Chris is getting ready to travel, and of course, Sagewell started the day with an incident, a situation, if you will...
Steph talks books perfect for vacations and feels sufficiently scarred regarding still working with moving fixtures over to FactoryBot.
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STEPH: All right, I am now officially recording as well. Let me make sure my microphone is in front of my face.
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. So, hey, Chris, what's new in your world?
CHRIS: What's new in my world? Today is an interesting day. We are recording on a Friday, which is not normal for us, was normal for a long time and then stopped, but now it's back to being normal. But it's the morning, which is confusing. Also, I am traveling this evening. I leave on a flight going to Europe. So I'm going to do a red-eye, that whole thing. So I got a lot to pack into today, literally packing being one of those things.
And then this morning, because obviously, this is the way the world should play out, we started the day with an incident at Sagewell, a situation. Some code had gotten out there that was doing some stuff that we didn't want it to do. And so we had to sort of call in the dev team. And we all huddled together and tried to figure it out. Thankfully, it was a series of edge cases. It was sort of one of those perfect storms. So when this edge case happens in this context, then a bad thing could happen. Luckily, we were able to review the logs; nothing bad happened.
While I'm unhappy that we had this situation play out... basically, it was a caching thing, just to throw that out there. Caching turns out to be very hard. And the particular way it played out could have manifested in behavior that would have been not good in our system, or an admin would have inadvertently done something that would have been incorrect.
But on the positive side, we have an incident review process that we've been slowly incubating within the team. One of our team members introduced it to us, and then we've been using it on a few different cases. And it's really great to just have a structured process. I think it's one of those things that will grow over time. It's a very simple; what's the timeline of what happened? What's the story as to why it happened and why it wasn't caught earlier? What are the actions that we're going to take? And then what's the appendix? What's the data that we have around it? And so it's really great to just have that structure to work within.
And then similarly, as far as I can tell, the first even observable instance of this behavior in our system was yesterday morning. We saw it, started to respond to it, saw one more. We were able to chase it down in the logs. Overall, the combination of the alerting that we have in Sentry and the way in which we respond to the alerting in Sentry, which I think is probably the most critical part. Datadog is our log metrics tool right now. So we're able to go through Datadog, and we have Lograge configured to add more detail to our log lines.
And so we're able to see a very robust story of exactly what happened and ask the question, did anything actually bad happen? Or was it just possible that something bad could happen? And it turns out just possible. Nothing actually happened. We were able to determine that. We were even able to get a more detailed picture of who were all the users who potentially could have been impacted. Again, I don't think there was any impact.
But all total, it was both a very stressful process, especially as I'm about to go on vacation. It's like, oh cool, start to the day where I'm trying to wrap up things, and instead, we're going to spend a couple of hours chasing down an incident. But that said, these things will happen. The way in which we were able to respond, the alerting and observability that we had in place make me feel good.
STEPH: I like the incident structure that you just laid out. That sounds really nice in clarifying what happened when it happened in the logs. And the fact that you're able to go through and confirm if anything really bad happened or not is really nice. And I was also just debating this is one of those things, right? Right when you're about to go on vacation, that's when something's going to break. And that's like, is that good or bad? Is it good that I was here to take care of it right before, or is it bad? Because I'd really like to not be here to take care of it. [laughs] You may have mixed feelings. I have mixed feelings.
CHRIS: I think I'm happy. Unsurprisingly, this exists in one of the most complex parts of our codebase. And it involves caching. And I remember when we introduced the caching, I looked at it, and I was like, hmm, we have a performance hotspot that involves us making a lot of requests to an external system. And so we thought about it a little bit, and we were like, well, if we do a little bit of caching here, we can actually reduce that down from seven calls down to one over external HTTP. And so okay, that seems to make sense.
We had a pull request. We did a formal review. And even I looked at the pull request where this was introduced initially, and my comments on it were like, yep, this all looks good. Makes sense to me. But it's caching-related. So let's be very careful and look very closely at it and determine if there's anything, but it's so hard to know. And in fact, the code that actually was at play here was introduced a month ago.
And interestingly, the observable side effect only occurred in the past two days, which we find very surprising. But again, it's this weird like, if A happens and then within a short period after that B happens...and so it's not quite a race condition. But it was something where a lot of stuff had to happen in a short span of time for this to actually manifest. And so, again, we were able to look through the logs and see all of the instances where it could have happened and then what did happen. Everything was fine, but yeah, it was interesting.
I feel actually good to have seen it. And I think we've cleared everything up related to it and been very proactive in our response to it so that all feels good. And also, this is the sort of thing we've done this a few times now where we've had what I would call lesser incidents. There was no customer-facing impact to this. Similarly, previous incidents, we've had no or very minimal customer-facing impact.
So at one point, we had a situation where we weren't processing our background jobs for a little while. So we eventually caught up and did everything we needed to. It just meant that something may not have happened in as timely a fashion as necessary. But there were no deep ramifications to that.
But in each of those cases, we've pushed ourselves to go through the incident process to make sure that we're building the muscle as a team to like, actually, when the bad one comes, we want to be ready. We want to have done a couple of fire drills first. And so partly, I viewed this as that because again, there was smoke, but no fire is how we would describe it.
