this way. Actually good things are happening, not bad things. And bringing in dev ops, for example, hasn’t increased the, the odds of something bad happening. Look, we can show you it’s reduced the odds of something bad happening, and look, it’s actually made the process more rigorous, even though the process is also more seamless. And so if we can do it on this one project, that’s maybe not super business critical, let’s try and now expand it to the next project that maybe is a bit more business critical. That, that ripple I would affect because I mean, I think success is the best evidence. And so when you can do something and show the results, then that makes people much more keen to try it for themselves. 

[00:08:32]
Michaela: Yeah. So you are coming in and then you’re working with one team. And is it only you, or is it you and the team that’s working with that other team with that project? How does that work? 

[00:08:41] Holly: Usually we’d have a team. And I think the, sort of the, at that teamwork aspect is, is so important. I think going back a bit to what you were saying about the lockdown that even the most introverted developer, I think, you know, we, we get something. Team and the, the effects are much better as well. So we try and have really diverse teams in terms of the skills and the disciplines of the people. So normally what we would have is we’d have a handful of developers. We’d have maybe some, some architecture support. But then we’d also have designers who are really making sure that we’re focusing on. The humans using the technology rather than just look, it’s a thing and it’s shiny and I can install it and I can write code on it. And so I’m happy, you know, trying to sort of reel it back, but I’m glad you’re having fun Holly, but how are we making life better for someone else? And, you know, what’s good. You know, cause success for any software project. It’s not just, I did code success is something is better somewhere either at a business level or, you know, at a user level or that kind of thing. So on, on our side, we try and have this really diverse team, but then we also want to make sure that we’re co-creating with the client. So our ideal is that they’re bringing their developers along. They’re bringing their architects along. They’re bringing their designers along as well. And then they’re bringing a product owner because they’re the one who owns the vision for what we’re trying to do. And then that means that as well as making the thing we’re doing a skills transfer. And so I when I was first working in the garage, one of our, the the IBM sellers who we were working with got a bit grumpy because the, the sort of model that they had done was that we would do a thing and then they would sell training for the thing. And because we were. Co-creating that training just sort of happened on, on the job and it didn’t slow anything down. So we would be pair programming and that knowledge transfer would happen. And it would happen in both ways as well. So we, we know things about the carriage method that we can share. We know things about test-driven development dev ops, but then, you know, they’re going to know things. Or organizational context to say, ah, yes. When you want to do this, you need to tell, talk to Bob on the second floor. And so having the person who knows that pairing with you means that you don’t sort of have to go through this elaborate process of I’m stuck. Who do I talk to you? And then, you know, try and figure it out. And they know things about their, their business domain as well. And you know, the sort of the, some of these problems are really quite specific and niche. And, you know, you couldn’t have just a general consultant go in and solve it without doing that. Co-creation. Yeah. 

[00:11:24]
Michaela: And how long are those engagements normally until there is some transformation and some knowledge transfer, how long does it take 

[00:11:31] Holly: for the license? I don’t think the sweet spot is about six weeks, so that’s, that’s long enough to do something that’s really meaningful to get an MVP, but it’s short enough. That an organization will feel okay with the risk. Cause, you know, if we, if we sort of say, and, and, and as well, you want to make sure that at the end of it, those results are going out and are really visible. So having that short cycle and then say, okay, and if we’ve done it once and you like it now, let’s do it again because. You saw that result and it wasn’t this sort of really protracted process where it took 12 months to see any change. Yeah. 

[00:12:10]
Michaela: So you are mentioning already a couple of development practices, like Def ops test driven development, and you have, I mean, the development practice lead for IBM garage. So. Do you think, what are some of the development practices that you recommend that really everybody should do? Is it like peer programming? You also mentioned that or code reviews. What about testing? Do you think this is crucial? Do they have to do it? Can we just do it a little bit? Or can we just skip some of those things?

[00:12:40] Holly: Yeah. We sometimes have conversations about testing because. The there’s a trade-off I think between doing something quickly and failing fast and getting that rapid feedback and not over-engineering while you’re doing that and the enormous benefits of testing. So sometimes if we’re doing something that we know is going to be throw away, and I think there’s a lot of value in doing something that you know, is going to be thrown away. That is that, you know, sort of lean startup , methodology, maybe testing doesn’t make sense. But I think in general, The, the benefits of testing are so great in terms of the quality of the code, but also automated testing is absolutely necessary to support dev ops and dev ops is really. Necessary now in order to support any kind of automation and efficiency and any, you know, that, that ability to do those repeated deployments and the ability to respond, to change and to manage risk. Sometimes, you know, you sort of hear these stories of something that goes wrong and then an organization doesn’t have any way to make a change to fix the problem, except either to go through. Lengthy process or to completely short circuit and bypass the process and, you know, have someone secure shell into the effective machine. And then they change the things by hand, which is obviously not going to be particularly robust in terms of the repeatability or the safety or anything. So you sort of get this chain where you. Do dev ops, because I know it gives so much better results in order to do DevOps. I need to have automated testing. If I’m going to do automated testing, I want to do it with test driven development, because that gives so much better quality for the tests and it. ensures the testability of the code and as well, I think one of the biggest benefits of test driven development is really to refine our understanding of the problem as well. Some people call it tested and design rather than test driven development because of that effect that when I sit down, I think we’ll see, what am I really trying to do? How will I really know what I’m successful? Let me write a test for that. And usually what we look for with a test is something that we would have been looking for manually. Anyway, you know, I go to a web page and I see this, or it prints this. It’s always, you know, we’re always looking for some evidence. We just try and encode that, looking for the evidence in, code, which is efficient. Usually. 

[00:15:09]
Michaela: Yeah. So test driven development often is I see it a little bit synonym to also unit tests instead of integration tests. But now you also mentioned something like a UI test, for example. So do you have, like, do you make some distinction here and do you think one is better than the other? Do you see that there’s a shift nowadays in industry? I see a shift and a little bit that, what is your perspective on that? 

[00:15:33] Holly: Yeah. I mean, I like to do test driven development at, at all levels. So I like to do test driven development for my integration tests. I like to do test driven development for my unit tests. I think sometimes you do get a little bit tangled where you can’t have, you know, you sort of, you, you do your, you write your unit test and then it passes. And then in doing that, you’ve done enough that actually your integration tests is already passing. So then you’re. Catching up with your integration test a bit, but sometimes we do it the other way and we say, okay, I’m going to start with my integration tests. I’m going to get those integration test passing. And then I’m going to fill in a bit with the unit tests. But I think like, I don’t think it’s something that is just for one level. I think if it’s an outcome that you care about and that you don’t want to regress, then there should be an automated test on it. I mean, I, I. I’m a huge fan of contract tests as sort of an intermediate layer between the integration tests and the unit tests. Cause I think sometimes with unit tests, well, integration tests are really expensive to run in any kind of complex environment, especially once you’ve got 60 microservices. Good luck running the integration tests in any kind of regular way. But then with the unit tests, I think you can sometimes get the sort of abdication of responsibility where everybody owns their microservice and they run their unit tests and everything works great. And the system as a whole doesn’t work. And so somebody has to care about that at some point, but then you sort of end up playing this sort of. Sort of pass the parcel of responsibility, where everybody goes more, my services working as designed. And so then an on all the problems happened at the seams. 

[00:17:13]
Michaela: Yeah. , my PhD thesis was about playing in testing our plugging systems and how you test them. It was more or less also services, service oriented architectures at that point. Right. And it was pretty new. People were just jumping on that vegan and so on. And I said, well, you know, you were going to get a little bit into travel if you’re, if it stayed the same with how we are doing testing and nowadays but you’re also an expert for cloud computing. Would you say that in the cloud world, somehow testing or in general engineering practices change, is there, do we have an impact we should we or can be developed in a different way, test, deploy everything. Why is said the same? 

[00:17:54] Holly: Yeah, I think it has to be different in order to take advantage of the cloud. So one of the things that you’re almost certainly going to want to be doing on the cloud is, is that DevOps it’s that more rapid deployment. And then if you. Deploying rapidly. And you don’t actually know if your code works, then either you’re going to have an enormous issue in production, or actually you’re not going to be deploying rapidly, you know? So we still sometimes see these cycles where something is getting deployed to the cloud, but then there’s a three week UAT phase before anything can be deployed. And so then. You know, that just doesn’t work. It’s a waste of the cloudiness. It almost may as well be on-prem. So, so you sort of get this ripple back from, again from the dev ops, which you want to be doing to the testing to the TDD. 

[00:18:42]
Michaela: I also think like we had, we had very strict roles back then. Right. So whatever, like operations. Yeah. The engineers, the software engineers or developers. And we had like the testers, then there was like a time. Now we have this dev ops for, you know, at one point for dev ops, I feel like every engineer was supposed to be a dev ops engineer. And and then we had like the full stack. So you’re not a front end or back end, your full stack, your full stack from front end to back into dev ops to everything. And now I feel people start to struggle with that concept again. No everything because there’s so much to know that there’s not a single person that can be like this end to end dev ops engineer to front end you know, genius. You see dad, like is there, is there again do you see that there are more roles that are forming itself or a person is bringing more Def of engineer and then more of backend, more front end, you know, cloud maybe, you know, even more concepts that we have here.

[00:19:43] Holly: Yeah, that one’s a really tough one. And I, yeah, I sometimes sort of, and I think I sometimes talk to people who ha, who say exactly the same as you, that, that there are too many expectations on me and actually trying to do all of these things means that not only will I not be quite as good in all of them, actually, I’m going to be pretty inadequate in all of them. And are you sure that’s what you want? And so. I think there probably is, is a space for having those specialist roles. But I think part of the issue as well, sort of is there’s an organizational decision about where do you, where do you put the boundaries? Because I think we probably still do want to be saying. That if you are too specialized, it creates organizational friction because it means that you risk becoming a bottleneck or, or the opposite as well that it, you know, it means that you risk not being deployed because all of a sudden, none of the projects our organization is working on, have a need for your skills. And since you only do this one thing really well. You’re just going to be sat around and that’s not great for us cause we’re paying you and it’s probably not great for you either because you’re really bored. So let’s try and have everybody at least be able to do a few things and let’s have people really comfortable sharing their skills as well. Cause I think that comes back a bit to the pair programming and the multidisciplinary teams that maybe I’m pretty sure. Pretty bad at front end, but I know just enough front end that if I’m collaborating with a front end developer, I can bring my something else. And we’re still going to do a better job than if that front end developer was on their own. And we’re going to do a way better job than if I was trying to be a front end developer on my own. And so then you get these sort of complimentary skills in, in the pairs. 

[00:21:37]
Michaela: I think we are coming back again to the teams as well, or to the concept of a team. And that people are really strong as a team. Maybe they are. And there was like, I did an interview with it, very senior engineer. And what he said is like, , if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with the team or with people. Right. And so this was indeed in one of the interviews about productivity and happiness and so on. And I think. I was also talking to Alex from FedEx and she was on my podcast. He’s a testing expert. And she was also talking about these teams where you have like a person that has a strong expertise, but then this expertise somehow overlaps. Right? So you want to expand your expertise to other roles. Let’s say you are a testing expert, but then you want also to understand development a little bit, then you want to understand maybe dev ops a little bit. Right? And so you’re having this. These shapes that are overlapping. And then in the same team, you have a person that is very similar to what you said, right? They are front end expert. And so you’re overlapping in your understanding each other quite a bit. Right. It’s good. If you don’t, if you’re not solely responsible for everything and you can learn from each other, I think learning is also such an important concept for happiness. Do you see that, that people want to learn? 

[00:22:47] Holly: Yeah. A a hundred percent, I think it’s, it is one of those things that motivates you at work. Isn’t it is, is that desire to learn and, and, you know, if you just do the same thing every day, it, I mean, it’s, it’s awful. Isn’t it? There needs to be something coming in. And I think you’re right. That, that does come back to that teaming that if you’re working in a team and people have different skills than you, then you’re, you’re automatically going to be learning. And one of the things that I always said about pairing in particular is, you know, there’s sometimes we put sort of a hierarchy on pairing doughy and we say, okay, so we’ve got the senior developer pairing with the junior developer and they’re teaching everything they know to. It always, it always goes in both ways. So as a senior developer, if I’m pairing with a junior developer, often they’ll know a framework I’ve never heard of. And so then they’ll teach me about that and they’ll know keyboard shortcuts. I’ve never heard of. So they’ll teach me about that. And so it’s always that, that two way knowledge transfer in, you know, independent of your position in the hierarchy or how long you’ve been anywhere. Yeah. 

