Chris got a bike. Specifically, he bought a bike to use in a triathlon he signed up to participate in. Now he needs to name the bike, and speaking of naming things, a more technical topic that he talks about is the Crispy Brussels Snack Hour.
Steph talks about Rescue Rails projects and increasing developer acceleration.
They answer a listener question asking, "Why do so many developers and agencies, thoughtbot included, replace the default test suite in Rails with RSpec?"
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STEPH: Oh, but I recently learned that Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel movies he's snacking a lot, maybe not Iron Man, but something...oh no, he's stacking a lot. And I'd read that he was snacking a lot on set, and so they just built it in to where like, sure, you can snack as your character while you're doing stuff.
STEPH: And I think that's so cool because I find that I am eating every time I show up to record with you. So I would like the same special star treatment as Robert Downey Jr., [laughs] and I just get to eat during each Bike Shed. [laughs]
CHRIS: All right. [chuckles] My understanding is also that he was wildly the highest paid of all the actors, so I think that should also come along with this.
CHRIS: Yeah, there's a lot that we can sort of layer on here, but it makes sense to me, and I'm fully on board.
STEPH: You're an excellent agent. Thank you for fighting for my higher pay.
CHRIS: You are welcome.
STEPH: What a good co-host you are.
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Bike Shed, a weekly podcast from your friends at thoughtbot about developing great software. I'm Steph Viccari.
CHRIS: And I'm Chris Toomey.
STEPH: And together, we're here to share a bit of what we've learned along the way. One of these days, I'm going to say, "I'm Chris Toomey," and then I'm just going to see how you roll with it, although now I'm ruining it, I should have just gone for it. [laughs]
CHRIS: Nothing can prepare me for this despite the fact that you're telling me in this moment. In that future moment when you do it, I will still be completely knocked out of whack. Just like for anyone out there listening, the thing that Steph would normally have said instead of what [laughs] she just said was, "What's new in your world?"
CHRIS: And I contractually require that that is the only way she starts this question to me because I get completely lost. She's like, "How are you doing?" I just overthink it, and I get lost, and then we end up in a place like this where I'm just rambling.
STEPH: Every podcast contract you have from here on out must begin with hey, Chris, what's new in your world? [laughs] I will still get to that question. I just also had to tell you my future joke. I'm going to play that. Hopefully, you'll forget, and one day I will resurface.
CHRIS: I can pretty much promise you that I'm going to forget it.
STEPH: Excellent. Well, to make sure I stick within the Chris Toomey contract guidelines, hey, Chris, what's new in your world?
CHRIS: What's new in my world? Now I just want to spend a lot of time putting together my rider. There can be no brown M&M's in the bowl. No eye contact, please. And I can only be addressed with this one question which is, to be clear, very not true, Steph. And I always record with a video because we actually like to have human faces attached to things. Anyway, I'm going to tighten this all up. When we get to the technical segment of my world, I'm going to tell you about Crispy Brussels Snack Hour, so just throwing that out there as an idea.
But before we do that, I'm going to share a fun little thing which is I bought a bike, which is exciting. It's not that exciting. People have bikes. This is exciting for me. But the associated thing that is more exciting/a little terrifying is I'm going to try and run a triathlon. I'm going to try and run, swim, and bike a triathlon as they go, specifically a sprint triathlon for anyone out there that's listening and thinking, oh wow, that sounds like a thing. The sprint is the shortest of the distances, so that's what I'm going to go for. But yeah, that's a thing that I'm thinking about in my world now.
STEPH: I know next to nothing about triathlons. So what is a sprint in terms of like, what is the shortest? What does that mean?
CHRIS: I think there actually maybe even shorter distances but of the common, there's sprint, Olympic. I want to say half Ironman, and then Ironman are the sequence. And an Ironman, as far as I understand it, I think it's a full marathon. It's like a century bike ride or something like that. It's an astronomical amount of everything.
Whereas the sprint triathlon being the shortest, I think it's a 3.6-mile run, so a little over a 5K run, a 10-mile bike ride, and a quarter-mile swim, I want to say, something like that. But they're each scaled down to the rough equivalent of a 5K but in each of the different events. So you swim, and then you bike, and then you run.
And so I'm going to try that, or at least I'm going to try to try. It's in September, and now is not September. So I have a lot of time between now and then to do some swimming, which I haven't done...like, I've swum but not in a serious way, not in an intentional way. So I got to figure out if I still know how to swim, probably get better at biking, and do a little bit of running, and it's going to be great. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm super excited about it. Only a little terrified.