STEPH: Nice. And that also makes sense to me how you were saying y'all introduced this about a month ago, but you were just now seeing that observable side effect. I feel like that's also how it goes. Like, you implement, especially with caching, some performance improvement, and then you immediately see that. And it's like, yay, this is wonderful.
And then it's not til sometime passes that then you get that perfect storm of user interactions that then trigger some flow that you didn't consider or realize that could create an issue with that caching behavior. So yeah, that resonates. That seems right. All caching problems usually take about a month or two when you've just forgotten about what you've done. And then you have to go back in.
CHRIS: Yep. Yep, yep, yep. So now we've done the obvious thing, which is we've removed every cache from the system whatsoever. There are no caches anymore because it turns out we just can't be trusted with caches in any form whatsoever. ActiveRecord, we turned off caching, Redis we threw it out. No, I'm kidding. We still have lots of caching in the app. But, man, caching is so hard.
STEPH: I would love if that's in the project README where it says, "We can't be trusted with caches. No caches allowed." [laughs]
CHRIS: Yeah, we have not gone all the way to forbid caching within the application. It's a trade-off. But this does have that you get those scars over time. You have that incident that happens, and then forever you're like, no, no, no, we can't do X. And I feel like I'm just a collection of those. Again, I think we've talked about this in previous episodes. But consulting for as long as I did, I saw a lot of stuff. And a lot of it was not great. And so I basically just look at everything, and I'm like, urgh, no, this will be hard to maintain. This is going to go wrong. That's going to blow up someday.
And so, I'm having to work on trying to be a little more positive in my development work. But I do like that I have that inclination to be very cautious, be very pessimistic, assume the worst. I think it leads to safer code in general. There was actually a tweet by Sarah Drasner that was really wonderful. And it's basically a conversation between her and another developer. It's a pretend conversation. But it's like, "But why don't you like higher-order components?" And then it's Squints. "Well, in the summer of 2018, something bad happened, Takes a long drag of a cigarette. something very bad."
It's just written so well and captures the ethos just perfectly. Like, sit down. Let me tell you a tale of the time in 2018. [laughs] So I'll include a link to that in the show notes because she actually wrote it so well too. It's got like scene direction within a tweet and really fantastic stuff. But yeah, we'll allow some caching to continue within the app.
STEPH: That's amazing. So I was just thinking where you're talking about being more pessimistic versus optimistic. And there's an interesting nuance there for me because there's a difference in like if someone's pessimistic where if someone just brings up an idea and someone's like, "Nope, like, that's just not going to work," and they just always shoot it down, that level of being pessimistic is too much. And it's just going to prevent the team from having a collaborative and experimental environment.
But always asking the question of like, well, what's the worst that could happen? And what are the things that we should mitigate for? And what are the things that are probably so unlikely that we should just wait and see if that happens and then address it? That feels like a really nice balance. So it's not just leaning into saying no to everything. But sure, let's consider all the really bad things that could happen, make a plan for those, but still move forward with trying things out.
And I realized I do this in my own life, like when someone asks me a question around if there's something that we want to do that's a bit kind of risky. And the first thing I always think of is like, well, what's the worst that could happen? And I think that has confused people that I immediately go there because they think that I'm immediately saying no to the idea.
And so I have to explain like, no, no, no. I'm very intrigued, very interested. I just have to think through what's the worst that can happen. And if I'm okay with that, then I feel better about accepting it. But my emotional state, I have to think through what's the worst and then go from there.
CHRIS: Wow, it's a very bottom-up approach for your life planning there. [chuckles]
STEPH: Yep, I think that's, you know, it's from being a developer for so long. It has impacted now how I make other decisions. Good or bad? Who knows? Yeah, it turns out being a developer has leaked into my personal life. I've got leaky abstractions over here. So, good or bad? Who knows?
CHRIS: Leaky abstractions all the way down. Yeah, circling back to, like, I don't think I'm pessimistic per se. The way that I see this playing out often is there will be a discussion of an architectural approach, or there's a PR that goes up. And my reaction isn't no, or this has a known failure point; it is more of uh, this makes me uncomfortable. And it's that like; I can't even say exactly why, and that's what makes it so difficult.
And I think this is a place that can be really complicated for communication, particularly between developers who have been around for a little bit longer and have done this sort of thing and have gathered these battle scars and developers who are a bit newer. Having that conversation and being like, um, I can't say exactly why. I can tell you some weird stories. I might not even remember the stories. Some of it just feeds into just like, does this code make me uncomfortable? Or does this code make me happy? And I tend towards wildly explicit code for these reasons.
I want to make it as clear as possible and match as close as possible to the words that we're saying because I know that the bugs hide in the weird corners of our code. So I try and have as few corners. Make very rounded rooms of code is a weird analogy that doesn't play, but here we go. That's what I do on this show is I make weird analogies.
Actually, we were working on some code that was dealing with branching conditional things. So we had a record which has a boolean value on it. So we've got true or false, and then we've got two states, and then we've gotten an enum with three states. So all total, we have six possible states. But as we were going through this conversation, I was pairing with another developer on the team. And I was like, something feels weird here. And I actually invoked the name of Joël Quenneville because much of the data structure thought that I had here I associate with work that Joël has done around Maybe and things like that.