[00:23:50]
Michaela: So I hear you talk a lot about pair programming, so. I don’t hear you talk about code reviews. What do you think about them? Do you do them, are they not that important? Do they compliment or do you don’t need them, if you do poor programming, how do you see 

[00:24:03] Holly: that? So my, my, my personal take is that one of the great advantages of pair programming is that it eliminates the need for code reviews. And we sometimes talk about You know wait, isn’t pair programming, more expensive. I’ve got two people doing the work of one person and, and, you know, there’s all sorts of reasons why that’s not true, but I think one of them is that otherwise you have, usually you will have a para-pro code review process at the end, otherwise, and that can be really expensive, so it can be expensive in terms of people’s time, but then it can also be expensive in terms of the sort of thing. Bottleneck and the blocker that it creates, and it can be expensive as well in terms of the, sort of the patterns that it encourages. Because if people know that when you put something in for code review, it takes three days to get it back and get it approved. You know, that’s maybe a pathological case, but it’s not that pathological people. Aren’t going to be putting things in every 10 minutes. You wait until you’re finished something and then you send it over and then you get this. Spiral where the person who’s doing the code review gets a mountain of code and they go, Ooh, I’m not, I’m not looking at that until I’ve got a bit of room in my schedule, which is three days later. And then as well, when they look at it, usually. I see a couple of things happen. One is that because it’s so much work, if there’s a really fundamental design problem, either it’s sort of too late and they can’t see it, or they do see it, but they think, oh man, you know, they’ve been working on this for three days. I can’t go back and tell them they should have done something completely different or that they shouldn’t even written any of this code. And so then the sort of the big problems don’t get fixed and. But then you think, well, but I’ve got to show that I did the review. I’ve got to show that I’ve got some value in this process rather than just annoying them by waiting for three days. Let me find the position of the semi-colon line 36. Let me comment on that. Then everybody knows I’m contributing. So you get this sort of bike shedding. And as you can tell, if I find the whole, the process for us one of the patterns that I really encouraged with the pair programming is that you rotate the pairs every day. So that gives you a much deeper code review. Cause I think otherwise you only, you get like one person’s code review, but then you sort of end up where two people can be wrong just as easily as one person or two. Certainly, you know, two people can be wrong. So then on the second day, A third person comes in and then there’s already sort of another built-in code review where they, in order to be able to contribute, they get walked through what was done the day before. And then they’re able to say things like, oh, well, but why did we do this? And here, why don’t we just try this? And it it’s, you know, it’s not a formal review. It’s an interactive sort of getting them up to speed teaching experience, but then it means that there’s this second chance to catch errors before. Developed too much, but I think, I mean, I think you probably are. You’re asking the question cause you, you probably have quite a lot of expertise on code reviews and you’re gonna tell me all the patterns where it does work, which of course it can, then it can work 

[00:27:07]
Michaela: with no, no, but I definitely did the recall and realize all the things that you said, because this are definitely really common problems that I also see that teams have. Right. So this is also one of the things by in my view, Teams come and they bring all really everything that you said, right? Like, and this whole chain of how it just doesn’t work. Great. How to process doesn’t work and where you, where you have this waiting time, where then the code reviews are too big, right. Or you’re done, cannot understand them. You still have to do them. What do you do? Right. So this, there is definitely this, this loop that you are describing. Totally recall, because this is, you know, this is the, the problems that all the people are bringing on the table when they’re coming in, when I’m working with it. Maybe what I see, I actually really liked code reviews because of this synchronicity. Right. So you can have them in a very lightweight way. I also see them complimentary a little bit to peer programming, but you definitely have to do them in a different way. Right. And I think what many organizations don’t understand and why we are creating this loop of yeah. Troublesome problems that we have, how we doing is that we don’t understand the goal of why I’m doing this. Right. What do we want to get out of that? And then also, okay, what do I want to get out of that? And how can I shape the process in a way that I’m getting this out of that? Because I really see that they have all these painful drawbacks. Definitely. But they also have like really wonderful benefits. So I think the most important is that you really understand. The pain points that you said very, very deeply, but then also, what can you, you know, what can you do to counteract them? How can you change your practice but, but I see, I see all the things that you say, and I’m actually a big fan of pairing as well. For me personally it’s very draining to do it. Like I love it from time to time, right? Like it’s the best where I feel like. You have your mentor there, or, you know, you have just this connection and the supportiveness with the people. So I totally enjoy it from time to time, but not too often. How often do you do pairing? 

[00:29:17] Holly: So what, what we used to do. In the, in the garage is, is we would do it pretty much all day, every day. And there was, there was a few advantages to that because I think one of the, sort of the hardest things of pairing is the logistics. And so then going back to the PA to the code reviews, you know, there’s some circumstances under which pairing just will not work and makes no sense because it’s, it’s so synchronous and asynchronous doesn’t scale. So, you know, you need to have that kind of asynchronous process as well. And if you’ve got Particularly, you know, if it’s something like open source where people are in different times zones and they’re working different schedules and some of them are doing it in their own time, you know, something like pairing it, it, you know, it’s almost off the table to, to begin with. But what we found is if we tried to be. Ad talk with our pairing, which of course works quite well for a lot of teams. We sort of, we never ended up doing it because it would be well let yes, let’s pair today. Yeah. We definitely want a pair today. Okay. So, so maybe after lunch. Oh, I can’t after lunch, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got a thing. Okay. Well we’ll maybe, maybe at two o’clock. Oh, I can’t. And then, you know, we, we settled that we’re going to start pairing at three o’clock, but then something would come up and then somebody would be unavailable. So by sort of defaulting to pairing, we’d keep our calendars free. And it was great actually, because if we got invited to. I’m afraid I can’t attend this meeting. I’m pairing. So if you interrupt me, you’re interrupting my hair as well as it was sort of, it was like this sort of intro we could block your time. 

[00:30:43]
Michaela: a couple of organizations that are working with and That we try something out and it looks really, really nice is that you’re doing code reviews on a particular time. And then it’s done by one engineer. Right. But they’re doing all the others can go in and now everything is via suit, right. As are our teams and whatnot. Right. So by that video conference, and so they’re doing this cultural view, right? Everybody that’s interested can join. Right. And those sessions really, really particularly work well. I’m very surprised by that, but I really have good feedback from, from different organizations where you know, you have this casual thing where people know this is happening, right. One person really drives the review and the errors can watch ask questions, clarification questions, or, you know, other things maybe learn just have their fairness. Have you tried something like that? Is that 

[00:31:36] Holly: we’ve tried some similar things? Not, not exactly like that, but that, yeah, that seems, seems really good. So we did I mean, one pattern of course is the sort of the mobbing pattern where we say We don’t just want to do it with two people. We actually particularly for knowledge sharing, you know, we want to do it with six people. So let’s all gather around the keyboard or let’s all gather on the zoom, but as well, what we used to find was, again, it’s that scaling that the pattern I described, where you rotate the pairs every day in a big code base. With a big team is still gonna be quite a while before you rotate round. And so then you do need something else. So what we’d sometimes do is on a Friday, we’d do a show and tell session. So it was, it was very similar to what you described actually, but we’d sort of someone would say, okay, well, I’ve just done this particularly evil thing in this part of the code base. And nobody’s sure. Yeah, understand what I’ve done unless I talk them through it, or I’ve just discovered this really counter-intuitive behavior in this library. Let me show you all what it does. So you don’t get called out the same way I did. So it was sort of partly a code review and then partly a, an education session, but it would just be really informal and just whoever had interesting code. Would show it and talk it through the rest of the team and then they’d ask questions and that kind of thing. 

[00:32:46]
Michaela: So maybe one last thing that I would like to talk a little bit with you about is because you. You actually transitioned a way, right? From, from being this development lead at the IBM garage. And now you’re an innovation leader in the corporate strategy team. What does that mean? And what, what’s your role there? What do you have to do? 

[00:33:05] Holly: So our, our, my role in corporate strategy, it’s really interesting. It’s because I’m sort of in the, you know, we’re sort of a headquarters role, so I’m sort of in the, in the heart of IBM in, in the center of IBM and I sort of get to see a lot of what’s going on and what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to. Really just be the, sort of like a free resource, both people and financial to try. And when we see something amazing that can’t quite happen because there’s some sort of blocker or there’s just, you know, it just needs a little bit of money to, to get over a starting line that we can sort of give it that, that push. And then hopefully. Make something amazing happen so often it’s where if we have a client team and you know, the client really wants to do something and we really want to do something, but just somehow it just needs a little bit of money just to demonstrate to the people who have the large amounts of money that this is really worth doing. And, and one of the things that we do as well, because I think as an industry, we’ve, we’ve moved a lot now, too. Every, you know, we always want to be trying to do things by actually trying them out rather than doing slides. So that that’s not, it was new when the team I’m part of was started. It’s not, it’s not new anymore, but still in a larger organization, you still sometimes get things that fall between the cracks where it doesn’t quite fit in, in anybody’s mission. But that means it’s actually extra important. So then, because, because we’re sort of central, we can bridge those, those internal barriers. 

[00:34:39]
Michaela: And do you still have a lot to do with engineering? Do you still develop software or is it more really strategic and leading that you’re doing right now? 

[00:34:49] Holly: It’s a little bit of a mix, which I think going back to what you were talking about with the learning and the, and the variety, I think it is good. So it means that whatever, whatever seems most necessary. We’ll do that. So sometimes it’s actually let me go in and architect this, let me, let me go in and out a bit of code. Let me, you know, I’m not a data scientist, but some of my colleagues are data scientists and they’ll okay. Let me fix your model for you. And then sometimes it’s more strategic and more making those connections to say, actually, I can see that this is going on in one part of our organization and something complimentary is going on in another part of my, let me connect those two, and then we’re going to get a better outcome. 

[00:35:31]
Michaela: Oh, that sounds like you’re really having a lot of hats. I really liked that when I was at Microsoft, also driving bit innovation there and having all these different hats, like you’re, you’re driving projects, but you’re also doing the implementation. I was mainly prototyping at that time. But it also means that you, as you said, you have to learn a lot. Did it take it a little bit to get used to that role and know what you have to do? Do you have like mentors that help you or is it. Structure around some, formal mentorship program at IBM. How does that work? 

[00:36:03] Holly: I think. With that kind of role where, where you have a lot of hats. I think it comes back to, to the team again and the sort of the resiliency and the team. So what we tend to do, because we’re doing challenging things and we don’t know in advanced necessarily what skills will be required is we, we do sort of go around in groups where there’s more than one of us. And then that means that whatever hat ends up being needed, there’s someone who has that hat and then someone else who can sort of shadow the hat. 

[00:36:34]
Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. That sounds really a great team to be in. Maybe the last thing really last thing. And then I’ll let you go. Or that I want to talk with you about is there’s the same culture eats strategy for breakfast, right? So, and what it means is that. The culture is of utmost importance. But also it’s a very vicious cycle that, you know, how do you get your culture to apply and how do you get your team members to, you know, like each other or at least respect each other, right. Especially if you have, so sometimes people have I also have that in my workshops when we are, you know, when we are working on these problems, that code reviews create right where we have, for example, very strong personalities in a team with very strong opinions. So it have problems, you know, like giving into, what did you hear? Do you have like do you have like some strategies for that? Do people do something to do, do some coaching or can you help can the team help itself? What’s your experience with that? 

[00:37:34] Holly: It’s. It’s tricky culture, because in some ways, some things about culture, you, you can change because you can, you know, sort of start with your small changes and then success is the best evidence. And then you can roll it forward and you can make those little changes to encourage psychological safety. And you can have, if, if the leaders are bought in, then they can make some of those changes as well. But part of it then does still come down to the people in the team. And that is often the thing that is. Most challenging to, to change, but, but even, even people I think are, are changeable. And I think sometimes characteristics that we assume are just this person actually are the context in which we put them as an organization or habits that they’d learned that with the right environment can be unlearned 

[00:38:27]
Michaela: or teamed up that makes maybe right or one person creates or reacts, but only two, right. Person, but to really the whole team dynamics. Are you are you a fan of like bonding sessions and you know, we’re people, what a team really can, you know, get to know each other, do you think that’s 

[00:38:45] Holly: I really like them, but I think they, they need to be done sensitively because they do end up sometimes not being very inclusive if we. If, if we choose something that half the team love, and then some people are sort of stood there going, well, this isn’t really what I wanted. So I think there sort of needs to be some, some pre-thought to, well, there’s everybody in the team going to like going out to a noisy bar or. Does that actually not work. And I’ve seen I’ve had some good conversations with people actually, when I talk about fun, because sometimes we get these sort of bonding sessions that get put into a team and we say, right, we’re going to have fun. Now we’re going to, you know, do our bonding and we’re going to go out to a bar and some people are going to know this, this isn’t fun for me at all. But then there can be alternative. So some teams, for example, they’ll play a board game at lunch. And so it means that people who need to rush home after school, you know, are after work to get kids from school or that kind of thing. You know, they’re, they’re included and people who don’t drink are included and it’s in sort of at work. So then it feels like an extra nice treat. It doesn’t feel like you’re sort of being required as part of your job to go out and do things out of hours, which some people really object to. And so then, you know, and there’s other things like, like that, or. This is a really old example because w w one of the other things that happened when I started talking about fun is lots of people told me about their workplaces and that the terrible unfun things that had happened. And there was a team and they were sort of there were a support organization, so they would work quite long hours and shifts. And it was a distributed team. So what they would do is AF after five 30, they would all play quake or doom or something like that together. And it was sort of back in the day when broadband at home was a luxury. So you would take advantage of your office network and they were, you know, they were, it was completely you know, a bonding thing. And they were told by management, if you’re in the office after five 30, you have to be doing work, which I just thought was. Incredibly short-sighted on the, on the part of the, that management to say, you know, your, your people are not on your time making the effort to get to know each other better and to work better as a team. And not only have you not, you know, encouraged this and, you know, put in money for cakes or something, you’ve actually told them they’re not allowed to do it. Yeah. Yeah. That’s very, 

[00:41:08]
Michaela: very shortsighted. Yeah. Terrible mistake. But sometimes I really like for management, sometimes I really ask myself. How can you make this decision, but you know, different story. Okay. Well, Holly I know we are on time, so thank you so much. I could have, you know, like talked with you another hour, but thank you so much that I could pick your brain about everything, about all your experience and you know, your knowledge that you have. Yeah. It was really wonderful that you have been on my show. Is there something that you want to share with my listeners? Did you think it’s important for them maybe around culture, happiness, fun productivity, maybe a little thing that they can start doing today? 