STEPH: I think this is where as your co-host coach, which you have not asked me to be, where I would say something about there is no try, to mimic Yoda. [laughs]
CHRIS: Yep, yep. Yep. Do or do not. Sprint or sprint not. There is no trying. Oh, were you making a try pun there?
STEPH: I didn't go that far, but you just brought it home. I see where you're going. [laughs]
CHRIS: This is pretty much what I do professionally is I just take words, and I roll them around until I find something else to do with them. So glad that we got there together.
STEPH: Well, I'm really excited to hear about this. I don't know anyone that's trained for a triathlon. I think that's true. Yeah, I don't think I know anyone that's trained for a triathlon. So I'm curious to hear about how that goes because that sounds intense, friend.
CHRIS: I think so. None of the individual segments sound that bad but stitching them all together, and I think the transitions are some of the tricky parts there. So yeah, it'll be fun. It's something I find...I used to never run; that was the thing. Like, deeply true in my head was that I'm not a runner. This is just a true fact about me. And then I ran a 5K one year for...it was like a holiday 5K fun run with friends. And every bit of the training leading up to it was awful. I did Couch to 5K. I hated it.
My story in my head of I'm not a runner was proven with every single training run. Man, did I hate it. And then something magical happened on the day that I actually ran the race, and it was fun. And I was out there, and there was the energy of being in this group of people. But it was competitive and not competitive in this really interesting way. And then it ended, and we were just hanging out in a parking lot, and they gave us beer. And I was like, well, this is actually delightful. Maybe I actually like this thing.
And so I've run a bunch of different races. And I've found that having a race to train for, and by train, I just mean some structured attempt at running, has been really enjoyable and useful for me. So yeah, this is just ratcheting that up a tiny bit. I've done a couple of half marathons is the high watermark so far. It's a good distance. But I don't know that a full marathon makes sense; that's a real commitment. And I'm looking to move laterally rather than just keep getting more complex in my running. So we're trying the shortest possible triathlon that I know of.
STEPH: I am such a believer that exercise should be fun, so I love that. Like, I'm not a runner, but then you get around people, and it's exciting. And then there's that motivation, and then there's a fun ending with beers that totally jives with me. Because sure, I can go to the gym; I can lift weights, I can make myself exercise. There's some fun to it.
But I strongly prefer anything that's more of like a sport or group exercise; that's just so much more fun. Well, super cool. Well, I'm excited. I would ask you all the details about your bike, but I know nothing. Do you want to share details about your bike? There may be other people that are interested.
CHRIS: Oh yeah, my bike. I went to the bike store, and I said, "Could I have a bike, please?" And then they toured me around and showed me all the fancy...they were like, "This is our most modest entry-level bike." And then they kept walking around and showing me fancier bikes. And I was like, "Can we go back to that first one? That one seemed great."
CHRIS: Because it got all of the checkboxes I was looking for, which is basically it's a bike. So actually, the specifics on it are it's a hybrid bike, so like a mix between road, and I don't even know the other road bikes I know of, and maybe it's trail. But I don't think it's meant for going on the trail. But for me, it'll be fine for what I'm trying to do as far as I understand it.
It's technically a fitness hybrid, which I was like, oh, fancy. It's a fitness bike; look at me go. But it was basically just like, I would like a bike. General-purpose hybrid seems like the thing that makes sense. So I got a hybrid bike. And that's where I'm at. Oh, and I got a helmet because that seems like a smart move.
STEPH: Nice. Yeah, the bike I own is also one of those hybrids where it's like…because when I moved to Boston...and lots of people have the road bikes, but their tires are just so skinny; it made me nervous. And so I saw one of the hybrid bikes, and I was like, that one. That looks a little more steady and secure, so I went with that one even though it's heavier. Do you have a name for your bike? Are you going to think of a name for your bike?
CHRIS: I didn't, and I wasn't planning on it. But now that you've incepted me with this idea that I have to name my bike, of course, I have to name my bike. I'm going to need a couple of weeks to figure it out, though. We're going to have to get to know each other. And you know, something will become true in the universe for me to answer that question. But as of so far, no, I do not have a name for the bike.
STEPH: Cool. I'll check back in. Yeah, it takes time to find that name. I feel you.
CHRIS: [laughs] Yeah, don't make up a name. I have to find what's already true and then just say it out loud. Speaking of naming things and perhaps doing so in a frivolous way, as I mentioned earlier, the more technical topic that I want to talk about, oddly, is called Crispy Brussels Snack Hour. [laughs] So, within our dev team, we have started to collect together different things that don't quite belong on the product board, or at least they're a little more confusing. They're much more technical.