And then also, my suggestion was let's build a truth table because that seems like a fun way to manage this and look at it and see what's true. Because I know that there are spots on this two-by-three grid that should never happen. So let's name that and then put that in the code. We couldn't quite get it to map into the data type, like into that Boolean in the enum. Because it's possible to get into those states, but we never should. And therefore, we should alert and handle that and understand, like, how did this even happen? This should never happen.
And so we ended up taking what was a larger method body with some of the logic in it and collapsing it down to very explicitly enumerate the branches of the conditional and then feed out to a method. Like, call a method that had a very explicit name to say, okay, if it's true and we're in this enum state, then it's bad, alert bad. And then the other case like, handle the good case.
And I was very happy with what we refactored down to because this is another one of those very complex parts of our code. Critical infrastructure-y is how I would describe it. And so, in my mind, it was worth the I'm going to go with pathological refactoring that we got to there. But yes, I was channeling Joël in that moment. I'm very happy to have had many conversations with him that help me think through these things.
STEPH: That's awesome. Yeah, those truth tables can be so helpful. There's a particular article that, of course, Joël has written that then describes how a truth table works and ways that you can implement it into your habits. It's called Back to Basics: Boolean Expressions. I will be sure to include a link in the show notes.
CHRIS: But yeah, I think that summarizes my day and probably the next couple of days as I prepare for an adventure over to Europe and chat about developer spidey sense. But yeah, what's new in your world?
STEPH: Yeah, that's a big day. There's a lot going on. Well, I actually want to circle back because you mentioned that you're packing and you're going on this trip. And I'm curious, do you have any books queued up for vacation?
CHRIS: I do, yeah. I'm currently reading Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Folks might be aware of his work from the highest-funded Kickstarter of all time, which was absurd. Did you see this happen?
STEPH: I don't think so, uh-uh.
CHRIS: He did this fun, cheeky little Kickstarter. The video was sort of a fake around...oh, it almost sounded like he might be retiring or something like that. And then he's like, JK, I wrote five new books. And so the Kickstarter was for those books with different tiered packages and whatnot. I think he got just the right viral coefficient going on. And apologies for the spoiler if anyone's not seen the video, but it's been out there for a while.
So he wrote some books, and that's what the Kickstarter is for. You get some books. You sort of join a book club, and you'll get one a quarter. A million dollars seems like that will be a bunch for that. That'd be great. If he raised a million dollars, that'd be amazing. $40 million four-zero million dollars. [laughs] I'm just watching it play out in real-time as well. It just skyrocketed up. The video, I think, was structured just right. He got it onto the...it was on Reddit and Twitter and just bouncing around, and people were sharing it. And just everything about it seemed to go perfectly. And yes, the highest-funded Kickstarter of all time, I believe, certainly within the publishing world.
But yeah, Brandon Sanderson, prolific author, and his stuff ends up just being kind of light and fun. And so I was reading Elantris for that. It's been a little bit slower to pick up than I would like. So I'm now in the latter half. I'm hoping it'll go a little bit more quickly and be...I'm just kind of looking for a fun read, some fantasy thing to go on an adventure.
But as the next book, I downloaded a second one just to make sure I'm covered. I have a book by John Scalzi, who's a sci-fi, fantasy, more on the sci-fi end of the spectrum. And I've read some of his other stuff and enjoyed it. And this particular book has a very consistent set of reviews. I've read the reviews a few times. And everybody who reviews it is just like, "This isn't the greatest book I've ever read, but man was it a fun ride." Or "Yeah, no, best book? No. Fun book? Yes." And just like, "This book was a fun ride. This was great." And I was like, perfect. That is exactly what I'm looking for on a European vacation.
The book is called The Kaiju Preservation Society, which also plays on monsters, Pacific Rim Godzilla. Kaiju, I think, is the word for that category of giant dinosaur-like monster. And so it's the Kaiju Preservation Society, which, I don't know, means some stuff, and I'm going to go on a fun adventure. So yeah, those are my books.
STEPH: Nice. I've got one that I'm reading right now. It's called Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill, written by Sonia Purnell. And Sonia Purnell tends to focus on female historical figures. And so it's historical fiction, which is a sweet spot for me. The only thing I'm debating on is because I'm realizing as I'm reading through it, I'm questioning, okay, well, what's real and what's not? Because I don't want to be that person that's like, did you know? And then, I quote this fictional fact about somebody that was made up for the novel. [laughs]
So I'm realizing that maybe historical fiction is fun, but then I'm having to fact-check all the things because then I'm just curious. I'm like, oh, did this really happen, or how did it go down? So it's been pretty good so far. But then it makes me wish that historical fiction novels had at the back of them they're like, these are all the events that were real versus some of the stuff that we fictionalized or added a little flair to. I'm in that interesting space.
I also like how you highlighted that you chose a fun book. I was having a conversation with a colleague recently about downtime. And like, do you consume more tech during downtime? Like, are you actively looking for technical blog posts or technical books to read or podcasts, things like that? And I was like, I don't. My downtime is for fun. Like, I want it to be all the things that are not tech.