[00:41:49] Holly: I mean, I th I think, yeah, just to sort of think about those, those, those aspects of fun and, and think about how can I have more fun at work? How can I bring more joy, joy, and delight at work, but also how can I make. Those around me are also having more, more joy into life at work because otherwise it becomes a bit one-sided. Yeah, I 

[00:42:09]
Michaela: think in general, after Corona, I call it now after COVID right. I just say after, because it’s just nicer to say that I think we really have to come back to thinking more about others. I think we haven’t been thinking. Enough about others before, but I think, I don’t know how it’s in, in, you know, in the UK, but it, at least here, I feel people are more distance because of it. Right. And I really think we should think more about each other and you know, what brings us joy? How can we help others? How can we be nice to others? Right. Yeah. And I think this can bring joy again to yourself, right? If you maybe should think about how can I make the day, a little bit better for my colleague today? Or help somebody? I think this can be a cycle of positivity. I dunno. Like, yeah. 

[00:43:00] Holly: Yeah, absolutely. I think we realized one of the things that we realized with, with COVID is how, how much we need others and how it’s, you know, it’s not much fun without others. Yeah. Yeah, 

[00:43:12]
Michaela: exactly. I think so, too. So I hope you all can come back together and then really be nice to each other and care for each other. Yeah. Okay. So Holly, thank you so much for being on my show. Have a wonderful. In them. Yeah. I hope I talk to you soon again. 

[00:43:29] Holly: Yeah. Thank you so much. It was, it was great fun. 

[00:43:32]  Michaela:  Yeah. It was really fun.

Better collaboration & performance through diversity and inclusion

In this episode, I talk to Trier Bryant and Kim Scott who co-founded the company Just Work which helps organizations and individuals create more equitable workplaces.

Trier Bryant is a strategic executive leader with distinctive Tech, Wall Street, and military experience spanning over 15 years and the CEO of Just Work. She’s previously worked at Astra, Twitter, Goldman Sachs, and led engineering teams in the United States Air Force, where she already also drove diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Kim Scott is the author of both successful books: Just Work and Radical Candor. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. 

We talk about:

  • how they both landed in tech
  • their diverse and exciting background
  • how to counter bias, prejudice and bullying in the workplace
  • the framework for diversity and inclusion they developed
  • and how engineering teams can be more inclusive.

Today’s episode is sponsored by CodeSubmit – the best take-home assignments for your tech hiring!

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: 

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today after pleasure to talk to Trier Bryant and Kim Scott who just released the newest book, just work. But before I start, I want to tell you more about code, submit the best take home assignment platform to streamline your tech recruiting. Yes, exactly. This amazing startup is back sponsoring. Over the last month, they introduced a lot of exciting new features, such as live coding within a full working ID, running directly in your browser code submit makes it really easy to recruit and hire amazing title, and they support 64 different languages and frameworks and integrate seamlessly with. Beginning of the year when I was hiring engineers for a startup, I worked with, I used the tool during the interview process for all the candidates and was extremely satisfied. Their mission real task. No, brainteasers resonates a lot with me, so I cannot recommend coats. Admit enough, please check them out at codesubmit.io. That is codesubmit.io, but now back to Trier and Kim who founded the company just work, which helps organization and individuals create more equitable workplaces to your brand is a strategic executed leader with distinctive tech wall street and military experience spending over 15 years. And the CEO of just work. She previously worked at Astra Twitter, Goldman Sachs, and led engineering teams in the United States air force, where she also drove diversity, equity and inclusion. Kim’s cough is the author of both successful books, just work and radical candor. Kim was the CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrix, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at apple university and before led AdSense YouTube and DoubleClick teams at Google. So what should I say, except that I’m super, super thrilled to have both fantastic and super accomplished women here with me through here. And Kim, welcome to. [00:02:00] [00:02:00]

Trier: Thank you for having [00:02:01]

Kim: us. Thanks so much. It’s an honor to be here. [00:02:04]

Michaela: Yeah, I’m really, really excited. It’s also the first interview for me, where I have like two guests here on my shows. I’m so I’m super excited. And I normally start my show with asking my guests how they actually landed in tech. So a little bit about your journey and here, I think it’s really interesting because you both have such a wild, a little bit wild and very diverse backgrounds. So three, I want to start with you. You served in the United States air force. Like, I mean, it’s already makes me wow. Right. And you led engineering teams there. How did you get into us air force. And how did you get into software engineering and how was that experience before. [00:02:44]

Trier: Yeah. I actually got into the air force through, by attending the air force academy. So I attended the air force academy for four years for college and then got commissioned as an officer. And I actually. Wanting to be an engineer. I majored in systems engineering because my dream job was actually to work on the planes. The future planes at the airport was going to build and take feedback from the pilot to make changes. That’s not what I ended up doing. I ended up doing cybersecurity, but that’s what I wanted to do. And here we are, so [00:03:21]

Michaela: okay. And cyber security. So. And did you do that as the U S M U S air force? Or where did you, when you do do that? [00:03:29]

Trier: I did that. I did that for seven years, active duty in the air force, cyber security, primarily defense. So preventing adversaries from getting into the us military is now. Oh, that [00:03:42]

Michaela: sounds very, very exciting. How was that experience for you working with probably quite a lot of man at that point. I mean, maybe that’s a very naive picture of the U S air force. I don’t know. Maybe it’s like equal, but I mean, engineering generally is very heavy, you know, unbalanced work [00:04:00] with diversity. So how is that in the us? [00:04:04]

Trier: Yeah. So that’s actually then how I, I usually say I stumbled into my passion with diversity equity, inclusion, DEI, and that was because there weren’t a lot of women in the military, particularly as an officer in the officer Corps. And as a black woman, there definitely were not a lot of black officers as well. Fewer black women officers. So that’s when I really started to understand what could we do as an institution, both at the air force academy level, air force, and DOD to increase representation in the U S. [00:04:40]

Michaela: And then you have also been at other companies like Twitter and other tech companies. How has that experience, is it different at the us air force or is that very similar? We say, well, people are similar or work. Cultures are similar, you know, problems are similar. [00:04:55]

Trier: Yeah. I think that, you know, every organization has similar problems. I mean, cause you’re dealing with people, but how you may approach them or solve for them will be unique and different. But every company and organization and industry has their own cultures and subcultures within those cultures. So it’s been quite an experience going from a military type of a culture to then, you know, wall street and Goldman Sachs and then two tech companies. But I think ultimately what’s really exciting is that. Really great challenges and really incredible smart people across all of them, but they’re vastly vastly different for sure. [00:05:32]

Michaela: What do you like? Could we generalize that it’s more, that’s more hierarchy there in the U S air force, at least that’s what I would think that it’s very radical and very like order and the, you know, [00:05:44]

Trier: yeah, there, I mean, there’s definitely a chain of command. You, you know exactly how many people in levels there are between you and the commander in chief, the president of the United States, but there’s a, you know, I think the biggest difference from a culture [00:06:00] perspective is. And the military, as I say, everything that the military does is either to save a life or take a life on wall street. Everything at Goldman was about making a dollar, losing a dollar. And then I found at tech, you know, it’s, it’s really just about. What’s been really energizing about tech. It’s like, what is the cool new thing, right? Like what’s the new, cool thing that people want to build or how do you want to solve it? And, and, and building upon that. And it’s been really interesting, but very different cultures as far as like what motivates people to show up. [00:06:36]

Michaela: Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. I like it this very, very, to the point abstracted essence of what it means to work somewhere, right? Like a dollar alive. And now we say, well, the coolest and newest and shiniest thing, even though I think maybe Twitter and, you know, like those tech companies are a little bit more advanced. There are a lot of tech companies that are quite old school, boring tech companies, where I wonder a lot, like I’m doing a study right now. Um, work culture and what motivates people and productivity, satisfaction, happiness, and a lot of people deal with not that new and shiny thing, right. They work with, you know, established technologies and. What I’ve seen from the interviews that I did is that people are not only motivated by, you know, the new and Chinese thing, but really the, the value also that they bring with their, with the product, for example, or sometimes it’s just the people that you’re working with that are very, very energizing and, you know, bring your motivation. And I have seen it as quite diverse and really depending on the company and the environment, people are very, also adaptable to the environments that they are in. When, you know that thing isn’t going so well, they can adjust and focus on something else. Is that also your experience that, you know, even if you’re in a workplace where some of the things aren’t going that well, depending on what kind [00:08:00] of things you’re focusing on, something else, and people are tough. [00:08:05]

Trier: Yeah, I think that that’s one of the things that, you know, professionals that you gain with experience is just how to be adaptable and how to understand, you know, how to make the biggest impact you can with the resources you have and, you know, collaborating together efficiently. And I think that that’s why, you know, just work the book and the framework that we have. Is really being so receptive to tech companies because we, we need to increase. We need to, you know, efficiently collaborate. Like how do we, how do we increase collaboration while also, you know, respecting individuality? And that’s what just work is because, you know, that’s, that’s the two by two that Kim gives you. And if, you know, cam from radical candor, like Kim’s going to give you a two by two and Kim is going to give you a framework. And, and it’s been really exciting too. Have the framework and the book leveraged in that way that, you know, teams are able to increase that collaboration. Yeah, [00:09:04]

Michaela: that’s really cool. I really want to deep dive into that and really understand a little bit more about that. But before we go there, I want to ask Kim a little bit about, about her background, because this is also super fascinating, right? So you manage a pediatric clinic in Kosovo. That’s what I read online. And you started a diamond cutting factory in Moscow. I mean, how, why, how did that come about? I mean, this is really a big change. We were just on vacation with my kids. And I read this article on a guy that, where he was looking for diamonds, and I told him about this to my kids and he actually found one and proposed with this diamond and that, and he was like, yeah, we are going to do that. And I was like, yes, I didn’t even know that it’s still a thing. So how did you do that? Like how did you diamond cutting or diamond timing companies? How does that go? [00:09:59]

Kim: [00:10:00] Well, so I, unlike TRIA, I had a very impractical major in college. I studied Slavic literature, so it wasn’t totally clear when I graduated, how I was gonna, how I was gonna make it. And I wound up, I wound up going to Russia and moving to Moscow and I took a job earning $6 a month, working for Moscow physical technical Institute and what I was doing there. I was the reason why I studied Russian was that I was very interested in. And ending the cold war and then the Berlin wall fell and it solved that problem solved itself. So I wound up in Moscow doing a study on military conversion, sort of swords into plowshares. And, uh, and that was very interesting. But then that company wound up pulling out of Russia and I wanted to stay in Russia. And so. As all things, this is what TRIA and I ain’t going to talk a lot. It all comes back to relationships. So through a friend of a friend, I wound up. Job in Moscow with this, with this diamond cutting factory. And that was actually where my interest in management started was, was I had a higher these diamond cutters, these workers, and I thought that they wanted that they were going to just want to be paid. I didn’t have any notion of management at the time. 22 years old. And I thought it would be easy. Cause I had dollars may have rubles dollars worth something and rubles were worth nothing. And so I went to them and I just said, I’m going to give you this salary. And I just assumed they would take the job, but no, they didn’t just want money. They wanted a picnic. And so we went out on a picnic together. And it turned out after a bottle of vodka. I finally figured out what they really wanted from a leader was someone who would give a damn who would get them out of Russia if things went sideways in that country, as they were apt to do at that time. And, and so that was all of a sudden [00:12:00] management became much more interesting than being just about paying people. It became about for me, Relationships. And as tree are said, learning how to create environments in which we can collaborate and respect one another. That didn’t lead me to attack immediately. That was a longer, I wound up in. I wound up in tech after I, after I, I graduated from business school and I worked for them. I worked for the federal government, the only person in my class to do so working at the FCC. And when I was there, the T this was, gosh, it was long time ago. Now it was in 1996, but the telecommunications revolution was, was in full swing. And that was, that was actually where my interest in tech. Working for the us government. So go [00:12:48]