In a lot of cases, they are...our form handling is a little rough. And it's the sort of thing that comes up a lot in pull requests where we'll say, "I feel like this could be improved." And we're like, "Yeah, but not in this pull request." And so then it's what do you do with that? Do you put a tech debt card in the product board? You and I have talked about tech debt cards plenty of times, and it's a murky topic.
But we're trying within the team to make space and a way and a little bit of process around how do we think about these sorts of things? What are the pain points as a developer is working on the system? So to be clear, this isn’t there is a bug because bugs we should just fix; that's my strong feeling, or we should prioritize them relative to the rest of the work. But this is a lower level. This is as a developer; I'm specifically feeling this sort of pain.
And so we decided we should have a Trello board for it. And they were like, "Oh, what should we name the Trello board?" [laughs] And I decided in this moment I was like, "You know, if we're being honest, I've named everything very boring, very straight up the middle. We don't even have that many things to name. So we have zero frivolous names within our team. I think this is our opportunity. We should go with a frivolous name. Anybody have any ideas?"
And someone had worked on a team previously where maybe it was a microservice or something like that was called crispy Brussels, like, crispy Brussels sprouts but just crispy Brussels. And so I was like, "Sure, something like that. That sounds great." And then they ended up naming it that which was funny, and fun, and playful in and of itself.
But then we were like, "Oh, we should have a time to get together and discuss this." So we're now exploring how regularly we're going to do it. But we were like, let's have a meeting that is the dev team getting together to review that board. And we were like, "What do we call the meeting?" And so we went around a little bit, but we ended with the Crispy Brussels Snack Hour.
STEPH: That's delightful. I love the idea of onboarding new people, and they just see on their calendar it's Crispy Brussels Snack Hour, come on down. [laughs]
CHRIS: It's also got an emoji Brussel sprout and an emoji TV on either side of the words Crispy Brussels Snack Hour. So it's really just a fantastic little bit of frivolity in our calendars.
STEPH: [laughs] That's delightful. How's that going? I don't think we've tried something like that explicitly in terms of, like you said, there are discussions we want to have, but they're not in the sprint. They're not tech debt cards that we want to create because, like you said, we've had conversations. So yeah, I'm curious how that's working for you.
CHRIS: Well, so we've only had the one so far; it went quite well. We had a handful of different discussions. We were able to relatively prioritize this type of work within that. But one of the other things that we did was we had a conversation about this process, about this meeting, and the board. And whatnot.
So we identified a couple of rules of the road or how we want to approach this that I think will hopefully be useful in trying to constrain this work because it's very easy to just like; nothing's ever perfect. And so this could very easily be a dumping ground for half-formed ideas that sound good but aren't necessarily worth the continued effort, that sort of thing.
So the agenda for the meeting as described right now is async between meetings. Any of us can add new cards, ideally stated as problems and not solutions. So our form handling could use improvement. And then in the card, you can maybe make a suggestion of I think we could use this library or something like that. But rather than saying use this library or move to this library, we frame in terms of the problem, not necessarily the solution.
And then, at the start of the meeting, any individual can champion a card so they can say, "Here's the thing that I really want everyone to know about that I've been feeling a lot of pain on." So it's a way for individuals who have added things to this to add a little bit more detail. Then using Trello as voting functionality, we each get a couple of votes, and we get to sprinkle them across different cards, and then using that now allows us collectively to prioritize based on those votes. And so the things that get voted up to the top we talk about; we prioritize some amount of work coming into the sprint.
If it's actually going to turn into work, then it'll go onto the product board because ideally, it's moved from problem space to more of solution space even if the solution, the work to be done is do a spike on XYZ library or approach to form handling or whatever it is. But so ideally, it then moves on to the other board.
The other thing that I felt was important is it's very easy for this to be a dumping ground for ideas. So my suggestion is at the end of the meeting, we sort by date, and we prune the oldest things. So it's like, if it's still hanging around and we haven't done it yet, and it's not getting voted up, then yes, we might feel some pain but not enough. It's not earning its place on this board. So that's my hope is we're weeding the Brussel sprouts garden that we have at the end of the meeting.
That's roughly what we have now. We really only had the one, so that idea of pruning will probably come in later on. And it may be that this doesn't work out at all, and this ends up being tech debt cards that get stale and don't capture the truth. But I'm hopeful because there's definitely...there's a conversation to be had here. It's just whether or not we can make sure that conversation is useful and capturing the right amount of context and at the right points in time and all of that.
STEPH: Yeah, I like it. I like the whole process you outlined. You know what it made me think of? It sounds like a technical retro, not that retros can't be technical; we bring up technical stuff all the time. But this one sounds like there was more technical discussion that was still looking for space to bring up. So the way that you mentioned that people add their thoughts, that it can be done async, and then you vote up, and then as things get stale, you remove them and focus on the things that the team voted for, that's really cool. I've never thought of having just a technical-specific retro.