Maybe some tech sneaks in there here and there, but for the most part, I definitely prioritize stuff that's fun over more technical content in my spare time, which has taken me a little while to not feel guilty about. Earlier in my career, I definitely felt like I should be crunching technical content all the time. And now I'm just like, nope, this is a job. I'm very thankful that I really enjoy my job, but it's still a job.
CHRIS: It is an interesting aspect of the world that we work in where that's even a question. In my previous life as a mechanical engineer, the idea that I would go home and read about mechanical engineering...I could attend a conference, but I would do that for very particular reasons and not because, like, oh, it's fun. I'll go meet my friends. For me, this was a big reason that I moved into tech because I am one of those folks who will, like, I will probably watch a video about Remix in particular because that's my new thing that I like to play around with and think about.
But it needs to be a particular shape of thing I've found. It needs to be exploratory, puzzle-y. Fun code, reading, learning work that I do needs to be separated from my work-work in a certain way. Otherwise, then it feels like work, then it is sort of a drudgery. But yeah, my brain just seems to really like the puzzle of programming and trying to build things. And being able to come into a world where people share as much as they do blogs and conference talks and all of that is utterly fantastic.
But it is a double-edged sword because I 100% agree that the ability to disconnect to, like, work a nine-to-five and then go home at the end of the day. Yeah, go home, you know, because you remember when we went to an office and then we would go home afterwards? I have to commute every once in a while into the city and --
STEPH: You mean go downstairs or go to another room? That's what you mean? [laughs]
CHRIS: I used to commute every day, and it took a lot of time. And now when I do it, I feel that so viscerally because I'm like, it's just a lot easier to just walk to my office in my house. But yes, I 100% I'm aligned to that like, yeah, no, you're done with work for the day, walk away. That's that.
And learning a new technology or things like that, that's part of the job. There shouldn't be the expectation that that just happens. There's continuing education in every other field. It's like, oh, we'll pay for your master's degree so you can go learn a thing. That's the norm in every other...not in every other industry but many, many, many industries.
And yet the nature of our world the accessibility of it is one of the most wonderful things about it. But it can be a double-edged sword in that if there are the expectations that, oh yeah, and then, of course, you're going to go home and have side projects and be learning things. Like, no, that is an unreasonable expectation, and we got to cut that off. But then again, I do do that. So I'm saying two things at the same time, and that's always complicated.
STEPH: But I agree with what you're saying because you're basically respecting both sides. If people enjoy this as a hobby, more power to you.; that's great. This is what you enjoy doing. If you don't want to do this as a hobby and respect it as a job, then that's also great too. There can be both sides, and no side should feel guilty or judged for whichever path that they pursue.
And I absolutely agree, if there are new skills that you need to learn for a job, then there should be time that's carved out during your work hours that then you get to focus on those new skills. It shouldn't be an expectation that then you're going to work all day and then spend your evening hours learning something else. And same for interviews; there shouldn't be a field that says, "Hey, what are your side projects?" Or at least that should not be an important part of the interview.
There should be an alternative to be like, "Or what work code do you want to talk about?" Or something else that's more in that nine-to-five window that you want to talk about. That way, there's a balance between like, sure, if you have something that you want to talk about on the side, great, but if not, then let's focus on something that you've done during your actual work hours because that's more realistic.
CHRIS: I do think there's an interesting aspect at play because the world of development moves so rapidly and because it's constantly changing. And to frame it differently, I don't think we've got this thing figured out. And so many people lament how quickly it changes and that there's a new framework every other week. And there's a bit of churn that is perhaps unnecessary.
But at the same time, I do not feel like as a community, as a working population, that we're like, yeah, got it, crushed it. We know how to make great software, no question about it. It's going to be awesome. We're going to be able to maintain it for forever, don't even worry about it. New feature? We can get that in there. They're actually still pretty rare.
So we need to be learning, and evolving, and exploring new techniques. I think the amount of thinking is probably good mostly in the development world. But organizations have to make space for that with their teams. And thoughtbot obviously does that with investment days. That's just such a wonderful structure that embraces that reality and also brings happiness, and it's just a pleasant way to work. And frankly, my team does not have that right now.
We do the crispy Brussels snack hour, which also now has a corresponding crispy Brussels work lunch, which is one week we think about it, and the next week we do the thing. We're trying to make space for that. But even that is still more intentional and purposeful and less exploratory and learning. And so it's an interesting trade-off. I deeply believe in this thing, and also, the team that I'm leading isn't doing it right now. Granted, we're an early-stage startup. We got to build a bunch of stuff. I think that's fine for right now. But it is a thing that...again, I'm saying two things at the same time, always fun.
STEPH: Well, and there might be a nice incremental approach to this as well. So thoughtbot has the entire day, and maybe it's less than a full day. So perhaps it's just there's an hour or two hours or something like that where you start to introduce some of that self-improvement time and then blossom out from there. Because yeah, I understand that not all teams may feel like they have the space for that.
But then I agree with everything else you said that it really does improve team morale and gives people a space to then be able to get to explore some of those questions that they had earlier. So then they don't feel like they have to then dedicate some weekend time or off hours’ time to then look into a question.