Michaela: figure. Yeah. Yeah. And so there, you started doing something technical or managing technical people. How, how did you tip [00:12:56] Kim: I, so it’s very strange. So we were trying at the FCC to. And the settlement right system. So it turns out the United States is a net exporter of telephone calls. And because we had broken up the U S had broke it up. It’s it’s telecommunications, monopoly. We, these different telcos us telcos were negotiating with, with PTT that were monopolies and we were losing those negotiations. And so we were exporting billions of dollars in what’s called settlement rights. And those days it was quite expensive. I remember. The man I was dating at the time was in Africa and, and I called him and had an hour long conversation. And while that with a thousand dollar phone bill, so that was, remember those days we forgotten those days. But that, that, that was when I was there. And I, we were trying to end that we were trying to bring down the cost of international phone calls. And as, as we were looking at doing this through regulation, I learned about voiceover IP, and I thought, you know what? That [00:14:00] is the solution. W, and I wound up starting in Israeli voiceover IP company called Delta three. So that was my foray into tech. I thought, oh, well, yeah. Tech could solve these problems of bureaucracy. Wow. [00:14:14]

Michaela: Yeah. So you found it a lot of companies even in different countries and this must be such an. Impressive experience as well. I mean, I moved to several countries, lived there, established a life there, but even, you know, starting a company is another, another step. Right? Like you have to understand how to do that there, how people work, how people think that’s really, really impressive. And so you both together work on chest work. You wrote the book, just work. And now you have a consultancy around that. As I understand it, it’s like. Focusing on recognizing understanding and preventing or fighting injustice. But if you have to summarize it in one sentence, how, how would you say what’s the, what’s the essence of the book and, and why, why would people care? Why should they go and read it? [00:15:08] Kim: So the essence of the book is about really diagnosing and treating the problem of workplace injustice so that we can build the kind of organizations where we all want to work, where organizations that are optimized for collaboration, which is humanity’s superpower and organizations in which we can all respect. One another as tree said before, I don’t know if that counts as one sentence about chair can do it better than [00:15:34]

Trier: me. No, I think that’s, it can that’s that’s the essence of the book. And then for just work, the company, the company helps leaders and organizations build more equitable, productive, and successful workplaces. But what makes the company unique is that the just work framework. Book is definitely part of that, but we meet organizations where they are, because there’s also other things, you know, there’s not a [00:16:00] silver bullet to get this right. You have to have a very comprehensive strategy. And so we provide, you know, a full suite of D and I solutions and products that, you know, can help organizations get there so that they can just work because it takes a lot, you know, there’s not just one thing. That’s gonna get you there, but you have to have a starting place. Right. One of the things that’s just so powerful about the book is that, you know, we don’t have a lot of frameworks. We don’t, I, I have never been familiar with a. Framework that employees can use, that organizations can use, that leaders can use, that you can add to your toolkit. That’s very tactical, right? And so the fact that Kim has really built this and provided this is really powerful that you can point to something and people can easily grasp it and start using it in their every day, you know, in their everyday work situation. [00:16:57]

Michaela: So, what you’re describing is this diagnostic tool for identifying and treating systematic work injustice. Is that also described in the book? And can you describe it for my listeners? How it looks like, how can they imagine it? What does it do? [00:17:13]

Kim: How do we work? Sure. Absolutely. So I think we tend to treat the problem of workplace injustice as though we’re one big monolithic problem. And when we treat it that way, it becomes very difficult to, to, to cure the problem to solve the problem. And so what we’ve done is we broken down the problem into its component parts. So the, the, at the root, the root causes of workplace injustice or bias, prejudice, and bullying. And I think too often, we tend to conflate those three things. We treat. We treat them as though they’re all the same thing, but they’re different. So bias is sort of not meaning it. It’s often unconscious. Prejudice is meaning it it’s a conscious belief and bullying is being mean or meaning [00:18:00] harm. And so each of these, each of these attitudes and behaviors demands a different kind of confrontation. And then when you add power on top of bias, prejudice and bullying, you wind up with discrimination, harassment, and physical violations, and we can walk you through some of the, some of the solutions that we recommend that leaders can put into place and, uh, upstate. Can use so that they don’t get slimed by other people’s bad behavior. And that we can use when we are the person who’s harmed by these attitudes and behaviors. And also how we can respond when we get feedback that we are the person who was harmed. So in some senses, it’s like a six by four. It’s a big, it’s a, it’s a big problem, but six by four is not intractable. So there’s bias, prejudice, bullying, discrimination, harassment, physical violations. So those are the problems. And then each of us play four different roles where either the leader where the upstander. We are the person who’s harmed or where the person who’s causing harm. And one of the things that trio and I are working on doing is, is coming up with very specific interventions for each of those problems. Enrolls. [00:19:13]

Michaela: Yeah, I really liked that. And I think, especially when I was younger, I’ve ended up, I don’t know why I ended up quite often in situation where there was harassment or really bad situations. And I felt like people could already smell that they can step over boundaries and, you know, be mean, be bullying, um, even more. Right. And so, I don’t know. Is that something that you, that you saw, you probably did some research around that and, and very familiar with. [00:19:44]

Kim: So I think that it is one of the things that I have found is that when we, when we observe workplace injustice or we observe that someone is a colleague who we care about is coming into work, having experienced [00:20:00] injustice in the society at large. And if we don’t do anything about it, if we, if we are a passive bystander, Then I find at least I often wind up feeling quite good. And then, and then that wakes me up. And now all of a sudden, not only am I a bystander, I’m also harmed by it, but I also have caused harm by not intervening. And so now all of a sudden I’m playing three of those roles. And so teaching teaching. Sort of bystanders to become upstanders is really important. And then also working with people who are the targets, bias, prejudice, and bullying to know how to respond. Cause it’s it’s. I think we have a default to silence and very often when, when there is a default to silence, then we reinforce the problem. So, so helping people learn how to choose a response. [00:20:58]

Michaela: I also think like I’m coming from Europe and especially Australia. So I don’t want to generalize for whole Europe now. There is in Austria then was when I entered the workforce. I wasn’t really expecting that people were really nice to me. You know what I mean? Like the school system here is already that, you know, there’s like the power hierarchies and teachers can be quite mean and you know, the person is the boss, so they can, they have, somehow people are expecting the boss to be mean and, you know, to be in power and to be able to say mean things. Over time. Very, it took me many, many years and you know, many countries to work on that. I also changed my, my perception and I said, well, what happened at that point where I felt really shitty as a, you know, as a student, for example, with professors or even working at university horrible, horrible work environment, harassment, but really official harassment, like shouting in front of the colleagues. Like the professor, for example, nobody would stand up because. [00:22:00] The new it, but it weren’t like it wasn’t, it wasn’t something that you would say, oh, it’s not allowed. It’s not good. We know it, but it wasn’t really not allowed. And just over time, and those were being in the U S I get more sensible for it. And I was like, this was really unright at that point, I would, you know, like, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t my current. Understanding at that point that this is something that is not allowed. How do you see that? Is that, is that a cultural thing as well? Or it has to do, I think it’s cultural, but it’s also probably with the age, right. That you’re really young and you’re coming into and you don’t know what’s right. And what’s wrong. Is that allowed or not? [00:22:37]

Trier: Yeah, some of that, some of it is culture and how things are communicated, but you know what you’re, I think that what you’re, what you’re getting to are some gaps within organizations, within their people, HR practices, because there’s a need for things to be very explicit and not be implicit. And one of the things that we talk about in the framework is having a code of conduct. Right. And it needs to be very clear. So. People can think and believe whatever they want, but you can’t come into an organization and do and say whatever you want. And so in a company to your point, like it has to be very clear. This is not acceptable, or these behaviors and attitudes are acceptable. And then another part that we talk about in the framework is having, you know, a holder of consent. And that’s another one that, you know, Kim and I have spent a lot of time talking about, about we’re in an organization. Organizations, aren’t very explicit on a culture of consent. Right? So like McKayla, you’ve probably worked at organizations where if we said, Hey, was there a culture of consent in your previous organization or companies? And most people will say, well, yeah, there’s a culture of consent. No, one’s going to say no, we don’t have a culture of consent, but it’s, it’s, it’s implicit. But those are things where organizations have to make it very, very clear. Right. Like in whatever type of documentation employees, reading adhere to that, [00:24:00] everyone can point to it. Everyone understands what it is. And the other thing that Kim and I have talked about a lot is that in this, you know, environment of a pandemic with COVID and people going back into the workplace, having that being explicit is really important because it goes beyond. You know, these physical interactions, it might be more intimate or personal to something as simple as like a handshake, right. There’s culture of consent. And COVID is like, what are we going to do with the handshake? It was interesting yesterday in my building, someone reached out their hand to introduce themselves to me because they’re a new member of the staff. And I was like, I’m never shaking, anyone’s hand again, but we can like nice to me to pull it out. Right. But like, how are companies thinking about this in your organizations or even, you know, you’re in a meeting. If someone wanted to borrow my pen and didn’t ask you just grabbed it. I wouldn’t think too. Now, if we’re in a meeting and you grab my pen and I’d be like, you know what, it’s yours have it. I have plenty on my desk. So, you know, these are some of the things that I think there’s real opportunity for leaders and organizations to really pause, look at the artifacts that they have for their employees that help them understand. What is acceptable, what is expected of their behaviors and their actions in the workplace. And if there’s things missing, then where do we need to add and fill some gaps so that we can get it right. And it’s very clear of as far as like, what is expected of people. [00:25:22]

Kim: And I think also McKayla, I’m sorry you had those experiences in school. It sounds like. Sort of acceptable for professors to bully students. And I don’t think that’s unusual, unfortunately I don’t. I think that happens everywhere in the world to a certain extent. And, but I do, I also think it’s changing. I’m Optum. Well, I’m, I’m an eternal optimist, but I really do. In fact, I learned how to deal with bullying from my daughter when she was in third year. So she was getting bullied on the playground as happens, children everywhere in the world, unfortunately, and, and her [00:26:00] teachers weren’t doing enough about it. I mean, one of the things that trior and I work with leaders on doing is creating consequences, but there were no consequences for this kid who was bullying my daughter. And so she and I were talking about how to deal with it. And I was sort of. Trying to convince her to use what we call an I statement with this little kid and to say, I feel sad when you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And my daughter banged her fist on the table. And she said, mom, he is trying to make me feel sad. Why would I tell him he succeeded? And I thought, oh my gosh, she is exactly right. And so we talked about it and we realized a use statement is much more effective. If an I statement sort of. Invite someone in to see things from your perspective, a you statement pushes them away. So you can’t talk to me like that, or you need to stop now or, or what’s going on for you here. If, if it feels like those first two statements might escalate the situation too much. But the point is with the use statement and the Facebook. You are now in the active role and you’re making the other person, the person who’s bullying. You answer your questions. So you’re not submitting to the bullying and that is really crucial to respond to it. So I think it’s, and I think increasingly leaders are beginning to understand that it is a part, whether they’re a teacher or a manager or a CEO, they’re beginning to realize. Part of their job to tamp down bullying in their organizations. Because if humanity, superpower is collaboration, as we were talking about earlier, bullying is a collaboration killer, and it might work for the person who’s bullying, but it’s bad for the team collectively. [00:27:52]

Michaela: Yeah. One thing that came to my mind is I love to talk about software engineering practices ended [00:28:00] on this podcast as well. And. What I’m wondering sometimes is how, and probably you, as the experts here, you thought about that already. How can some of the engineering practices shape our culture, or how are you doing this? And do you think that they can increase or decrease, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion? For example, cultural abuse, right? There are also studies on biases in culture abuse that, you know, certain, certain types of groups GAD, their cultural views rejected for, you know, for no reason or less of a reason than other people or what I always saw. Like the Friday night beer. Well, like I hated the Friday night there. I don’t drink beer and, you know, it’s very, very stereotypical, but I don’t drink beer and there was no wine, never, ever a wine, right. Or a coal gore, you know, I would even like more, just a soda or something. Right. It’s sort of the Citroen. What is your, what are your thoughts on that and how, how we should, should we reflect on it? Is there something around engineering, testing, code reviews, even there’s Def [00:29:06]