CHRIS: Yeah, definitely informed by retro. But again, just that slight honing the specific focus of this is just the dev team chatting about deeply dev-y things and making a little bit of space for that. I think the difficulty will be does this encourage us to work on this stuff too much? And that's the counterbalance that we have to have because this work can be critically important.
But it can also be a distraction from features that we got to ship or bugs that are in the platform or other things like that. So that balancing act is something that I'm keeping in mind, but thus far, the way we structured it, I'm hopeful. And I'm interested in exploring it more, so we'll see where we get to. And I'll certainly report back as we refine the Crispy Brussels Snack Hour over time.
STEPH: I feel like the opposite is true as well, where you have these types of concerns and things that you want to bring up. And even if they're on the board, once you get to sprint planning, there's a lot of context and conversation there that maybe the whole team doesn't have. It doesn't feel like the right moment to dive into this because you're trying to plan a new sprint.
So then that stuff gets bumped down to the bottom or just never really discussed, or it gets archived. So I feel like the opposite is totally true, too, where you have this stuff, but then it never gets talked about because sprint planning is not the right place. So yeah, I'm really intrigued to see how that balance works out for y'all as well.
CHRIS: Yeah, I think it's an exciting time, and we'll see where it goes. But like I said, I'm hopeful on it. But yeah, bikes, triathlons, and crispy Brussels, that's my world.
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STEPH: I have a couple of fun things that I want to share and then something that's a little more in the techie space. The first one is there's a delightful Twitter thread that caught my attention recently that I just want to share; totally not tech-related. But this person shared a thread talking about how they help everyone on their team who's older than they are, making sure that the slang that they're using is correct in its context. And so they provided some funny examples.
And then, in return, they also will translate this person's frustrations into professional corporate-speak, and it's such a good thread. So if you need a good laugh, I will make sure to include a link in the show notes. The slang is really funny, but it's actually the translation of frustrations into professional corporate-speak that that's the part that resonated with me. That was really good. [laughs]
CHRIS: You shared this with me outside of this conversation, and I've read through them. Listeners out there, do not sleep on this. I highly suggest reading through this thread because it is fantastic.
STEPH: The other thing that I saw is Andrea Fomera, who is a Rails developer and creates a fair amount of content...I haven't been through some of that content, but I know there's content around Rails. And specifically, there is a newer course called Learn Hotwire by Building a Forum. And she has made this totally free, and I just think that is so cool.
And she shared that on Twitter, so I'll be sure to include a link in that to the show notes because Hotwire is something I haven't used yet. And so I saw this free course, and I think it would be fun to dabble and go through the course. And I know there are some other people at thoughtbot that have used it and seem really happy with it or interested in using it as well. Is that something that you've used?
CHRIS: I have not. I skipped over Hotwire in my adventures. I'd found Inertia and was quite happy with that. And then, in that way that, I sometimes limit the amount of things that I'm allowed to explore on the internet in hopes of actually getting some work done; I have not spent much time.
But enough folks that I deeply respect are very excited about Hotwire that it remains in the like; I would love to have an afternoon just to poke around with that. So I may take a look at this, although I don't know, I'm probably still in my moratorium. I'm not allowed to look at new frameworks for a little while time period. But I hear great things.
STEPH: That's fair. That's also what I've heard. I've heard great things. So yeah, I just figured I would share that in case anybody else is interested in looking for a course that they could take and also dabble at Hotwire.
The other thing that's on my mind is more the type of projects that I'm really getting a lot of joy from. Because I've known about myself for a while that greenfield projects are nifty, but they're not my thing. They're not the thing that brings me a lot of joy. It's just kind of nice. You got your own space, and you're building from the ground up, cool, cool, cool.
But this one, I found that the projects that I’m really starting to gravitate towards are what I've heard someone else call Rails Rescue projects. So those are the projects where they have been around for a while, or they've just been built in a way that the data modeling structure makes it really hard to implement new features. Maybe there's a lack of test coverage that makes it really risky to ship new work or to make changes. There are lots of bug reports and errors that the team is fighting with.
So then that type of work comes down to where you're trying to either increase stability for the application and for users and/or you're looking to increase developer acceleration. And I really, really liked those projects. That's the type of project that I've been a part of for...I think my last couple of clients have been in that way. I don't know that they would describe it that way, that it's a Rails Rescue project.
But if I can see that opportunity where I see there's a stability issue or developers are feeling a lot of pain in one area, then that's the portion of the application, the portion of the team that I'm going to gravitate towards. Or like the current work that I'm doing where we're really focused on testing and making some improvements there or reducing that pain that the team is feeling around how long CI takes to run or the flakiness because then you're having to re-verify your CI runs.
