Grading, evaluation and good code applied to apprenticeships

Today I had the opportunity to talk about some of the skills that I needed to learn while becoming a leader. The girlfriend of a brother-in-law is a teacher for primary school. Today I got into a discussion with her about grades in school. During the discussion I thought on where do teachers get to know how to grade a student. Since I had one in front of me, I took the opportunity to ask directly. She stated that there was no education or course during the time she spent on university on this. In Germany there are two years of traineeship for new teachers mandatory. She stated that during that time she learned just a few regarding the grading process. So most of the grading is done on intuition. Interestingly her description reminded myself of the very first few months of my group leader time, during which I had to do a performance review for one of my colleagues. No one had taught me up to that point how to do it, I just had one review so far for myself. There was no course back in university where I could have learned it. During my last ten to fifteen years I have been a swimming trainer and lead the swimming department at our local sports club for some time, but clearly this was the only opportunity where had experience from leading people – and these situations are less context-driven due to its nature of a teacher to a student. Even today it is still hard for me to reflect whether or not I take the proper intuition into account. (The bad news is that most of your colleagues will not take the courage to inform you of your bad decisions.)

Right before starting to write about this article, I noticed that there is a similar case for good versus bad code. What did I learn at the university about code? What had I learned about bad code? Good code? Most of the insights I have today come from my experiences at work. When I started about three years ago we had an undesigned test automation framework. There were lots of script functions without intent. Whenever I needed to put in something new, I had to go out look for the right place to do so. Additionally I was never fully aware if there already was a similar function that I should have been extended, decomposed, refactored to meet my new requirement. This was a mess. Over the past year I was able to get rid of this grown framework and introduce and grow a new one.

We focussed on good aspects of code there. Using test-driven development, refactoring and regular reflection while evolving our classes. This was a good practice and we even tried to avoid most of the deficiencies from our previous experiences. Over the last year we had some contributions from a team that did not follow your initial approach. The result is that there are currently two ways to do things. When inspecting the code I can now see the difference between good code I wrote, bad code I wrote and very bad code from that I permitted to be included into the code base. (There was an up in the findbugs remakrds, a down in the code coverage and an up in the crappyness trend after the commit operation. The bad code was visible.) The main problem is that my colleagues do not seem to bother, where the broken window rule comes in. There is much work left to do and I know that I will have to take the responsibility to clean up this mess.

The point that is striking for me is, that there is no education on these things that matter most during day-to-day work. You do not get taught the stuff to grade your students. You get able to do so by getting experiences, intuition and your own guts and hunches. Similarly there is no education for a good or a not so good worker. You have to trust yourself here. The same goes for the cleanliness of code. Despite the books I could mention (the one with just that name), there is no preparation in university for clean code. Similarly there is little to no education on good tests or not so good tests. From my perspective a major challenge for craftsmanship – be it software craftsmanship or even testing craftsmanship – is to teach these difference in an apprenticeship. This is our profession and our job to do in the years to come.

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