Trier: ops. Yeah. Okay. It’s so interesting. Having been an engineer, led engineering teams, working at tech companies, working very closely with engineering leaders. There was a lot of things that are problematic in kind of the engineering culture and it doesn’t have to be right. That’s the part that. So, so silly is that it doesn’t have to be that people consist, like continue to perpetuate and make a conscious effort not to change their behaviors because it works for that person or the status quo. But we have to challenge the status quo. What are some things that engineering leaders and teams can do? One that I was really inspired. And there’s a bunch of, there was an article written about it and there was a bunch of tweets on Twitter and it got a lot of attention actually from a black engineer that when I was at Twitter, my university recruiting team actually hired, but they created this docu. [00:30:00] And really getting engineers to change even the language that they use, right? Like a black list versus a white list. There’s a lot of problematic language and language is so important in engineering. And so even like going and finding that list and saying, okay, we’re going to change some of this language. We’re not going to use, you know, this language anymore because it just reinforces bias. And, and our, our minds are very, very powerful. And so I think the language that is used within engineering is step one. Right? That’s that’s one, two. What is really interesting is I, I was working with a white man engineering leader. At a previous company once. And he’s a true, I have one of the highest performing engineering teams at the company and they’re all white men. So if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Like, why would I need, you know, like if, if we’re performing and we’re high performing, like w why does it matter that everyone on the team are white men? And I said, wow, like you, you think if you’re high-performing with just all of these white men on your team, The data, the data and the research is there that we know more diverse teams, outperform homogenous teams, right? Imagine what you could be if you actually had representation on your team. And I wasn’t even my, my engineering background didn’t even align with what he did, but I pointed to an engineer on his question. This was a team that part of their responsibility was to write algorithms. To identify hate on a platform. If you look at most platforms, underrepresented women, first of all, trans women and black women face the most hate on most social media platforms. So if that is the population that experiences the most hate, but yet you have a group of white [00:32:00] men that are supposed to write the algorithms to do find that hate. That’s problematic. Right. There we is that we are, I don’t even know exactly how to do, I don’t know how to do your job, but I just know that it’s not working. Right. And we also know that. These populations are still experiencing so much hate on every single platform. And one of the problems is that we don’t have a people who look like the populations who can identify that those populations have considered the table and have those conversations about like, how do you really define that and make it better? And so I think that, like, we really need to think about representation on the teams for that that’s inclusive for the problems that we’re solving for the communities that it impacted. [00:32:42]

Kim: I think, I think that’s exactly right. It’s so important to be willing, to interrupt bias in engineering culture. And there is a lot of it. And so one of the things that TRIA and I work with with engineering leaders to do is to, to, to begin to disrupt bias. And, and so there are a couple of points to, to disrupting bias. There are a couple of different. The first is you need to come up with a shared vocabulary. So TRIA and I use a purple flag. So if I wave a purple flag, it means either I’ve said something biased or someone else in the room has, and we know that fear. And I know that. So, so shared by other teams we’ve worked with, have you. I come again, or I don’t think you meant that the way it sounded or piece it doesn’t the words matter. But, but I can’t give you the words your team has to choose the words that you will actually use. So come up with the words. The second point is you’ve got to commit to using the body center up there. You know, that bias is occurring in every single meeting you have. So you need to come up with an expectation that bias is going to get flagged at least once in every meeting. And then the third, the third thing to do is [00:34:00] to teach people what to do when they are the person who’s caused harm when it’s their bias, who’s being flagged. So if, if TRIA waves a purple flag at me, I get two choices of what to say back. And she asked the same two choices when I wave one at her. The first is thanks for pointing it out. I’m going to work on not doing that again. That again, or thanks for pointing it out. I don’t quite understand what I did wrong. Can we talk about it after the meeting? And then we do have to talk about it, or if we’re on video meeting, we can drop a link into the chat that explains it. And the reason that it’s so important to interrupt bias is that if we don’t interrupt it publicly and in the moment where we reinforce it. And so I’ve seen this happen, In code reviews, you asked specifically about code reviews all the time, where, where you find that, that people are reviewing. Code of, of, of someone who’s underrepresented very differently from the way they’re reviewing other people’s code. And it’s important, this, this brings us to the second point. So we’ve got to interrupt it when we notice it, but we also need to quantify it to go out, looking for it, quantify your bias and. This means that if you, if you are in your code review, you can quantify how many times someone has negatively reviewed people’s code. And then you can take a look at whose code they’re not going to play review it. And if you notice that men tend to negatively review women’s code more than. Men’s code then you know, that you have identified some bias in your code review. Another simpler thing that I experienced, I was working with a leadership team at a tech company, big tech company, and their bias quantification did not take a lot of effort. They noticed that they had not promoted any women to the executive team at this company. And the [00:36:00] company had been around for about 10 years. So they knew it was a problem. They knew the problem was not the women who worked at the company. They had a lot of great women, so they knew there must be something broken in their recruiting process. And so they invited me to their credit to join their promotion committee, meeting to note because everybody on the committee was man. So they thought maybe I would notice something that they themselves had not noticed. And. There were two people up for promotion. One, a man, one, a woman, both of them had great reputations for being excellent managers, building teams that were very highly functioning and very loyal loyalty. Each of these, these two individuals and. They referred to the man who was up for promotion as a great leader. And they prefer, they referred to the woman who was up for promotion as a real mother hand. Now, who are you going to promote the real leader or the real mother hen. And, and so I pointed this out to them and at first they sort of were like, oh, Kim, come on. It’s no big deal. I said, it is a big deal. This is why you’re not promoting women. It’s like the, the, the subtle ways that language impacts the way you think about people, it, you know, is real and you’ve got, that’s why it’s so important to quantify your bias and then go look and figure out what’s wrong and not what’s wrong with the underrepresented candidates, but what’s wrong with your hiring processes or your promotion processes or. [00:37:33]

Michaela: So you’re saying that we have to be very consciously thinking and looking at bias and what’s going on to do work. And it looks like it’s not just work, but it’s also work all the time on, you know, improving our collaboration our way we work together. More powerful. Yeah. Maybe the last question that I have for you too, as you’re giving workshops on inclusion, diversity [00:38:00] and equity. So. How do that workshop works. And also who should be on the workshop should be asked advocates, like people that are already pro diversity, equity and inclusion, or should we better have the skeptics participate or a mixture, or how are you going about that? Is there a minimum number of people at the company that have to take such a workshop to be, you know, to, to, to get that ripple through in the organism? [00:38:28]

Trier: Yeah, I think that, you know what we have seen and it’s, it’s, again, it’s been so nice to have such a positive response that we can come into an organization and do a, just work keynote for an hour or a half day workshop. And that we’re literally leaving people with tactical and practical things that they could implement. And it’s for everyone right now. Yes, there are. In the frame where we talk about, you know, what do you do? Whether any w if you’re in either of the four roles, like a person who’s been harmed. A person who’s a upstander, which is a bystander who actually intervenes, or if you’re the person who caused harm or a leader, and we can do a deeper dive as far as like what leaders and organizations should be doing. But there’s something for everyone in the framework now just work the company. We also though have a lot of D and I. Seminars that we do talking about language, talking about, you know, what does, how do you reduce bias in your recruiting? What does it mean to, you know, take all this education and awareness that you get and put it into action in the workplace, right? And those are seminars that are for everyone as well, whether it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey. Because for those who actually think that, Hey, I am a, I am an advocate. I am a ally. You know, one of the things that we talk about in one of the seminars, How do you go from being an ally to an advocate? Because allyship is very passive, right? And ally is saying, I’m not going to cause you harm, which is good. Right? We don’t want people to call [00:40:00] each other harm, but an advocate, it says, not only am I not going to cause you harm, but I’m going to through action. Stick up for those who have been marginalized and through action. And, you know, create a platform and uplift those who, who need, who, who have been marginalized and know that like they may not have access to all the same opportunities as you. And so how do you use your privilege in that way to be an advocate? And so it doesn’t matter where you’re at in your journey. There’s something that we all need to continue to educate because. It’s not a sprint and it’s not a marathon either. I hear that a lot of like, oh, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. No, it’s actually not a marathon because for those of us who have run a marathon, there is a destination, right. When we’re very happy about that, but there’s no destination for this. We have to continue to do this work. And you know, the other thing that I tell folks is one of the reasons I love, I love this work is because as long as there’s a majority, there will always be a minority. And what’s interesting though, is that as time goes on, Those audiences and those groups have changed and they’ve evolved. And so it’s, and that means that we always have to continue to the work to understand who are the minority groups that we need to ensure that we are paying attention to that we are representing them and that they are having equitable experiences, just like every. [00:41:15]

Michaela: Is there something that you would say to my listeners that they should take away from this episode? What is like the one tip that they can do maybe from both of you? So we have two tips for them that they can go and start doing just today and in their workplace to make it better and nicer forever. [00:41:37]

Kim: Sure. I think if you can distinguish between bias, prejudice, and bullying and respond to bias, which is just not meaning it with an I statement, which invites the other person. And to understand things from your perspective, respond to prejudice with an it statement. Cause prejudice is a conscious belief. The person means what they say. And so you need to show them where the boundary is. They can believe whatever they [00:42:00] want. They can. Do or say whatever they want. So, and its statement can appeal to the law. It is illegal and it can appeal to an HR policy. It’s a violation of HR policy, or it can appeal to common sense. And it’s ridiculous, you know, to, to refuse to hire a woman, for example, and then last but not least with bullying, which is being mean, respond to it with a use statement. You can’t talk to me like. [00:42:25]

Michaela: Okay. I like that. Very, very concrete. Cool. Do you know one thing that you would want tip that you could give me? Yeah, [00:42:32]

Trier: so I think it’s really interesting. And Kim is the one who really pushed and challenged me on this is that I’ve always said that Kim empathy is the catalyst for change in this space. And Kim would say, We need more compassion. And I was like, I want, no, I want more empathy. And then I really had to understand the difference between empathy and compassion. And so I still do believe that empathy is a catalyst for change, but the change actually occurs through compassion. And the difference is, is that empathy is yes, you are putting yourself in that person’s shoes. You’re understanding what that person is going through, but compassion is you wanting to. Through action. Take that pain away, take that suffering your way, do something about it. And so it’s, I think that it’s a journey, right? There was something that I saw about how you go from feeling sorry for someone and having pity to having sympathy. To having empathy and compassion. And so what I would encourage your listeners is to say, where are you in that journey? And to really strive to get to compassion, which means that, you know, that’s showing up through action and then understanding what that app. [00:43:54]

Michaela: Yeah, thank you. I really like it. Great. Thank you so much. You both for taking the time [00:44:00] being on my show, I really enjoyed it. I will put the book there. If you have other links, I will share them down in the, in the show notes. So thank you so much. I thank you for being on my show. [00:44:10]

Kim: Thank you. [00:44:12]

Michaela: Yeah. Wonderful. Bye. Bye. [00:44:14]

Kim: Bye. [00:44:15]

Michaela: I hope you enjoyed another episode after sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again in two weeks. Bye.

 

Falling in love with the JavaScript community

In this episode, I talk to Tracy Lee. Tracy is the CEO and co-founder of This Dot Labs, a widely successful dev shop. She is also a speaker, conference organizer, and blogger.

We talk about:

  • how she dared to start her first start-up as soon as right out of college,
  • how she learned to program and fall in love with JavaScript and the community,
  • how she founded a successful development shop,
  • her advice in terms of a marketing-driven versus product-driven startup launch.
Continue reading

The Secret To High-Quality Code with Dr. Michaela Greiler and Liran Haimovitch

In this episode, I talk to Liran Haimovitch, CTO of Rookout – an effortless debugging tool, about how to get to high-quality code.

We talk about:

  • what are the challenges of moving fast
  • what does productivity mean
  • a lot about code reviews
  • and I also give you a glimpse of the research I’m currently doing.

Book your awesomecodereview.com workshop!

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript:

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

 

Michaela: Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host dr. Michaela and today I have a special episode for you. Two weeks ago I talked with Liran haimovitch,the CTO of Rookout – an effortless debugging tool. Our conversation was so much fun and somebody on Twitter asked me if I could make it an episode on, and i thought, that’s a brilliant idea. So, today I’m sharing my talk with Liran on the challenges and strategies for getting to high-quality software. Enjoy.

maror:[00:00:00] Um, hi everyone. And welcome to our webinar today on the secret to high quality code. We’re really excited to have you all here with us. Uh, so let me introduce you to Dr. McKayla and the stars of today’s webinar. Dr. McKayla has been helping software teams build high quality software in an efficient and effective way for 10 years. And her mission is to lead teams. So I’m up there full potential through company workshops and team coaching sessions. Leanne is the co-founder and CTO of workout, which is a live data collection and debugging platform. He’s an advocate of modern software methodologies like agile lean and DevOps, and his passion is to understand how software actually works. So when he’s not thinking of code, which is rarely usually diving, hiking, or writing a new workout blog. Um, and so before we get started, I just want to remind you all that we do have time for questions at the end of the webinar. So please don’t hesitate to leave questions in the question box and this will be recorded and we will be sending you the recording at the end. So. You’re on and McKayla, please take it away.

michaela: [00:01:02] Thank you so much for your really nice and kind introduction. I’m really excited to talk with Liren today about, um, high quality code and get his whole perspective on this topic and pick his brain. So yeah, I’m really thrilled to be here. It’s

liran:[00:01:19] great to be here with you discuss so many interesting topics.

michaela:[00:01:24] Yeah, really cool. So in, in the beginning we discussed a little bit, like what should this webinar be about? And we thought like, let’s come up with this idea that we are asking each other a little bit questions that, you know, are burning questions for ourselves or that we very often, you know, encounter. And, um, so I want to start with that theme and I want to ask you about. The challenge that you see, or the challenges that you see that, uh, engineering teams face nowadays, but really moving fast. Right? So there’s like this accelerate the book, for example, there, the Durham metrics are many other metrics around code velocity. So it’s apparently something that we want to do, right. We want to move fast. We want to be productive, but what are the challenges and how can we actually achieve that? So

liran:[00:02:12] I can say from my personal experience as well from pretty much everything I read on the topic, the best way to move faster is to work in smaller units. You mentioned Dora, the Dora metrics and accelerate, and they’re constantly about, you know, roundtrip time for new features and the amount of new features that are being released. And how can we build in it? How can we work in smaller unit to Falk? And the reason for that is because smaller units of work allow for much faster Predix cycles that allow you to learn much more. You get more feedback, you get, you learn every step of the way you learn more often, and you also get delivered more value to the cost, to the end customer on a more frequent basis. And in a way that’s actually driving a lot more value. I guess the biggest challenge is actually, how, how do you do that? How can you keep moving ever faster? How can you deliver in smaller units while still keeping delivery efficient? And I found that one of the best way, the best way to start is quite often culture. And we talked a bit about you, eh, doing some rich recent research for that. So I would love to hear about. What do you think about how best to build a better culture and how to promote a culture that deliver faster and deliver in smaller units folk?