I like that work. It's a bit slow and frustrating, so it does seem to require a patient person. You also have to have lots of metrics that are guiding you because you can have a lot of assumptions around I'm going to make this improvement, but it's going to take effort to get there. And it'd be great if I can validate that effort upfront. So I feel like a lot of my time is spent more around metrics, and data, and excel sheets than necessarily coding. I don't know if that's great, but it's part of the work. There's a balance there. So I just found that interesting.
I don't think I would have thought this is something I was interested in until now that I've been on these projects for a while. And I've started noticing a theme where I really enjoy them. Although I realize looking back at former Stephanie days when I was going through Launch Academy and learning to code, I really thought I wanted to be in DevOps. DevOps seemed like the cool kids’ corner. They knew how the internet worked. They knew what was happening. They were making it live. And I just thought it seemed really cool. For the record, it is still a cool kids’ corner.
But I have also learned that the work-life balance isn't great with DevOps because you just never know when you're going to be on call. And that really stood out to me as something that I didn't want to do. And I do like building some features. But essentially, it's that developer acceleration that I really liked because they were the ones that were coming and often building tools and making it easier for then people to then ship their code and get it out into the world and triage.
And so I liked the fact that their users were developers versus the people using the application as much, although, I guess, technically both. But the people they were often striving to help the most was the internal team, and that resonated with me. So I guess I have eventually found my way into that space. It wasn't through DevOps, but it is now through this idea of projects that need some rescuing.
CHRIS: I love that you've spent enough time now to figure out what it is that draws you in the work and the shape of projects that is meaningful to you. Interestingly, I find myself not on the opposite side of things...you know, we're always looking for a disagreement, and this isn't a disagreement, but this is a thing on which we differ a surprising amount because I do like the early-stage stuff, the new, the breaking ground, all of that exciting whatnot.
But how do I not make this a more complicated statement? I appreciate that you have the point of view that you do. I think the world needs more of what you're doing than the inclination that I have, like; I want to start something bright, and fresh, and new, and I can see so much progress immediately in front of me. And this is amazing. But the hard, meaningful work like maintenance, and support, and legacy, and rescue where necessary is such a critical aspect of the work.
I see this in open source so often where there are people who are like; I made an open-source project; this is great. I hacked for a bunch of weekends, and look; I made a thing. And then the support burden builds up. And open source can be this wildly undervalued thing overall. And the maintenance of open source is even more so, and you have this asymmetry between the people that are using it and don't think that their voice is one of the thousands that are out there requesting a new feature or anything like that.
The handful of people that I see out there in the world that come along later in the lifespan of an open-source project and just step in to do maintenance, my goodness, is that heroic work, just quiet, necessary heroic work. And what you're describing feels sort of similar but at the project level. And I don't know; I'm sort of like silent. I'm out loud on a podcast, not silently at all judging myself because I'm like, I feel like you're doing the thing over there. That seems like a good thing. But I also like my early projects... [laughs]
STEPH: I think they're...I mean, we need each other. I need you to start the code, and the applications for them to then need some help down the road [laughs] to [crosstalk 24:30].
CHRIS: But I need to do a bad enough job that we have to be rescued by you.
CHRIS: Hey, don't you worry, friend, I'm doing a terrible...no, I think I'm doing an okay [laughter] job. Hopefully, I'm avoiding those traps, but it's hard to know when you're writing legacy code, you know.
STEPH: It is hard for the reasons we were talking about earlier. Like, those technical discussions build-up, and then if you don't really have a space to then address it, then it just keeps getting sidelined until you suddenly get to this point of it's either we come to a grinding halt because we can't ship work, or we find ways to start bringing this into our process.
And so that's the other part of the Rails Rescue projects is often looking at the team's process and figuring out, okay, instead of hiring consultants to come in and then try to help with this, how else can they also integrate this into their own project? So then, once thoughtbot lives, they now have ownership of this, and they can carry it forward as well.
There is an aspect of this work that I'm still working on, and it comes around to the definition of work because if you go into a team or a project that's like, hey, we really need help with X. We really need help with addressing all these errors. Or we really need help improving developer happiness or getting test coverage in place. Finding out exactly how you're going to tackle that, are you going to join a team of the other developers?
Like, are you looking for more of a mentorship? Like, hey, we're going to work alongside your team to then mentor them to then bring this into their own process and their own habits, so then they feel empowered to address this in the future. Are we doing this more as a triage where then we have a specific goal or two that then we're going to meet? And then once we get stuff out of this on fire state, then maybe we start pairing with other people. Or are we going to work closely with the people who are fighting fires with the bug reports and the errors?
