Learn To Craft at Microsoft

ApprenticeshipA few weeks ago I was able to attend an event hosted by Microsoft France about the software craftsmanship movement named “Learn to craft“. This presentation was made by Jean-Laurent Morlhon, Bruno Boucard and Thomas Pierrain.

Even if I already read a lot about the topic (I went to some meetups about software craftsmanship and I went to a conference), I was glad to have the opportunity to go to this event, you never know what you might learn.


At the beginning there was a presentation of the software craftsmanship movement, its origin, its values, its goals. I will not go into the details, you can learn more here. I was just surprised that there was no mention of the manifesto, not that I believe that it should be signed, I let you decide whether you want to sign it or not.

What I like about the manifesto however is the fact that it shows a close relationship with the manifesto for agile software development, which in my opinion is an important aspect: Software Craftsmanship is part of the agility movement, with a big focus on technical aspects.


TDD & Pair Programming

After this presentation Bruno and Thomas put their hands on the keyboard in order to show us a pair programming session while doing Test Driven Development (TDD). This exercise aimed to show us how to go through each step of the Red-Green-Refactor loop of TDD but also how to collaborate as a pair.

In a pair communication is key, both developers have to think about the problem they are trying to solve and they exchange a lot. Now the question you might have is how to equally share the keyboard in a pair programming session, well the TDD approach is helpful to solve this case.

What you can do is: one of the two developer starts by writing a failing test (red), make it pass (green), refactor the code if necessary (refactor), write a new failing test (red) and give the keyboard to his partner. This developer now has to make the test pass (green), do the refactoring and write a new failing test (red), at the point the first developer take the keyboard back to continue the implementation. And repeat this pattern every iteration (or two) to share the keyboard as much as possible.

By doing pair programming you will be able to share your technic, tips and tricks with the members of your team. It is a great way to learn new shortcuts as well, I personally learn a lot of them this way.


Refactoring legacy code

The next session was presented by Thomas and was about refactoring, in the example Thomas used the Gilded Rose refactoring kata. The goal of this kata is to simulate the need to add a new feature in an existing code base, a not so great code base with a lot of duplication.

If you are lucky there is already some tests covering the code, if not you will have to make sure that you won’t break anything while adding new code. In the session Thomas used an interesting method to make sure he won’t break the existing features: he duplicated the code to be able to refactor it without losing it. Then he gave the same inputs to the two parts and checked that the outputs were the same.

For the refactoring itself he used a “counter-intuitive” strategy: copy-pasting! The Gilde Rose code is full of if-else statement and a lot of them are redundant but it is not obvious at the first glance. Therefore the technic is to make them even more redundant to detect the parts in the code that can be refactored into methods to clean the whole code base. You make the code even worse that it already is to ease the refactoring. The concept is difficult to explain with a few sentences, seeing it in practice however is definitely counter-intuitive yet the result was very efficient, I was impressed by this strategy.


Testing untestable code

In the previous session the code was not under test but it was testable, but we know that it is not always the case. Some code bases are tightly coupled with a database or a web service for instance, if you want to test the code you need a working database and/or a working web service.

Bruno also used a kata (from Sandro Mancuso) to demonstrate a way to get rid of these “hard” dependencies in order to test the rest of the code. The kata simulates a system using classes that cannot be used in a test context.

In this exercise the goal is to detect these dependencies and extract them so you can inject them using dependency injection and therefore you can mock them in your tests. This strategy can be frightening because in order to write tests, you first need to refactor the code and in the previous session we saw that tests give you a safety net when refactoring some code. But it this case, there is no choice, you have to do the refactoring without them so you need to be very careful and if something goes wrong you can always rollback the changes even if nobody like this “final” solution.


Some personal thoughts

This event was definitely made as an introduction to software craftsmanship for people who have (almost) not experienced it, with a big focus on practices and not just theory. There is a lot of content I already knew, which is a good news for me I guess. But I also learned new tricks and technic allowing me to remind me that I still have a lot to learn, and that’s great!

I was also very surprised to see that about half of the attendees were not .NET developers, there was a lot of Java people (at Microsoft’s!). And this show us that the software craftsmanship movement is not technology based, it addresses everyone no matter where you come from, it is an ideal with values, a community!

I want to thank Microsoft for hosting the event, and of course I am grateful toward Jean-Laurent, Bruno and Thomas for taking the time to animate this event and spreading the values of the software craftsmanship. If you want to learn more you can visit their site learn.tocraft.fr (in french).

See you next time!



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