And I admit, I'm totally guilty too. I am that person that then I've worked extra hours, but it's because, like you said, if there's a puzzle that my brain is stuck on and I just feel the need to get through it. But then I look at that as am I doing this because I want to? Yes. Okay, then as long as I'm happy and I don't feel like this is increasing any concern around burnout, then I don't worry about it.
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Circling back to your original question about what's going on in my world, and you mentioned scarring earlier. I feel sufficiently scarred [laughs] in regards to still working with moving fixtures over to FactoryBot. This week has really confirmed that fixtures don't trigger a lot of the callbacks, the model callbacks that exist. And so this really means that you can just create bad data that your application doesn't actually allow your application to create.
So there are tests that are exercising behavior that should never exist. And then porting that over to FactoryBot then highlights that because then as soon as I move that record over and then try to create it or do something with it, then the app, the test, do the right thing and let me know saying no, no, no, we've added validations. You can't do that anymore. That has been grinding my gears in terms of trying to then translate. Because then I have to really dive into the code to understand it. And the goal here is to stay as high level as possible and not have to dive in too much. But then that means that I do have to dive in and understand more.
So this has frankly just been one of those times in my career where you just kind of have to slog through the work. It's important work to be done. It'll be great once it's done. But it's a painful process. And the best way that I've found to make it more enjoyable is to be in heavy communication with Joël, who's on the project with me, just so if we get stuck on something, then we can chat with each other.
And then also there's one file that's particularly gnarly. And so we moved over one test. We were successful, and which felt great because then we could at least document like, okay, when we come back to this, at least we have one example that highlights the wonkiness that we ran into. But we've decided, okay, we're done with that file. We're going to take a break. There's a lot there, but we're going to move on and give ourselves a break and do some of the easier ones, and then we'll circle back to the harder one.
Which was, I think, just a bit of bad luck in terms of, like, as we're going down the list, that happened to be like the gnarliest one, and it was like the first one that Joël picked up. And so I'm going through a couple of files, and Joël is like, "What? [laughs] How are you making progress?" And we realize it's just because that file, in particular, is very hard to find all the mystery guests and then to move everything over.
Finding a positive note through all of the cruft, I will say this is helping with some of my code sleuthing skills. So as I am running into these problems and then looking for mystery guests, I'm noticing ways that I can then, as quickly as possible, try to triage and identify as to why one test doesn't match another test. Some of it is more specific to the application setup, so it won't be as applicable to future projects. But then some other areas have been really helpful.
Like, I'm using caller a lot more to understand, like, I know this is getting called, but I don't know who's calling you. So I can put in a line that basically outputs like, show me your stack traces to how you got here. So that's been really nice as well. So it has improved some of my code sleuthing skills and also my spidey sense in terms of it's typically mystery guests.
Like when a test isn't passing, it's because fixtures are creating extra data that are getting pulled in when there are queries that are being run. But they're not explicitly referenced in the test setup itself. So that's typically then where I start is looking for what record looks relevant to this test that I haven't pulled over to my test setup.
CHRIS: I appreciate you finding the silver lining, the positive bit of this. Because as you're describing, the work that you're doing sounds like I think you use the word slog, which seems like a very accurate term. But sometimes we have to do that sometimes for a variety of reasons. We end up either having to introduce new code or fix old code, but this is sometimes the work.
And this is something that I think you and I share about this show is we get to show all sides of the work. And the work can be glamorous and new. And oh, I've got this greenfield app that I'm building, and it's wonderful. Look at the architecture. And I know in the moment that I'm building someone else's legacy code three years from now. [laughs]
And so telling the other side of the story and providing that rounded point of view, because like, yeah, this is all part of it. Again, I don't believe that this is a solved problem, building robust software that we can maintain. And so yeah, you're doing the good work in there. And I thank you for sharing it with us.
STEPH: Thanks. Just don't use fixtures in your test, I beg of you. Please don't do that to the legacy code that you're writing for future developers. [laughs] That is my one request.
CHRIS: And I will maybe add on to that, sparingly use callbacks. Maybe don't use them at all, and certainly don't use the combination because, my goodness, that'll lead you into some fun times. But yeah, just two small recommendations there.
STEPH: Oh, there's something else I wanted to share. I saw that Slack added a new audio feature that allows you to record the pronunciation of your name, which is the feature that I was so excited about when we added it to our internal tool called Hub at thoughtbot. And now Slack has it on their profile so that way you can upload the pronunciation. And then anyone looking at your profile can then listen to how to pronounce your name.
There are a couple of other features that they released, I think just in June, so about a month ago from the recording of today. [laughs] That's weird to say, but here we are. So I'll include a link in the show notes so folks can see that feature in addition to others, but I'm super excited.
CHRIS: Oh, that is nice. I also like all right, so Slack now has it. Hub now has it. But I don't have access to Hub anymore. And I don't have access to every Slack in the world yet. But here's my suggestion. All right, everybody, stick with me here. I want you to own a domain. I want you to have a personal site on it. And I want the personal site to include the pronunciation of your name.