There are a bunch of different ways that you can tackle that. And I think it really helps define the success of that engagement and then your outcomes because otherwise, I feel like you can get distracted by so much. Because there's so much that's going to try to get your attention that you want to work on and fix. So you have to be very upfront about there are different areas that we can work on. Let's figure out some metrics together that we're really going after to then help define what does success look like for this first iteration of our work?
And then what's the long-term plan for this work? Then how do we keep it going forward? How do we empower the team to keep this work going forward? And that's an area that I've learned just from trial and error from being part of these projects. And I'm very interested in still cultivating that skill and figuring out what's the area that we're focused on?
CHRIS: There's something that you said in there that I want to hone in on, which is the idea of you've learned from going on so many of these different projects, and you're carrying forward ideas that you have. But I think more generally, there's something interesting in what you were just saying there around you've worked on a bunch of different projects at different organizations with certain things that they were great at, with certain things that they struggled with at different sizes. And you're able to bring all that experience to bear on each project.
But I think also taking a step back, as you were describing, you're like, I think I've figured out what it is that I like and the type of projects that I want to do. I cannot say enough good things about working in a consultancy for a while because, my goodness, you get to try out a bunch of different stuff. And A, you get to learn a ton about how to do the work, and how to communicate, and different technologies and all of that. But you also get to figure out what it is that you might want to double down on and lean into in terms of the work. That's definitely a big part of my story.
Seven years at thoughtbot, I tried a lot of different stuff, worked at a lot of different companies. And I would describe it as I found a lot of things that I didn't want. And then there's that handful of things that I really did want, and I was able to then more intentionally pursue that. So for anyone out there that's considering it, working at a consultancy is fantastic, or at least it has fantastic elements to it.
It also can be complicated as you talk about finding organizations and having to, you know, if you're brought in for a certain job, but when you get there, you're like, "Ooh, I know you want me to fix bugs, but actually, I think I just need to work with your team because they're the ones writing the bugs. And why are they writing the bugs" "Well, because the salespeople are selling things, and then we have timelines." Like, we got to start at the very top of this whole pyramid and fix it. And so it can be very complicated. But there's so much that you can learn about yourself in the process, in the work, and I adored that portion of my career.
STEPH: Yeah, I totally agree. Anytime someone mentions, they're like, "Oh, consultancy work. What's that like?" And I remember it was a couple of years ago I mentioned I was working for a consultancy, and they were like, "Oh, you must travel a lot." I was like, "No, [laughter] I stay put. I just work from an office in Boston." But I remember that caught me off guard because I hadn't considered that I was supposed to travel, but that makes sense that you think of consultants that travel.
But when I meet people or talk to people, and they're like, "Oh, you've been at thoughtbot for five-plus years, and how's that going? And what's it like to be at a consultancy?" And exactly what you just said, it's the variety that I really like and getting to try on so many different hats and see how different teams and processes work and then identify like, oh, that worked really well for that team, or this isn't working well for that team. I have really enjoyed that.
And it can be a roller coaster because you have to get really good at onboarding. You have to go through that initial phase of like; I swear I'm smart. I will get up to speed quickly, and I will learn things. But it's a period that you just have to go through with each team that you join, but you do it twice a year, maybe three times a year. And so you get comfortable with that over time.
So there are definitely some challenges that then have to fit your personality and things that work for you and bring you joy. And I completely understand that it's not for everybody, just kind of I really enjoy product work, but I also really enjoy being able to move around to different teams and help folks.
CHRIS: I love the idea that as a consultant, your job is to just walk through airports and high-five every Accenture billboard in it and just go up to the wall and pay your respects. But no, no, that is not our version of consulting. [laughs]
STEPH: That's why I have so much time for The Bike Shed. It's because I'm just, you know, I'm in different airports high-fiving signs. And then this is my real job; Bike Shed is my real job.
CHRIS: Oh, that would be fun.
STEPH: [laughs] You know, I have such a fondness of Bike Shed that now something interesting has happened where someone was like, "Oh, you're bike-shedding." And they're not being mean, but they're just like, "Oh, we're totally bike-shedding," or "This is dissolving into bike-shedding." And I'm like, oh, bike-shedding, hooray. And I'm like, oh, wait, bad. [laughter] And I have to catch myself each time.
CHRIS: Yeah, we've taken away a lot of the meaning. Well, I mean, have we or do we live up to it every single week? Who can say? But I, too, have a fondness for this phrase, perhaps not aligned with what it is actually meant to signify.
