The Clean Coder : Mentoring, Apprenticeship and Craftsmanship

Apprenticeship

Software development is a relatively new profession, new technologies and discoveries make it changes constantly. Thereby it has not been codify yet, there are several methodologies, principles, practices and patterns. And this is a good thing, we still have a lot to explore to master and contribute to our craft. Yet, this lack of codification allows us to do whatever we want and sometimes in a bad way. We’ve all seen teams that defined themself as “agile” because they do not have any single methodology and use the term “agile” as an excuse for chaos ! We’ve all seen a two or more years project that does not have a single test ! We’ve all seen programs that become unmaintainable after 6 months of coding ! We’ve all seen projects that have more bugs than lines of code ! Somehow this is the cost of our new non-codify profession. Fortunately there are a lot of well designed, covered with tests, maintainable software too. It is up to us to share our knowledge and best practices with each other, it is up to us to codify our own craft.

Even if software development is new, we all had mentors to teach us programming. We learned through teachers, colleagues, books, videos, articles or even friends. Forty years ago when programming was starting all these resources were scarce or non-existent. Uncle Bob (“The Clean Coder” author) had to learn programming the hard way, without all the resources we can find one mouse’s click away. If we work with senior developers or any experienced professional we can ask them to share their knowledge to teach us how to behave as a professional. And we can of course share our own experience with the younger ones.

After graduation, a medical student is not thrown into an operating rooms to perform brain surgery or open heart surgery even if he as the theoretical knowledges to do it. The medical profession oversees education through intense mentoring. Medical students spend a lot of their education time working with professionals to sharpen their skills. It takes a decade and thousands hours of practice to become a professional doctor. Are we shocked by this approach? Of course not, we cannot even conceive it otherwise. Their work is highly important and we expect them to act as professionals.

In the software industry, things are “slightly” different from the medical system. It is no surprise to see “teams” formed with freshly graduated programmers that are asked to build software even critical ones. Of course creating programs is not as crucial as surgery, there is no life at stake. But bad software can lead to colossal monetary loss, Sony is one example of many. Graduating in Computer Science (CS) gives us enough skills to work in the domain but schools can’t teach us everything about programming. Software development is a complex world that evolves day by day and offers us an environment with constant learning. Creating a doctor-like system for our professions is essential to avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

Software apprenticeship can be a three steps journey : starting from apprentice and moving to journeyman before becoming a master.

Masters have more than 10 years of experience and have worked on different systems, technologies and programming languages. They are able to lead and coordinate several teams. They are responsible for the technical aspects of the projects.

Journeymen are trained and competent programmers, they are professionals. They learn to work as teams and to become team leaders. Their experience levels vary among them, there are former apprentices with little experience and there are burgeoning masters.

Apprentices are programmers that just begin their career. They are closely supervised by journeymen in order to improve their skills and knowledges, pair programming is heavily recommended to do so. They learn how to behave as professionals.

This system is similar of the guilds organization during the medieval era. In the real world this system seems to exist, graduates are supervised by young team-leads who are supervised by project-leads. But most of the time there is almost no technical supervision.

When we build software, we are crafting them, programmers are craftsmen. Craftsmanship is the mindset help by craftsmen, it contains values, disciplines, techniques, attitudes and answers. A craftsman is able to work quickly but without rushing, he also know when to say “no” and to meet the commitments. A craftsman is a professional !

If craftsmanship is your way of life keep in mind that you cannot force other programmers to become craftsmen, and convincing them is difficult. If you want them to become craftsmen you’ll have to show them how it is done and the benefits of it. Then maybe they will join the movement.

This was the final chapter of “The Clean Coder : A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers” by Robert C. Martin. My next article will be a conclusion about the book, explaining what I’ve learned.

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