I get that that's a big ask. And I get that there are other platforms that are calling to you, and you may be writing on those. But you know what? Just stand up a little site, just a little place on the internet that you own. And if it includes the pronunciation of your name, I will be forever grateful.
STEPH: I like this idea. I initially was taking your idea and immediately running with it as you were speaking it because then I wondered if everyone had their own YouTube channel. But I don't know how hard it is to create a YouTube channel. I am not a YouTube channeler, so I don't know what that looks like. [laughs] But not everybody will know how to purchase a domain. So that might be another approach.
CHRIS: I think it's pretty easy to do a YouTube channel. I'm conflating a couple of things. This is my basket of beliefs about people on the internet, but I kind of think everybody should own their own little slice of the internet. And so totally, YouTube is a place where the people make some stuff, make videos, put them on YouTube, absolutely. But ideally, you own something. I see a lot of people that are on YouTube, and that's it, and so their entire audience lives on YouTube. And if YouTube someday decides to change or remove them or say Medium as an example, Medium actually, I think, does a more interesting version of this where your identity kind of gets subsumed into Medium.
And I really think everybody should just have their own little, tiny slice of the internet that's there. It has their name that they own that no platform can decide; hey, we've shifted, and now your stuff is gone. Cool URIs don't change as they say, and that's what I want. And then yeah, if you can have the pronunciation of your name on there, that's extra nice.
Although I say that, and I don't know that I would do it because my name feels very obvious. One day someone was like, "Oh, how do you pronounce your last name?" I forget if I actually replied with the pronunciation. Or if I was like, "I need to know what options you're considering. I'm so interested because I've really only got the one." Maybe I'm anchored. Maybe I'm biased. [chuckles] I've been doing this for a while. But I really cannot think of another pronunciation of my name.
STEPH: You might hear another one that you really like, and you need to pivot.
CHRIS: Oh gosh.
STEPH: That's the point where you start pronouncing your name differently.
CHRIS: Wow, that would be a lot. And then, I could have a change log on my personal site where people can see this is the pronunciation, and this is what the pronunciation used to be.
STEPH: [laughs] I like this idea. I also like this idea that everybody has their own slice of internet land. I like this encouragement that you're providing for everyone.
On a slightly different note, there's a blog post that I'm really excited to talk about. It's written by Eric Bailey, who's a former thoughtboter. It's called The Optics of Pair Programming. And given how much pair programming that I'm doing, especially with Joël on the current project, it was a really wonderful read.
And it also helped me think about pairing from a different perspective because we do have a very strong pairing culture at thoughtbot. So there's a lot of nuance, especially social nuances that can go along with when you invite someone to pair with you that I had not considered until I read this wonderful post by Eric. And we'll be sure to include a link in the show notes.
But to provide an overview, essentially, Eric shares that given coming from thoughtbot where we do have a very open approach to pairing where pairing sessions are voluntary and then also last as long as the problem will last...but then when you're at a new company, you could experience pushback if you're inviting someone to pair and then to consider why that pushback may exist. And some of the high-level areas that Eric highlighted are power dynamics, assessment, privacy, and learning styles.
So to dive into each of some of those, there's a power dynamics of it's important to consider who's offering to pair. So if I've joined a team as a consultant, there may be a power dynamic there that someone is feeling where their team is paying for my time. So they may feel like they can't say no if I offered to pair. They feel like they need to say yes to the invitation, even if they don't really want to.
Or probably a more classic example would be like, what if your boss wants to pair or someone that's just more senior than you? Then it could leave you feeling like, well, I can't say no to this person, can I? Which yes, you totally can say no to that person, but it may leave you in a place where you feel like you can't. And so, it puts you in this sort of uncomfortable and powerless position.
The other one is assessment, so offering to pair with someone could feel like you are implying that you want to assess their skills or that you're implying that they're not up to the task and therefore they need your help. So then that could also place someone in an uncomfortable position. There's also privacy. So someone who isn't confident may not want someone to observe their behavior or observe how they're working. It could make them feel really anxious, which then I love that Eric points this out.
Ironically, pairing is really good at addressing that lack of confidence because then you get to see how other people work through their problems or how they think, or they may also have some anxiety. Or it just helps you become more comfortable in talking and thinking through with other people. So that one is a tough one where it's hard to get over that initial hurdle. But actually, the more you pair, then the less anxious you'll feel when you pair.
And then there's also learning styles because pairing really involves a lot of deep thinking but in our personal time. And it can be hard to balance both of those, and it's just not as effective for some people. So I know that even as much as I really enjoy pairing, I just need to sit with code on my own sometimes. I need to think about it. I need to run it; I need to look at it.
So it's really nice to talk with someone. But then I also need that alone time to then just think through it on my own because I can't have that same deep focus if I'm also worried about how the other person is experiencing that session because then my mental energy is going towards them.
So that covers a number of the social nuances that can be included or running through someone's mind when you extend an invitation to them to pair. And it really resonated with me the areas that Eric highlights in this blog post. He also talks about a couple of strategies, which I'd love to dive into as well. But I'm going to pause here and see what thoughts you have.