STEPH: On a slightly different tech-related note, there is a gem that I'm really excited to check out. I saw it mentioned on the parallel_tests gem, which is what helps you run your tests in parallel, and it's what we're currently using. But you can group your tests in different ways. And right now, we're using the runtime strategy where essentially then we use the output from RSpec where we know how long each file took to run. And then parallel_tests will then use that data to then figure out, okay, how should I split up your test file? So then try to balance them as evenly as possible.
We're at that point, though, where we've talked about tentpoles, so we have certain files that, say, take 10 minutes; other files will only take two minutes. And that balance is really throwing off our ability to then bring down the CI build time. So on parallel_tests, there's reference to another gem called parallel_split_test, where then you can run multiple test scenarios that are in one file but then split them out across different processes or different machines. And that is exactly what I want in my life right now.
I haven't checked it out yet, so I feel like I'm giving a daily sync update of like, I'm going to go off and explore this thing. I will report back and see how it goes. [laughs] In the past, I usually try to say, "I've tried this thing, and this is how it went," nope, opposite today. I am sharing the thing I'm going to try, and then hopefully, it goes well.
CHRIS: Well, either way, we should definitely report back. That's the truth. I like that you're leading us into this and giving us a preview. But then yeah, we'll see where we get to. That does sound like the thing you want, though. So I hope it goes well.
STEPH: Yeah, we've learned at this point where we are splitting work across different machines that until we address some of those tentpole concerns, adding more machines won't help us because then a machine's going to run as long as the longest file. So we've been doing some manual work to split up those files. That's not the best, but it does help you see some results. So then, at least you know you're making progress.
So now we really need to find a way to automate that because we don't want someone to have to manually figure out where are the tentpoles, split those files up, commit that, and then keep track of, like, do we have another tentpole on the horizon? We really need a gem or something to help us automate that process. So yeah, I will be happy to report back.
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STEPH: Pivoting just a bit, we have a listener question. This question comes from Steve Polito. And Steve wrote in, "Longtime listener, first-time thoughboter." Yay. Yay is my addition. Anything that goes up in voice is probably my addition, [laughs] just so people know. All right, back to what Steve said. "Why do so many developers and agencies, thoughtbot included, replace the default test suite in Rails with RSpec?
Not only does Rails provide a fully functional test suite by default," looking at you Minitest, "but it's also well-documented and even provides the ability to run system tests. Rails is built on the principle of convention over configuration. And it seems odd to me that so many developers want to override such a fundamental piece of framework." Thanks in advance, [singing] Steve Polito. Steve, I hope it's okay I sang your name [laughs] because we're here now.
That is an awesome question. I'm going to give what may be less of an awesome answer which is, well, one; Steve highlights that people will then replace Minitest with RSpec. I haven't done that. I haven't actually gone into a project and said, "Okay, we need to replace your test suite and bring in RSpec instead." But if I'm starting out a project, I do have a heavy preference for RSpec, and frankly, that's just from experience. Like, that's what I was raised on, to say it in that way. [laughs]
RSpec is what I know; it's what I'm used to. It's what, even when I joined thoughtbot, was just the framework that we used for all of our testing and what we focused on so heavily. So frankly, for me, it's just a really strong bias. I know it's something that I'm really good at. I know it's something that works really well. I know it's well-documented. I know it's also very accessible for other people to use.
But actually replacing it on a different project, I don't think I would do that. I'd have to have a really strong reason, or maybe if we haven't actually started testing anything yet, to then replace it because that feels a bit aggressive to me. But then it just depends on the situation, I suppose. But yeah, overall, I just default to RSpec because that's what I'm accustomed to, and it's the testing framework that I know.
CHRIS: Yeah, I think my answer is largely the same. It's the thing that I've worked with by far the most. Similarly, I've been on projects that were using Minitest, and therefore I used Minitest because it's definitely not worth the effort to switch. But in a lot of...well, I will say this, I've much less experience, and this may be less true over time. But there were many things that drew me to RSpec, and that continues to be interesting to me in the RSpec world.
Even things as small as the assertion syntax, assert_equal is the method that's, you know, this is how you do an assertion in Minitest, and it's assert_equal expected, actual. That's the order of the arguments. It's expected first and then actual. That makes sense, probably with the expected, but I would get that wrong constantly. I do get that sort of thing wrong. They're just positional arguments that there's nothing about this that tells me which way to go. And so it's very easy to get failure messages that are inverted, and so it's just this tiny little thing.
But with RSpec, we end up with expect and then in parentheses, the thing that we are expecting to equal the other thing, and it just reads a little more honestly. It fits within the Ruby mindset in my world. I want my code to be as expressive as possible, and Minitest feels much lower level to me. It feels more, you know, assert as a word is just...I'm not asserting. That just feels so formal. And so these are, again, to be clear, very, very small things, but they all add up.
