London Python Code Dojo #6

Last night was the sixth London Python Code Dojo, and the third I have attended. Organised, as ever, by Nicholas Tollervey, hosted by Fry-IT and attended by many.

Unlike the previous dojo, the evening was run with one laptop hooked up to a projector and with a pair of programmers “on stage” for ten minutes to undertake a task. The original plan was to code for a maximum of ten minutes or until a unit test passed, then the driver-programmer would step down. Somewhere along the line we lost sight of testing aims. We also lost half the group to a discussion at the back of the room, while the front rows were engrossed in the problems at hand. Volunteers to join the pair on stage were a little sparse, and I must admit I held back a bit longer than I should have – once I was up, I had a throughly enjoyable ten minutes as Ciaran’s co-pilot, and was then very sorry when my own ten minutes in the hot seat were up!

So, what happened?

Firstly, the tasks of the evening were based around integrating the best core components of the previous dojo’s many solutions. A data file format and parser from one solution, the Cmd-based command line code from another, that sort of thing. While an interesting exercise in itself, it perhaps lacked the need for the creative approaches used last month. Work was primarily a copy and paste job, followed by some smoothing of the edges, with little need to sit down and think through a higher plan of action. The test-driven development idea got lost along the way too, and I admit furthering that loss once it had happened.

Secondly, group size had its effect. I don’t have a head count, but we filled the room as usual so probably about 20 people. It was interesting that those at the back gradually drifted into their own discussions and even ended up on laptops not looking at what was going on at the front. Even with a projector, it can be difficult to see what was going on and listen in easily to the conversations at the front between driver, co-pilot and hecklers. We use the term “hecklers” in an affectionate way in the dojo – there’s no malice or negativity involved with comments from the audience. I wonder if those who wrote the code being transplanted at a given time lost interest, since they knew the code already?

Extending from group size was group dynamics. With smaller teams like last week, it was easier for people to contribute: less intimidating than being in front of everyone, easier to have your say, easier to be engaged more. However, the single laptop approach does prevent hogging of the keyboard, and we’re all working on the same thing. Swings and roundabouts.

We finished with a wrap up of the situation and where we can progress for the next dojo. The team-based approach is going to make a return, and the delegation of different tasks to different teams sounds like fun – we’re still all working on the same final goal (an adventure game), the same code base, but we’re breaking up the chunks of work. That in itself will bring in some interesting extra skills such as integration and inter-team communication.

I think it was an important learning process, and one we needed to make this early in the project. Sometimes you need a setback to make you understand the dynamics of a situation and achieve a breakthrough. When I teach snowboarding, I often find those who go through a bit of a regression phase, a bit of a setback, come out with a much better technique and understanding than those who breeze through the lesson. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

Despite the problems, it was still a good evening – I had fun, met loads of cool people, got taken out of my comfort zone, learnt some new things. That’s a positive result in my opinion. I was rather excitable and involved in what was going on, so didn’t really notice what was happening until I was in the hotseat and could look out on the group.

The next London Python Code Dojo will be on Thursday 4th March. If you’re a Pythonista in London, come along and take a look – there’s free pizza and beer/Coke too!

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