CHRIS: Yeah, I love this post. And it got me thinking about pairing and the broader human backdrop of all of the processes and workflows that we have. Everything he highlighted about pairing feels true. Although similar to you and to Eric, I've worked in a context where pairing was a very natural, very regular part of the work and sort of from the very top-down. And so everyone pairing between developers of any different level or developers and designers or really anyone in the...it was just such a part of how we worked that no one really questioned it or at least not after the first couple of weeks.
I imagine joining thoughtbot those first weeks; you're like, oh God. As I shared, I think in the previous episode that we recorded, my pairing interview was with Joe Ferris, the CTO of thoughtbot, [laughs] writing a book about good and bad code. And I was like, I don't know what anything is here but very quickly getting over that hurdle. And having that normalizing experience was actually really great, and then have been comfortable with it since. But the idea that there are so many different social dynamics at play feels true.
And then as I think about other things, like stand-up is one that I think of as this very simple this is a way to communicate where we're at. And where necessary or where useful, allow people to interject or step in to say, "Oh, let me help you get unblocked there or whatever it is." But so often, I see stand-up being a ritual about demonstrating that you are, in fact, doing work, which is like, here's what I did yesterday. I don't know if it's useful. Then mention that you're working on this project. But the enumeration of look, obviously, work was done by me. You can see it; here are the receipts. It's very much this social dynamic at play.
And retro is another one where like, if retro is very much owned by one voice and not a place that change actually happens where people feel safe airing their opinions or their concerns, then it's going to be a terrible experience. But if you can structure it and enforce that it is a space that we can have a conversation, that everyone's voice is welcome and that real change happens as a result of, then it's a magical tool for making sure we're doing the right things. But always behind these are the people, and feelings, and the psychology at play. And so this was just such an interesting post to read and ruminate on that a little bit more.
STEPH: Yeah, I agree, especially with a comment that you made about those daily syncs where I really just want to focus on today and what you have that you're blocked on. So it's a really nice update in case there are any cross-collaboration opportunities. That's really what I'm looking for in a daily update. And so I appreciate when people don't go through a laundry list of what they did yesterday because it's like, that's great. But then, like you said, it's just like you're trying to prove here's what I've done, and I trust you; you're working. So just let me know what you're doing today, friend.
So Eric does a wonderful job of also including some strategies for ways that then you can address some of these concerns and then how there may be some extra anxiety that's increased when you're inviting somebody to pair. There are some wonderful strategies. I'll let folks read through the blog post itself.
There are a couple in particular that came to mind for me because I was then self-assessing how do I tend to approach pairing with someone? And some ways that I want them to feel very comfortable with that experience. And there's a couple. There's one where I recognize that I need to build trust with each person. I can't just go on to a team and expect everyone to know that I have good intentions and that I'm going to do my best to be a fun, helpful pairing partner, and that it's not a zone of judgment. And that has to be cultivated with each person.
Because especially as a consultant, if I'm joining a team, the people who hired me are not necessarily the people that I'm working with. It's someone that's probably in leadership or management that has then brought on thoughtbot. And so then the people that I'm working with they don't know me, and they don't know what my pairing style is going to be. So looking for ways to build trust with each person and then also inviting them or asking for help myself.
So there's a bit of vulnerability that has to be shown to build trust with someone to say," Hey, I'm stuck on a problem. I would love a second set of eyes. Would you be willing to help me out with this?" So then that way, they're coming in to help me initially versus I'm going in and saying, "Hey, can I help you?" I have found that to be an effective strategy.
And there's one that I do really want to talk about, and that's not everyone is going to pair well together. Like, you may find someone who always leaves you feeling just stressed or demoralized. And while it's important to consider your role and why that's true, that does not mean it's your fault and necessarily your problem to fix.
So similar to having to manage up, you may need to coach the person that you're pairing with in ways that help you feel comfortable pairing. But if they don't listen to your requests and implement any of that feedback, then just don't pair with that person. That is a very fine option to recognize people that are not receptive to your needs and, therefore, not someone that you need to then force into being a great pairing buddy.
And I emphasize that last one because it took me a little while to become comfortable with that and accepting that it wasn't my fault that I wasn't having a great pairing session with people. Similar to when I'm learning from someone that if someone is explaining something to me and they're making me feel inadequate while they're explaining it to me, that's not necessarily my fault. Like, I used to internalize that as like, oh, I just can't get this.
But I am now a very staunch believer in if you can't explain it to me in a way that I understand, then that's probably more on you than on me. And that has also taken me time to just really accept and embrace. But once you do, it is so freeing to realize that if someone's explaining a concept and you're still not getting it, it's like, hey, how can we try harder together versus you just making me try harder?
CHRIS: I like that right there of like, if I don't understand this, it may actually be you, not me, or something to that effect. Let's get that on a bumper sticker and put that in The Bike Shed store so that everybody can buy it and put it on their cars or at least just us. But yeah, that starting from the bottom sometimes it's just not going to work great. There are even...I think what you're describing sounds a little more complicated, individuals who are personally not great at communicating or pairing or things like that. And that's going to happen.
We're going to run into folks that...pairing is communication. That's just the core of it, and some folks, that may not be their strongest suit. But I think there's another category of just like different working styles. And whereas I might...judge is such a heavy word, but I'm going to use it. I might judge someone who is not doing a great job at communicating to someone else, or understanding their point of view, or striving to do that, or taking feedback. Like, those are not great things.