And there's a reason that we're using Ruby overall. And there's a reason that we're using Rails is this expressiveness is a big part of it for me, so I'll cling to that. I'll hold on to that as something that's true. Also, Rspec's mocking support, rspec-mocks as the library, I found to be really fantastic, and I've grown very comfortable working with it. And I know how and where to use that.
I also have so much built-up knowledge, like the idea of when to use let and not use let in RSpec. It's just this deep thing that I know about. I'm sure there's an equivalent in the Minitest world, but I would have to have a different understanding in argument, and that conversation would just feel different.
I think the other thing that's worth saying is this is a default for us at this point that I personally have not felt the need to reconsider. When I've worked on projects that have used Minitest, I certainly wasn't called to it. I wasn't like, oh, this seems really interesting; I'm going to lean into this more. I was like, I miss RSpec. And some of that is, again, just familiarity. But at the end of the day, we only have so much time to do things. And so, I firmly stand by my not reconsidering my testing option at this point.
Like, RSpec does the things that I want. It does it really well. Critically, I'm able to build a system and write a test suite and maintain that test suite over time and have it tell me the truth as to whether or not my application should be deployed to production. That is the measure. That's the thing that I care about. I think it's maybe a little bit slower than Minitest, but I'm fine with that. I have solutions to that problem.
And the thing that I care about is when the test suite is green, do I feel confident deploying? RSpec has helped me for years on that journey. And I've never questioned whether or not I should go back to the drawing board and revisit that consideration. So initially, it was probably because it was the thing that we were all using, and then that is for me why it has stuck around. And I love RSpec. I think how many episodes have we just said, "Thanks, RSpec," as a little aside? So we do love it in a deep way.
STEPH: Probably not enough episodes have we said that. [laughs] Yeah, I like what you said where you haven't felt the need to switch over or to move away from RSpec. And I wonder, looking back at some of the earlier projects that I joined that were using RSpec, I don't know if maybe they chose RSpec at that time because RSpec had more of those features built-in, and Minitest was still working on those. Maybe they were parallel at the time; I'm not sure.
But I like what you said about you just haven't had a need to go back and change. At this point, if I switched over to Minitest, it would definitely be a learning curve for me, which is totally fine. But yeah, I'm just happy with it, so I stick with it.
And I also appreciate that idea that, yeah, unless you're new in a project, I wouldn't encourage someone to then switch over to something else unless I feel like there's just a lot of pain for some reason with the current testing setup. There has to be a reason. There has to be a drive. It can't be just a personal bias of like, I know this thing, so I want to use it. There's got to be a better reason that benefits the whole team versus just a personal preference.
But overall, I think it comes down to for us; it's just a choice because it's the familiar choice. It's the one that we know. But I think Minitest and RSpec are both so widely supported. I was thinking about that convention over configuration. And yes, Rails ships with Minitest, but RSpec is so common that I don't feel like I'm breaking convention at that point. They're both so widely supported and used that I feel very comfortable going with either option. And then it's just my personal preference for RSpec.
So thanks, Steve, for sending in that question. And for anyone else that has a question that you would love to share with Chris and I, you can reach us in a couple of different ways. You can reach us on Twitter via @_bikeshed. You can also go to the website, bikeshed.fm/content. We will drop some links in the show notes. But if you go there, then you can send a question or also email us directly at email@example.com.
And we're running a little low on listener questions, so we would love to have a listener question from you. And we would love to talk about anything that y'all want to talk about, okay, within reason, you know, triathlons, Brussel sprouts, things like that. All of that falls within the wheelhouse.
CHRIS: Normal stuff.
STEPH: Normal stuff, yeah.
CHRIS: And to be clear, despite the fact that Steve did recently become a thoughtboter, you don't have to be a thoughtboter to send in a listener question. [laughs] In fact, it's much more common to not be a thoughtboter when sending in a listener question. But we'll take them from anybody. We're happy to chat with you.
STEPH: On that note, shall we wrap up?
CHRIS: Let's wrap up. The show notes for this episode can be found at bikeshed.fm.
STEPH: This show is produced and edited by Mandy Moore.
CHRIS: If you enjoyed listening, one really easy way to support the show is to leave us a quick rating or even a review on iTunes, as it really helps other folks find the show.
STEPH: If you have any feedback for this or any of our other episodes, you can reach us at @_bikeshed or reach me on Twitter @SViccari.
CHRIS: And I'm @christoomey.
STEPH: Or you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.
CHRIS: Thanks so much for listening to The Bike Shed, and we'll see you next week.
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