michaela:[00:03:34] Um, I’m a big advocate for, for great, uh, culture, right? Who isn’t somehow everybody wants to work at the company that has a great culture, but unfortunately not everybody is I’m currently actually doing a research project that I that’s. The one that I talked with you about a little bit is on productivity and work culture and the experiences of developers at their companies. And so I’m, I’m doing right now, a qualitative study, a grounded theory study where I’m really. Trying to deeply understand how are people experiencing their work place and what factors are influencing their satisfaction, their happiness, their productivity, and what, what enables them to move fast, as you said, to be productive, to be the best selves. And, you know, there are some factors around obviously release, for example, is one that’s also covered by the Dora metric. Um, how has the release experience? And here I’m not only talking about metrics because. I think on one hand, I’m extremely data-driven. Um, whenever I was working with teams or am working with teams, um, also at Microsoft, we did a lot of the research was very data-driven, but it was also, and this was very, very important for me, always. Um, Kwon qualitative as well. Right? So not only you’re looking at the data, which gives you a very include complete picture, but you’re understanding, trying to understand the whole experience. And so this research study is really looking at the whole lift experience of developers. So on one hand we have like metrics like, um, you know, release cadence or from time to commit or from time to merge and so on. So what what’s very quantitative quantifiable, but on the other hand, you have. Um, the impressions and the perceptions of people around that. Right? So are you feeling better with it are, um, are they feeling worse and the same is true for code reviews and so. A lot of the things can really back to culture and culture is somehow enabler here, right? So we have like this practices around those areas, let’s say release. These feedback loops that we have released is actually a feedback loop. Code reviews are a feedback loop, right? Talking with product management is a feedback loop. How, how seamless, how smooth can we make them? And culture is really an enabler for that. Why is it an enabler? Because if I’m allowed to say, if something is wrong or if I’m allowed to experiment, even experimented with some failures, right? Like I try something out, I try to work different with product management. It doesn’t work out what happens, right? What are the consequences of that? And. And that’s why culture is so important because if people feel that they can experiment, if they feel that they can also express their opinion on it, they will drive more improvement. Right. Um, the research is really a lot about improvement. How, how much improvement can people. Um, drive and they normally know what’s good. Right. They know what’s going bad. Um, or what’s good. And so it’s really about enabling them to act upon that. And that has a lot to do in here. The funny thing here is that metrics are really important to want on one hand, to enable people that we see and that we make it visible that there are problems. But on the other hand, metrics often also hold people back. Because if I’m, if I measured. By one metric. Right? Um, it means that if I’m trying something else, something new, that’s not covered by this metric. It very well, it could very well be that I’m actually slowing down or I’m. The metrics outcomes going down while I’m trying something out. Right. And so the question is really about culture here. Again, how are people handling that? Right? Do I always have to perform to my OKR or KPIs or whatnot, right. The metrics and the goals that set around, or am I actually allowed to experie experiment here with things that might slow us down for a short time when I’m doing the improvements, because improvements are really hard to do without. Short term slowing down, right? Technical debt. How are you going to work on technical debt and still keep the features going? Right? Yeah. So this is what I am seeing here

liran:[00:07:41] that actually brings to mind the analogy from lean production, where you stop the line. When you see something is wrong and you say you have the, you give a individual engineers or individual employees, the. The permission to call it, to stop the line and spend the time and efforts to improve things, even at the cost of lost productivity in the short term, because it allows for continuous improvement.

michaela:[00:08:09] Yeah, exactly. It’s a really good analogy. Yeah. I

liran:[00:08:13] think it’s so important to create. Um, I remember I talked a lot about feedback, but you’re right. It’s critical that it’s not just enough to have feedback, but it’s super critical that the feedback experience is going to be positive. Even if this feedback is negative, it’s important for people to be able to experience. Getting feedback, something positive and in a way that if they’re changing something or developing something, or if it’s a bad product idea that the negative feedback should be, you know, about the, the, the feature about the, the task that this feature was bad, but the person who came up with it wasn’t bad and they didn’t necessarily make a bad choice by, uh, you know, going after this feature. And. People should be glad about getting those so-called negative feedbacks and not attribute them personally. And that’s super important to the culture, to the experience, kind of, how do you go about creating that? How do you go about building that environment where you get continuous feedback and experience is good.

michaela:[00:09:23] Yeah. I mean, I’m, I’m, I’m thinking a lot about culture nowadays and, you know, to. The common sense is always all countries so hard, right? It’s so hard to change. And if I’m in a, in a bad place, you know, it’s a bad place. Um, and I think on one hand, that’s probably true, but I don’t hand now that I’m confronted. So, so a lot with that, and I’m really working a lot with organizations and that they in displaced, I’m thinking about the small things that you can do. And culture really begins now really coming back to something very concrete. Um, I’m all about code review. So culture begins already in cultural views and for example, code root feedback. And to, in my workshop, what I do, I work with people on how to give respectful feedback. And very often everybody thinks like, Oh, but I’m doing this right? Like we are not fighting in the code reviews or whatnot, or, you know, or it’s only instances of that where we are mean, but it’s more, it’s about the collective awareness of not only do I fight with somebody or, you know, is it an unrespectful, but really. Uh, is my mind about value? The value that I can provide to others is the, is my mind about how can I actually, you know, improve the experience of my peers here. And I think this is something that’s often not done, and this is something very small where a team can really. Start actively being more aware of that, more deliberate, more conscious about this. Um, and it starts already by understanding code is really, really hard and everybody has, um, everybody has a time pressure and you know, wants to deliver the features. And a lot of engineers say, well, you know, code review is good, but, uh, I actually have to deliver feature. So what’s about the time that I have to spend on the code review. Somehow it’s missing from my feature work and so on. And so having really empathy around that and the experience of myself, but also off my, off my team, that’s already creating culture, um, and being extremely, um, it bear that feedback, even if it comes from a good colleague that you think like, we are all, you know, good friends and we are really on the same page that we still really take. And this is now again, you know, slowing down, right. It’s slowing down to make sure that I’m phrasing this feedback in a very respectful way, because we know that feedback can sting. Right. Um, and it can be misinterpreted. A lot of the feedback comes through a tool, which means it’s an automated tool. I’m not directly talking to a person. So sometimes I forget it. And we are in this automated way of. Um, you know, looking through the algorithms, finding, you know, let’s say edge cases or whatnot, finding problems. And so if you are in a very technical state of mind, and then we are hammering in our feedback and say, Oh, Variable name is wrong or, you know, or should be different. And then going, you know, taking one step back and thinking, is that creating a good culture? Or can I take this, you know, two more minutes and say, Oh, you know, what about, um, renaming this and even giving an explanation, you know, w really expressing your, your mind. I think. Driving cultural change is definitely hard and, um, comes often also from the top, but there is a lot that teams can do for themselves. And even engineers themselves can ask themselves every day, like, what did I do positive today? Like I’m not only going somewhere in and they’re expecting that culture would be great, but am I actually contributing to, to making a good culture here? Hmm.

liran:[00:12:49] I think it’s so much more critical today as well, working remotely, because as you mentioned, we’re often in that technical state of mind, whether it’s on GitHub doing code review or on Slack or wherever, but behind what’s actually happening is we’re communicating with other human beings. We’re not just no analyzing code and the testing stuff we’re communicating to other human beings. And as we were, many of us are working remotely quite often, or most of the time. We can often forget there is a person on the other, on the other side of it. And sometimes we kind of forget to act with empathy, with compassion, and while we may be factually, correct. We’re not creating a good experience for the person on the other side of that communication.

michaela:[00:13:35] Yeah. And actually about the factually correct thing. I have learned over my, you know, my time in the industry that at seldom leader, Kate seldom Livia are very, very active, you know? And I think sometimes you forget about that and, and this is two perspectives. Cultural views are a place where two perspectives really are, you know, they are, they are the benefit of it. And there are also the problem, right? That you are constantly having somebody that looks at the same thing and say, well, but I’m seeing something else, right? Like I’m seeing technical debt and you say, but it’s fine. You know,

liran:[00:14:15] the thing is engineers so often feel like they’re factually correct. Even whether it’s or not, it’s the case. I just, and quite often we’re not actually factually correct. There is some degree of, eh, you know, afraid. Of common sense and various options. And w there is not one single truth out there, but even if there is even if you there is, and you’re convinced that there is in your, on that single spruce, it’s still communication. And you must not forget that there are other things beyond fact, too, and more often than not, there are actually no facts. And it’s just your opinion, which might be very good and professional, but it’s just an opinion.

michaela:[00:14:59] Yeah, very true. And a lot of the time it’s about strategies. And about the unknowns that you know, that the unknowns unknowns that we actually make guesses and decision and B we don’t know if they are the best ones. And we even in hindsight, we cannot decide like if we could have, you know, if you would have done it differently, would we have a better outcome? We don’t know. Right. So, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really dealing with that and, and embracing that and maybe reminding maybe something that we can do also, always over time to build this culture is reminding us of that. Right. It’s a little bit like we have to remind ourselves of the central things. We have to remind also ourselves that we are dealing with so many unknowns and that on one hand, you know, we are, I think at, at one point we have to go and say, Well, we don’t know better. And maybe some people disagree here, but now is the time that we are, you know, buying in and going this way together. And I think this is also important for engineering teams, right? So in one of my country workshops last week, for example, I give them a code base and it was, um, it seeded with errors, right? So it has issues and they asked the team to, to find those issues. And there are, you know, they are. Issues about readability, maintainability of the code, but there are also security issues. And so then we had a discussion about, you know, um, so there are a lot of issues. So how are you going to communicate to the person that wrote that code about those issues? Are you going to tell them all of them at once? You know, do we make like a plan around what should be, um, worked on first? And there was, for example, this discussion then between two senior engineers and they were saying, well, once by saying. Yeah. Um, so everybody agreed that, you know, sending them 300, 300 problems at one point is not the right thing to work with this junior. So, um, they were thinking, well, let’s do it in, in phases, but it didn’t, they couldn’t agree. Like if security issues are more important than readability issues or not only readability, but making the code work. Right. So there was this discussion that, well, this is early stage, so it’s, it’s probably a prototype, so we should have to, you know, show. So let’s do it. Make it correct first that it works and then work on the security issues that they had, like they had, there were injection box and cross site scripting products and so on. Right. But in the end, you know, like the whole team was discussing it. They couldn’t really find a way forward. Right. There was one side that was very convinced that, well, these are really critical security packs and they were really critical. And the other was like, well, but it’s, you know, we use it internally right now. It’s a prototype. So let’s make the functionality work first. And so what, there was a back and forth, and I think this was a really nice example of, I couldn’t tell, like, I couldn’t say like they wanted me to be now the referee and say, Oh, you win. Right? Like the security team, Vince, we first do a security or we first do inability, but there is no right or wrong answer. It’s just the strategy that you’re going to do. And probably that you’re not doing, you know, again, not sending all the issues at one is a good one. Um, but then in the end, it doesn’t matter if you do one or the other, as long as the security backs are not coming out right. In, in production. Um, yeah. And, and I think here it’s really important to step back from this discussion at one point and say it’s actually a nonsense discussion. Let’s, you know, flip a coin and do one or the other. Um, yeah, this is what I think about this. So a lot of the things is really. It really depends. And then we have to make a decision and if we made the decision, this is the important thing. And then everybody has to buy in and not like, keep this resentment and say, Oh, the security or pre approach first. Right. And I think it’s stupid. And so that’s why I’m blocking here, which is culture. I think.

liran:[00:18:49] Yeah. So actually it’s not, it’s interesting that you mentioned that because it’s such a big topic. And I mean, so much effort goes into code reviews and often becoming the button neck, both for whoever has to do the code review. And, you know, spend the time and walk and provided feedback in both wherever need, wants to get, just to get this code out there. And they’re just trying to, and, you know, they’ve just finished developing the feature. They just want to check off the it’s been called of you and send it out there. So kind of what strategies should company follow to speed up their code reviews?