Whereas there may just be two different development styles or backgrounds, or there are other reasons that actually they may be not an ideal fit. That said, I have definitely found that in almost every variation of pairing, I've seen work at some point. Like, when I was very early on in my career pairing with folks that are very senior, I didn't get most of it, but I got some stuff. And then folks that are very much on the same level or folks that have a deep knowledge in framework, code base language, whatever and folks that are new to it but have a different set of experiences.
Basically, every version of that, I found that pairing is actually an incredibly powerful technique for knowledge sharing, for collaboration, for all of that. So although there are rare cases where there might be some misalignment, in general, I think pairing can work.
I do think you hit on something earlier of there are certain folks that are more private thinkers, is how I would describe it, where thinking out loud is complicated for them. I'm very much someone who talks. That's how I figure out what I think is I say stuff. And I'm like, oh, I agree with what I just said. That's good. But I find I actually struggle. There's something I think of...maybe I'm just a loudmouth is what I'm hearing as I say it, but that is how I process things. Other folks, that is not true.
Other folks, it's quite internal, and actually trying to vocalize that or trying to share the thought process as they're going may be uncomfortable. And I think that's perfectly reasonable and something that we should recognize and make space for. And so pairing should not be forced upon a team or an individual because there are just different mindsets, different ways of thinking that we need to account for.
But again, the vast majority of cases...I've seen plenty of cases where it's someone's like, "I don't like to pair. That's not my thing." And it's actually that they've had bad experiences. And then when they find a space that feels safe or they see the pattern demonstrated in a way that is collegial, and useful, and friendly, then they're like, oh, actually, I thought I didn't like pairing. I thought I didn't like retro. I thought I didn't like stand-up. But actually, all of these things can be good.
STEPH: Yeah, absolutely. It's a skill like anything else. You need to see value in it. And if you haven't seen value in it yet or if it's always made you anxious and uncomfortable, then it's something that you're going to avoid as much as possible until someone can provide a valuable, positive experience around how it can go.
I'm going to pull back the curtains just a little bit on our recording and share because you've mentioned that you are very much you think out loud, and that's how you decide that you agree with yourself. And I think already at least twice while we've been recording this episode, I have started to say something, and I'm like, no, wait, I don't agree with that and have backed myself up.
STEPH: And I'm like, no, I just thought through it; I'm going to cancel it out, [laughs] and then moved in a different direction. So I, too, seem to be someone that I start to say things, and I'm like, oh, wait, I don't actually agree with what I just said [laughs], so let's remove that.
CHRIS: Yep. You've described it as Michael Scott-ing on a handful of different episodes or maybe things that were cut from episodes. But where you start a sentence and then you're like, I don't know where I was going to end up there. I hoped I'd figure it out by the end, but then I did not get there. And yeah, I think we've all experienced that at various times.
STEPH: That’s some of my favorite advice from you is where you've been like, just lean into it, just see where it goes. Finish it out. We can always take it out later. [laughs] Because I stop myself because I immediately start editing what I'm trying to say and you're like, "No, no, just finish it, and then we'll see what happens." That's been fun.
CHRIS: This is how you find out what you think. You say it out loud, and then you're like, never mind. That was ridic –
CHRIS: I do. Actually, now I'm thinking back, and I have plenty of those where I'll say a thing, and I'm like, nope, never mind, send that one back. [chuckles] As an aside, so we do this thing where we host a podcast, and we get to talk. But we're both now describing the pattern where we'll start to say something, and we’ll be like no, no, no, actually, not that. And I think, dear listeners out there, you probably don't hear any of this, the vast majority of it, because we have wonderful editors behind the scenes, Thom Obarski for many years, and now Mandy Moore, who's been with us for a while.
And so once again, thank you so much to the editor team that allows us to, I think, again, feel safe in this conversation that we can say whatever feels true and then know that we'll be able to switch that around. So thank you so much to the editors who help us out and make us sound better than we are.
STEPH: Yeah, that has made a big difference in my capabilities to podcast. If we were doing this live, ooh goodness, this might be a whole different, weird show. [laughs]
CHRIS: I mean, the same is true for code, right? I deeply value the ability to make an absolute mess in my local editor and have nine different commits that eventually I throw two out. And then I revert that file, and then eventually, the PR that I put up that's my Instagram selfie. That's like, I carefully curated this, but what's behind the scenes it's just a pile of trash. So yeah, the ability to separate the creation and the editing that's a meaningful thing to have in life.
STEPH: Oh, I can't unsee that now. [laughs] A pull request is now the equivalent of that curated Instagram selfie. That is beautiful. [laughs]
CHRIS: To be clear, I don't think I've ever taken an Instagram selfie. But I get the idea, and I felt like it was an analogy that would work. Again, I try out analogies on this show, and many of them do not stick. But I think that one is all right.
STEPH: It might even go back to pairing because then you've got help in taking that picture. So hey, you're making a mess with somebody until you get that right perfect thing, and then you push it up for the world to see. So safe spaces for all the activities, I think that's the takeaway. 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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