May 25 2008

On the Job Training

Published by at 9:20 am under Business   

I recently heard from a developer who worked on a project here for about one year, several years back. I won’t name or quote him directly; the essence of his message was:

  • He learned a lot during that year.
  • This learning was a turning point in his career.
  • What he learned has proved lucrative.

Of course it feels great to receive a message like this, but beyond that, it got me thinking about on-the-job training at Oasis Digital. We don’t have a formal training process. Rather, opportunities (and pressure) to learn and improve are woven in to our daily work. Described in coarse terms, a typical workflow for a developer (“You”) starting out on our projects is:

  • You write some code (or other work product).
  • Tech lead and other developers (sometimes including me) complain about it. This takes the form ideally of constructive criticism.
  • You improve the code.
  • More criticism.
  • You improve the code more, resulting in code that essentially works.
  • Tech lead revamps and refactors it mercilessly, explaining what was changed and why. Note though, that at this stage the changes do not require justification.
  • Tech lead sends developer a list of things to further improve.
  • You improve the code.
  • The code is now good enough to go in to the project.

It turns out that this process is a very good learning experience, if you are willing to take feedback. It can be hard to hear feedback, especially if its essence is that that your work product is not all that great. Yet the computer is merciless, it does not care about your feelings. The end customer does not care about your feelings either; both care only about correctness and quality.

I started out writing bad code. Having written many lines of such code, I now, somewhat regularly, write good code… though I am certain there are plenty of better developers out there who could find much fault in it. Writing bad code and accepting criticism of it is on the path to writing good code. Is it controversial to observe that a lot of software is quite bad? If so, that’s fine; I mostly agree with Steve Yegge’s observation:

By way of setting context for today’s blog, I’ll summarize everything I’ve ever written to date in one sentence: I think most software is crap.

By accepting that most software is bad, you can get on a path to make yours better. It turns out that working on our projects gets you a lot of coaching and training; and instead of paying for these things, you get paid. For the right kind of developer, I think this is an important part of our value proposition and compensation.

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One response so far

One Response to “On the Job Training”

  1. Craig Buchek says:

    Steve Yegge’s comment reminds me of my Slashdot tagline (stolen from an old KSHE radio ad):

    Software sucks. Open Source sucks less.