michaela:[00:19:27] So, um, I totally agree that code reviews can become a bottleneck and they’re coming with a lot of pain points, but I think especially this. This mindset of, you know, cultivate is just another hurdle. Um, that’s something that people have to work on. Right. So, um, we really have to understand and carve out also, what’s the benefit of the code view? Why do we do it even here? Right. And if the feeling of the engineering as well, I just wants, uh, I want to look good to me and that’s it. Um, then obviously it’s a delay and it’s a bottleneck and you know, the value. Probably isn’t that high because even if the person gets good feedback, you know, if the person that receives it, doesn’t actually want it, you know, what’s the value of that. So I think that a lot of those is really for an organization and for a team to think about what do we want to get out of contribution? And there is a lot of imperative studies also that really show that the benefits like. Um, improved code base, readability, maintainability, um, less, you know, less issues, less facts, defects in posts and pre-releases, um, all of those are happening. Culture-based, there’s a lot of mentoring and learning happening. There is advantage knowledge sharing, but it’s only if I’m open to it. And if I’m very clear about what I want to get out of here, because if I want. Let’s say if I want to find it back, it would be the best to ask a person that’s familiar with the code to be on this code review and not, you know, a junior, but if I want to have this learning expect more in, in, you know, in the center, then obviously I ask somebody that maybe hasn’t seen that code part before, so that they get familiar, that I have knowledge dissemination that I have more people that are familiar about this code base. And I think most organizations. They’re not real bear. They, they hopped on this code review bag and because the hopped on, you know, to pull request, model to development and pull requests and code reviews are not the same. And so suddenly they wrote a pull request and they felt like, Oh, before I pull it in and look at the code and because I’m looking at the code, it’s already a code review. And so now I’m doing code reviews and I want all of these benefits without actually investing I’m investing. And then here it comes back to this slow down. Right. So I have to probably slow down first. Really find out with my team, what is it that we want to get out of code reviews? How are we structuring our processes, our practices, and this has to do a lot, right? Like, depending on the risk profile of this code review, who should be on the code review would ask for feedback, how long should it take them? What issues are they looking for? All of that can actually be designed and very deliberately made. And then you’re getting really a lot of benefits out. But if you’re not doing that, yeah. Then you’re in this state where. He just wanted, it looks good to me. Right? The other person knows you just want that, but still feel a little bit pressure, um, that they have to look at it because if it goes in, they’re also responsible. And so there’s this delay, um, and you don’t want to spend time for it, but you have to, you know, and then you having an, I actually have a, if you look on my website, there’s the code through your quadrant. Um, and this means like it’s, it’s, you have to access and it’s the speed of the process and the value. And this means that you often have them. Organizations that are slowing speed. And low in value. Right? So they are low in, in speed. They’re very slow. They’re bottlenecks and they don’t get value out or that they’re fight fast because they’re just giving out. Looks good to me, but they’re not getting value out of this. Right. But even if you’re waiting for look good to me, Like say half an hour or an hour or four hours, it’s still slowing down your process. And the question is, was it worth it right? If people are not really taking the time to review. So in the end for me, it was probably a very long answer to your question, but it really comes down to what, why do you do code reviews? Right. And do you have to have an answer for that? And probably depending on the code change, the risk profile of the code change and the code change, you will have different answers to that, or this code review. I want that, you know, my junior engineer knows how that works. And so I’m sending it over or this, this code changes about how we are doing the checkout. So I definitely want, you know, two more eyes, um, to make sure that there are no, no defects going out. Right?

liran:[00:23:47] Yeah. I mean, that sounds so complex. Can’t we just automate this and install some tool and get it over with.

michaela:[00:23:55] I definitely parts of it. And I think that a lot of people are, are, are doing stuff that tools should do for them. Right? So they, they, they are mocking on, you know, style issues they are talking about, you know, some, some things that actually study analysis tools could find. Um, or automated code review tools, whatever you want to call them. Uh, in the end it’s, it’s, linters that checkers steady analysis tools. Right. And they are actually much better than, than people. To find certain, certain errors and certain problems with your code, they can actually, you know, they can walk through your code and really find out, you know, if they’re, if, if some code paths are not called and tell you, Oh, this is actually not going to call it. Or, you know, really also back study analysis backs, but they are limited. So it’s, it’s not something, you know, they are not, you cannot comply, uh, replace the, the manual review. But you can replace a lot of that, you know, nitpicking, which is very unproductive and code reviews. Um, it doesn’t matter. Like why would you have an engineer spend time on finding certain types of errors? If a tool could do it automatically? I’m I’m all for automation. I think it’s so important to automate whatever you can automate here. Yeah. Are you using, are you using some automated tools in your pipeline?

liran:[00:25:15] So yeah, we actually adopted a GitHub advanced security. A few months ago at lookout. And it was actually a pretty good tool for us. It allowed us to gain some insights, actually both brought us a lot of insights into some of the other code that broke out and kind of knowing where we might’ve pitfalls, but it also managed ha ha is helping us moving forward, knowing that it could work coder pushing through discussed meeting there. No style checks and best practices, especially when it goes to more junior engineers or engineers or working in environments that are not a strength. Let’s say, I know most of our full stack engineers spend most of their days between a, you know, react and node JS, but occasionally they dive into Golang. And then all of a sudden, they’re not as fluent in, you know, what can go wrong and how should the code views. And some of those arrows can easily be caught by those automated static analysis tools. Also, it’s a very useful tool personally, we’ve, we’ve recently developed support for Ruby and surely within that skeleton of project, we started with Robocop, which is a very, very strict, eh, who bill inter. And that’s actually provided us with a lot of insight and kind of kept us very honest as we were developing the code, keeping functions, very short, creating a very orderly and well structured code. And that’s kind of something that it’s always a dilemma for me when starting a new project. Do you go ahead and spend a lot of time building the skeleton, building the CACD building, building linting. At the beginning of the, you wait for it later on, because you know that later on, doesn’t always get by. And if you’re adding a linter to an existing project, and then all of a sudden you’re getting, you know, dozens of errors, then you might not be, get going around to fix them because it’s too much work and that’s always kind of a dilemma. But for that project, it was a very good experience for us in developing high-quality code.

michaela:[00:27:25] Yeah, that’s really nice. Yeah. There’s also my experience. Like if you, if you add that to an already existing, quite substantial code base, right. It’s just out of hands, right. You will have like all these red flags, orange, whatever, you know, depending on the tool that you have, like different severities of issues. And I always feel really bad because. I know that I’m not going to be able, like to go back and, you know, redo the past. Um, you can do it slowly by slowly, right? Like I’ll voice called removal or at five by refactoring where you say, well, if I’m touching this code, I make it nice again or make it better and you can do it ongoing. Um, but yeah, I also feel like for, for existing code, it somehow has this, you failed here. Um, um, Psychological, uh, you know, by byproduct, but you’d be like, Oh, now I’m seeing what’s all messy and you cannot really do it. Um, yeah. But yeah, it’s good that it worked out. So apparently you could, could you remove all of the issues? Could you work through all of them?

liran:[00:28:26] So we got through, and I think 95% of them ere, there were some, a few areas where we decided that. That code is not going to be the nicest code in the project. And that’s okay. This code is mostly, you know, four, it wasn’t was low maintenance, low complexity, just a lot of, you know, lung functions doing boring stuff. And we said, that’s something we can live with without spending too much engineering efforts, kind of fixing it up and making it look the best.

michaela:[00:28:59] Yeah. So in the interview and the research interviews that I’m doing right now, we talk a lot about technical debt as well, and how people deal with technical debt. And I’m asking different organizations, different teams, their strategies for technical debt. What are your strategies? We have like some, you know, some amount per sprint that you can use on that, or how do you, how do you even. Um, assess the value of working on this, uh, you know, technical, then you were talking like, Oh, we already okay with this part of the code base, but how do you assess that? And on a more strategical, systematic level, right?

liran:[00:29:34] Yeah. So I guess that’s a two part question. And on the one part, we do have a strategy and I can talk about it a bit, but I think it goes beyond that. I found that for you, you mentioned actually early on that nothing in very literal in tech is factual and most of it is opinions. And I think that’s doubly true for a tech debt. And quite often one engineer joins a project and they decide that what’s happening. Much of, many of the decisions have been taken before they joined our tech that there have been wrong. And I would wager basic statement that it’s. Probably the other way around. I mean, if the project is live, if it’s generating value, if that piece of code was walking from when it was written up until now, then chances are the decision to, to do it. That way was actually correct. Or at least descent. And engineers often jump to say to, you know, define tech that because something is not in the latest design pattern or something is using an older technology or paradigm, or maybe simply because they don’t understand something. So often the first thing you have to do when you think of tech that is actually understand what’s going on and truly think for yourself. I truly think about it. Is this truly affected? Oh, is this something you lack an understanding? And actually that’s something we were seeing within Rueckert and with our customers that shook out is quite often used for once you have a better understanding of the code, because you can see how it’s working and you can see inside of it, then you quite often realize that’s not actually that that’s the, I just didn’t understand how it was working. And once you get gain a better picture of how is it working, why is it working that way? And none of the sudden then it makes perfect sense. But obviously sometimes there is real product that there is real tech that they, for the most part, we kind of manage tech debt on a, you know, quarterly on a quarterly roadmap. We have a very. Agile flexible quarterly roadmap while we manage our roadmap, eh, usual, all the rollout. And you also kind of add, you know, a handful of tasks for each team and full of mid-level mid large tasks for each team where they can, whether they should strive for a tech that. And obviously, you know, like that usually comes last in priorities priorities. So it doesn’t always get executed a lot. Depends on the roadmap progress in general and especially on a. Eh, eh, new tasks that get pushed in from the sales team as well, working with customers. And there are always new requirements for improving performance, for a meeting new criteria for giving the best experience with possibly can for our customers. And those often override some of other stuff we have on the roadmap, but we do try to get at least some of the tech that cleared every quarter, just to get a few low hanging fruits with high impact stuff. That’s been bothering us, that’s bothering the team. And also we find that having those, you know, tasks in the queue engineers kind of find time in way to get to them, to get it out of the way.

michaela:[00:32:56] Yeah. So what, what reminds me and what I wanted to ask you in that context is that the original or one of the very early on definitions of tech dad was code that didn’t have tests right from my Confederacy would say, well, it’s tech that if you don’t have tests, because then you really have a hard time refactoring and often, you know, There’s also this new, I was actually, I did a podcast with him, uh, recently on, on, on my podcast and we were talking about it and then he, and he also sat like tech tech. That is the code that has been outlived, but a person that. Wrote it right. And that in our days in our, in our, um, very fast pace or, you know, um, take industry where people will stay two years, maybe at the company, they write code and they actually never really see it in the maintainance pace. Right. So do you see it when they’re writing it? Maybe when you’re releasing it. And so a lot of the, you know, like a lot of the, the. Code becomes tech deck, because the knowledge is actually gone from the organization that, you know, wrote that that code or, you know, can maintain or understand it. What’s your perspective on that?

liran:[00:34:07] So there’s actually a truck out we’ve kind of we’ve wrote and talked a lot about understandability. It’s exactly what you mentioned. It’s about knowledge it’s about if you’re able to understand the software, the code fairly well, then. You’re the new C you can do a lot. I mean, you can get stuff done. I mean, I think the most obvious example of that is, you know, those simple exercises you get on introduction to computer sciences file from disk, Salton array, eh, those kinds of stuff. And you know, those exercises you can usually do right now as a senior engineer in 10 minutes, 20 minutes. And you’re done, but if you were to get the same task within the context of a very large system, especially one you’re not intimately familiar with, then all of the sudden the same tasks can take you weeks. And then you’re going to start complaining about tech debt and lack of knowledge and documentation. And if at the same time, or to give that same task to the two, a person who was one of the founding team of that system, they’re still going to get it done in, I know maybe not 10 minutes, but 30 minutes. And preserving knowledge is super critical. And at the same time, we need better tooling. We need better tooling that would allow us to work with systems that are complex, that we’re not intimately familiar with. Obviously testing is there, as you mentioned, testing is a form of tech that because testing is a Godwin. That allows it to operate in a, in an area where you’re not familiar with. It allows you to easily debug the code that I, you to see it in action. Even though it’s a developing environment, you can see the code running, you could see it in action. You can make changes in a control mirror. We know what you’re changing, you know what you’re going to impact, but that’s at the same time, I think tests can be incredibly expensive. Even more so if you’re not already familiar with the code, so it’s kind of, you know, a conundrum you’re saying the code is not very good because it’s effective because it doesn’t have any tests and it doesn’t understand it, but then it’s going to be very hard for you to add tests to the code. You’re not honest. You don’t understand. I think observability tools, by the way, can provide you with some insights into how the code is walking. Right. Eh, but at the end of the day, nothing beats just debugging the code, stepping through it, see what, see the actual types and values of variables, seeing the inputs and outputs of the system and seeing it in action. That’s the best way to understand the code.

michaela:[00:36:45] Yeah. I think the too, when I was at the university of Victoria in Canada, um, I was doing a research as a bicycle there. And they, they developed a tool. I think at that point was called driver. You will not find it because it was a research tool, right. Not really popular and bad. The tool itself was really cool because it helped you understand cold. Um, my, my research area was called comprehension. And so really helping teams and engineers understand code. And so this tool was made in a way that you could Deepak and it showed, you know, the traces and the values as you just described. Right. But this is like, 15 years back pretty long time. So it was very novel at that point. Right. And so this was really used to understand coach. I think debugging is definitely one of the ways how we understand code, right. That we really go through it and try to understand what’s going on a really interesting resource maybe in that, um, in that regard is also a book that’s coming out from a friend of mine, for the Hermanns it’s called. The program has brain and it talks a lot about cognitive load and code reading. Um, there’s actually a workshop that I’m going to attend today about code reading, um, from her. And, um, yeah, and I think this is really, this is really interesting because it again goes into these different versions of cognitive load and also confusion that you have with code and confusion can come, come from different sources. One is lack. Of your own knowledge, right? So being a junior or, you know, being a senior engineer, you have a different knowledge base. So you can actually go back to your longterm memory and quickly access how to load the file, or you know, how to save a file, how to close a file and so on. And then as a junior, you have to really think actively think about this with means that you’re. Your, your processing power more or less, right? It’s reduced because you have activity after actively think about this. And we can think around four to seven things. So if you’re already thinking about those things, you know, there are only two more things that you can add. And as a senior example, you, you. You have that in your long-term memory. So you have seven things that you can think about. And the interesting aspect here is also the same with what you said about the code base. If I’m familiar with the code base, I can load parts of that from my long-term memory. And I don’t have to use my short term memory. I don’t have to use the processor for that. Right. Um, and so there’s definitely, there’s exactly what you’re seeing here. Um, maybe something else that I want to add here is you said knowledge dissemination. And code reviews are really good for that. Right? So that’s why I’m saying the organization has to understand the benefits as a whole, right? And suddenly if you understand that, well, if I can actually have, have a, a larger part of my team, be more familiar with a larger part of the code base, that’s actually extremely valuable and it will. You know, it will speed up your development process quite a bit. And there are also studies on that around code reviews where we really see that, um, it teams that have code reviews in place. They already have a Vitor understanding of the code base than teams that don’t have. Right. They’re only known only know what they’re working on. Um, and so why it’s slowing you down to do the reviews. It really speeds you up. Once you have to work in this pace, right. Or in this place off the copies, or if somebody leaves, you have other engineers that are also familiar with. With that. And so I think there are other benefits that are really, really, um, really important here. Yeah.

liran:[00:40:19] Yeah. I mean, I’m hearing here speak, it’s obvious. You’re an advocate of code reviews and you’re passionate about it and you’re making great, great arguments about why it’s so important and how the part, the value fit. But don’t people ever come to you and say, I don’t know, it’s slowing me down. It’s making stuff complex. I mean, I don’t want to do pull quest. I don’t want to do code reviews. I just want to skip the whole things and kind of what do you send them?

michaela:[00:40:50] So, honestly, I don’t, I don’t have a lot of people that have this complete mindset. I have a lot of people that would say I really would like to skip code reviews because I don’t have time to do them because my reward system around my recognition and what I’m expected to do is something completely else. And then I have to look at code reviews and, and this is not part of it. Right. So I recall one person, I was just talking with them. Like we could go around that. Right. It was part of the research again, and they were talking about it. How, how is it? It’s really difficult. They actually laugh code reviews and they learn quite a lot and they would have much more, um, much more benefit and would feel better about them. If this would be actively part of their job description and their expectations. But it’s in very many, many organization. It’s. It’s window dressing. It’s like, yeah, we want you to do code reviews and it’s really mandatory and they have to do them. But on the other hand, there is no time to actually do them. Right. And I think that’s, that’s what I see very often. I definitely see people that haven’t had good experience with code reviews that don’t maybe see the benefits out of that. But I also have, on the other hand, I think this is why I’m such a strong advocate for that. I have people, really, a lot of people that have seen the benefits and that have done code reviews in the right way. And, and, you know, with good processes around and with a good culture around that, that they say I would never, ever work anywhere else without code reviews, because it’s a, it’s a mentoring tool. It’s a learning tool. I’m learning so much more. I’m so connected to my team. Right. And not working in a silo anymore, but this needs a certain time of code reviews. You cannot like work on a feature for a month and then throw over like thousands of lines of code or whatever volunteers look at it and give me feedback, right? Like this is not gonna work, right. This is, uh, this is definitely a frustrating experience for everybody. And in this case, I say, get rid of it. You’re not getting anything out of it other than frustration. Um, but also be honest to yourself that you’re actually not really doing code reviews, right? You’re throwing pieces of understandable codes to somebody else that can spend maybe half an hour, an hour to look through thousand lines of code. What are they going to say to you? Nothing. Right. And so maybe it’s really to be about, be honest and say, if I want that, I need to slow down, understand how to design the process. Um, maybe even get help for doing that. Right. And then, and then really do it right. And have so many people that really love code reviews and so many teams that are striving through that. Um, and yeah, so definitely if you know, if they don’t bring any value, then it’s really, I think it’s very often the process that’s just completely screwed up and the culture around it.

liran:[00:43:39] Yeah. And do you find that companies struggled to understand which public was deserved called the abuse versus which, what policies did they have in place to know to solve them out? Sometimes I know sometimes just adding a log line and then you need to go through the same code of your process, or at least by definition, it’s the same workflow as if you’re adding a big feature. So kind of how the companies go around managing the different kind of pollute quests.

michaela:[00:44:08] So I think this is really a part of, I cannot generalize, um, because for some organization it’s definitely valuable to go. Through a pull request or a code review for every line of code that they’re doing, even if it’s a lock line. Right. Um, but then this is a certain type of company and they have certain goals around it and it’s beneficial. I definitely see also, um, you know, organizations that have some code review guidelines in place and it says we have to look at every line and it’s a log line. It makes no sense here. Um, very often here, people haven’t thought about again, you know, what are our goals with cultural views? And if you think about the goals and it’s a logline in, you know, Yvette Yvette site that I can update within minutes because I have a fast pipeline, why would I go through a code review here? Right? Why would I slow that down? What’s the benefit here? Um, so I think that organizations that are more vague about their contribution to practices and process, and really take the time they understand that. Um, and it has to do with risk profiles. Can engineers, do they have like guidelines to work around? Have we thought about this as an engineering team? What are our values? Um, when I was working with Microsoft, we had like, there were, there’s not one code review. Policy, right. It really depends. Office has a different policy than windows. And then even in, in office, you have like different teams that have different policies and so on. And so the teams really thought about, um, some teams would say, well, for us, every line is reviewed. And then other teams would say, uh, well, vs keeping, for example, refactorings if you do a refactoring and you can show it, it’s, uh, uh, And refactoring that has no side effects, then you can just put it in or some teams would do the review after they’ve pushed it, for example. Right. So after, after committed, after pushing and after merging, they’re doing the so. The, the policies really differ. And I’m not saying that, you know, even if the differ for some teams, they were really good for some teams do or not. Um, it really depends how, how honest and how in there and reflected people were around their cultural views. Um, but you can definitely be design and, you know, even have automatic things that help you to decide whether or not something should have a code review. Right. You could buy somebody if you think about conventional commits. Where you have certain aspects in the commit message even right? Even those systems are in place. If you, that you could do here, where it could incorporate some of the risk of something, or you have against that again, as it tools around somehow assess the risk. And that helps you to decide whether or not you need a code review or in what depth you need a code review here, how many people should be under code review. Right. So, so many questions, uh, yeah. Yeah. Touch on what you meant.

liran:[00:47:07] Uh, that’s. Exactly. Yeah. That’s that’s perfect. I think we’re almost running out of time here. So maybe Mo join us, throwing a few questions

michaela:[00:47:16] from the audience.

maror:[00:47:17] Okay. So actually, a few questions did come up. If you guys are ready for it, um, McKayla, we’ll start with you. Can peer programming, replace code

michaela:[00:47:26] reviews. Okay. Um, pair programming. So I, yeah, this is a, this is a very often, uh, asked question and my answer is no, it’s very similar to, you know, can automated contributes, replaced code reviews. I think they are very complimentary here again. So if you have peer programming, um, You’d probably have different cultural view practices again. Right. So very often we talk about code reviews and then code reviews are that thing that everybody does the same, which is completely not true, could be, it can be so many things, right. If I’m looking over the shoulder with somebody and looking at the code at the same time, it’s an over shoulder over the shoulder code review. And so peer programming could actually be one kind of code review, but then you have to ask your, you know, for yourself or your organization again, Do we need more? Do we need like some gatekeeping around that so that we have another person do we need in fairness right around that? If I have two people that are pairing very often, then you have like this knowledge silo, again, that those two people know about the code, but maybe I want other people in that, so we’ll add them. So, um, code review can be, uh, a complimentary strategy to pairing, but I definitely say it should look different, right? For team, the task pairing code review should look different than for a team that desk. Does know Perry. Yeah. Okay.

maror:[00:48:50] Very cool. Um, Leon, I think this one’s for you, what’s the relevance of code reviews for compliance.

liran:[00:48:58] So I think we found that there are a few, few key elements in that I think compliance kind of often requires that, eh, some peer reviews, every change, and I think it goes back to what said about the purpose of code reviews. And compliance for the most part would be focusing on first and foremost general security review, but even more. So it’s an often a question of trust and governance that you essentially know what code is going into the system in a way. I think it’s very different from most of America is been talking about today, about, you know, in depth review, understanding the code and. Eh, me ensuring that you have all the right pieces in place. It’s more about cursory examination that you make sure that you’re not, you’re not changing anything. You shouldn’t be changing that the person is making that commit within the assigned task is working on and within the assigned scope, if there are any changes to security, sensitive area that you go through additional scrutiny. But if those are eh, you know, It’s more about ensuring that whoever is made the task, did what he was supposed to do rather than the quality of the work he did. So that’s a very different thing. And it’s very important again, to kind of. Define the purpose of the code review. Is it just about understanding the scope of the task and the scope of the change, or is it about deeply evaluating it? Giving feedback, mentoring, sharing, knowledge and so on and so forth.

michaela:[00:50:43] Okay.

maror:[00:50:44] Um, and Mikayla, if people wanted to learn more about code reviews, where, where would they be able to

michaela:[00:50:50] go to do that? Okay. Yeah. Um, obviously I can see my website, right? I’m writing quite a bit about code reviews, which would be awesome. Code reviews.com. Or you can also go through my, my link. That’s my name, Kayla gala.com, which is a little bit more difficult for me. We can put it somewhere, but I’m awesome. Code reviews, dot com should have them work as well. And, um, yeah, I also have like a GitHub. A project that’s about code reviews, um, where I’m listing a lot of different resources that I find on the web. So it’s not only from me, but also what I started recently doing is best practices from different organizations. So there are articles where you see like how, um, You know, for example, the Google desk cultivators, or how is, you know, VMware doing code reviews and other, um, resources that I found really valuable as well. I also have like code review checklist there on my guitar profile. Um, so it it’s, uh, the guitar thing. And then my, my handle is M and then Kyla, G R E I L E R. And so, yeah, there, you can find also quite some stuff, um, that, um, that comes from everywhere that I found this valuable.

maror:[00:52:03] That is a wealth of information that everyone should definitely take advantage of. Um, and I will make sure to send out your Twitter handle for them too, so they get it. Um, and on the topic of learning more in the event, where can you learn more

michaela:[00:52:17] about lookout?

liran:[00:52:19] So you can learn more about first and foremost, that’s roka.com, which is our awesome website. We’ve just launched a new website. And so feel free to check it out. Also, you can reach out to me on Twitter at
other school last, and I’ll be happy to chat with you and share more about what

michaela:[00:52:36] we’re doing.

maror:[00:52:39] Amazing. Okay. So then we have one last question here, um, and it looks McKayla like it’s for you. The question is, do we need additional manual reviews or testing if we have a study analysis tools or is

michaela:[00:52:52] that enough? Okay. Um, I think I touched it a little bit on that. So I definitely think it’s complimentary again. Right. So if you have, like, I definitely recommend to have studying analysis, test tools, have static analysis tools, security tools, because they are much more systematic and they they’re defining more issues. They are less error prone. You’re not overlooking something, right. Especially for things that are systematic. As I said, Um, for example, security testing tools are really good or, you know, security analysis tools are really good for injection box, um, where, you know, people would have a hard time and it’s just unproductive for them to look at that. Um, you know, in, in the, in terms of what a tool could do here, but then for example, broken off, um, authentication or just the flow of things that is really beyond the scope of tools right now. Right. So if you’re, for example, sending out. Let’s say that you’re somebody is requesting a password reset, right? So the whole, uh, workflows through dat can be very, very broken and there are no tools that, right. An alpha example can check for that. So that definitely has to be done manually by, by person and very similar in the cultural sense. Right. So, um, there are really good static analysis tools, but there’s always things that just the tool cannot do for you. So they are complimentary, I would say. Okay,

maror:[00:54:18] thanks. So that’s all we have time for today, unfortunately. Um, but hopefully we can also down again cause it’s been great. Um, so thank you everyone for joining us, we will be sending a follow-up email with the recording and McKayla and Leon’s contact information for whoever wants to get in touch with them. And thank you McKayla. And thank you again.

michaela:[00:54:38] Yeah. Thank you so much. Let’s refund.

liran:[00:54:41] Thank you. Thank you.

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