Assets of a software craftsperson

During a workshop at 8thLight Justin Martin collected assets of a software craftsperson. He published these on his apprenticeship blog, and I found the list compelling for some extensions. As I went through the list, I noticed that I included most of it in my article Software Testing Craft in the first issue of the Agile Record magazine.

Strong Enthusiasm

Always brightening everyone’s mood with your love of what you do.

Deliberate practice and the enthusiasm to learn something new anywhere are at the heart of my craft. I seek learning opportunities for testing, such as testing challenges, Weekend Testing or Testing Dojos, as well as Coding Dojos, Coding Katas, and Refactoring challenges. Skimming code to seek improvements has become as vital to me as testing a new application for flaws that may bug me later. The life of a software professional is a daily learning opportunity, if you’re open for it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Especially if you feel rushed, or have bitten off more than you can chew.

Everybody tries to be helpful, all the time. Indeed, Jerry Weinberg pointed out in Becoming a Technical Leader that being helpful is a key for becoming a motivational leader. That said, there are two sides of the medal: being helpful and asking for help. In a helpful environment it’s easier to ask for help. But don’t shrug in the non-helpful environments, either. Don’t be afraid about saying “I don’t know”, since it’s vital to know what you don’t know. If you do know what you don’t know, you also know when to ask for help.

Ask a lot of questions

Even if you are already a Craftsman, if you are surrounded by other Craftsman, there will always be new things to learn.

There is a direct connection to the previous point. Asking for help is a special case of asking lots of questions. By asking questions, you start to reflect over the course of what you perceived. Over time, when you get helpful answers on your questions, you are able to learn from the answers, and grow. This is called expertise or experience. By constantly questioning not only the technical facets, but also the process aspects of your work, you develop yourself as well as your mind.

Discipline Discipline Discipline

The mark of a Craftsman is to have an unfailing discipline to do the right thing. Whether that is constantly learning new things, or never forgetting what you know, especially when it is hardest to practice.

Discipline is a key to successful learning. Giving in to feelings of pressure or mistrust is the pathway down to suffering. You need discipline to stay on your course and pursue it. Leaving the safe ground means to go awry. Discipline itself can be separated into three basic components: going slow, doing it right, and being methodical.

Go Slow

Often it is better to take your time, making sure you do every step correctly, rather than rushing for a temporary spike in productivity.

Going faster by going slow, sounds weird, but it’s the paradox key to success. Always remember that typing is not the bottleneck, otherwise we could simply pursue faster keyboards for you. Giving your mind the right amount of slack, saves you from paralysis. Rushing something to success is merely the solution of a novice. Taking the time for steady progress now, rather than a full bloat of erroneous features that you need to fix later, will not help in the long run.

Do it Right

Never stop practicing the things you know that work. Don’t stop testing first. Don’t stop refactoring.

How come we always have the time to do it over, but never the time to do it right? Going slow is the first step in order to make it right. If the software does not work, you can hit any other requirement, but it’s the “getting it to work” that’s the hardest part. Similarly, if your suite of automated checks has a lot of false positives, that is tests that pass, though they shouldn’t, then you will never know whether you can successfully deliver your software, or not. Make the tests and the checks right, or don’t make them in first place. Anything worth doing, is worth doing it right.

Being Methodical

Be thorough. Be certain you are producing the best work that you are capable of through a steady and unflinching practice of virtues.

Taking the time, and making it right, are the first steps in order to being methodical. If you give in time pressure, you are less likely to work methodical and might fall back to cowboy-coding. This does not help. Instead, remember what you learned, the TDD-cycle, the ATDD-cycle, don’t try to run before you walk. Through this you will reach steady progress that helps you and your customers.


A Craftsman knows his own productivity, and can gage how much he can get done in a certain time span. Making lists, getting metrics, and measuring your productivity will help to accomplish this.

The heart of Agile is to make progress visible. Measuring anything worth measuring, in order to prepare an informed decision later. Craftsmanship takes this a step further. In order to know how much effort a particular project may be, you need to have data from your past. Creating lists based on past experiences may help you with this. Over time you will be able to see patterns, and might no longer find the lists useful. By then you may have reached a new level of mastery – the Ri-level in the ShuHaRi model of skill acquisition or the Expert stage of the dreyfus model.

Understanding the Real Business Intent

It is important to remember you aren’t just writing code to fulfill some requirement on a note card, but you are actually creating a product that a business intends to use. Try to understand what that note card means to them as you transform the requirement into a feature.

In order to do the right thing, you have to know what the right thing is. Understanding the business behind your work is essential for any knowledge worker. This includes developers, testers, business analysts and technical writers. Without the vision of your work, you’re doing useless work. Remember the Product Principle from Weinberg’s Quality Software Management series: Anything not worth doing, is not worth doing right. Since you’re doing everything right, avoid doing anything not worth doing in first place. Of course, in order to make this decision, you need to know what your customer’s business is asking for.

Recognize your failures

Recognize your failures of the past so that you can move forward on a new level.

Taking the time for reflection is essential. Self-blindness about own failures does not help you grow. Therefore seek opportunities to realize your failures and learn from them. We all make errors at times. The aspect that makes us human, is the fact to learn from our mistakes.

Don’t be shy with your ideas

Throw your ideas out there, and then be the biggest critic of them. You only stand to gain when others see your ideas (unless youzz crazy).

Sharing your ideas is essential for the community to grow. Pay back what you get from the community by bringing in your own ideas. Of course, they might be subject to critics, but these critics will help you grow, learn from the mistakes you make, and contribute to your professional growing over time. If you’re shyly hiding your ideas in your mind, they’ll be gone when you’re gone. The other way round they may even survive.

Lessons always come at a cost

Stay positive, because if you are getting punished by your mistakes, remember that you also learning from your mistakes.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. At times you will wake up and see you have painted yourself into the corner. It’s essential to take course corrections at that time, though this might mean to switch your jobs. It’s a worthwhile lesson, but it has to come at a price. At times, you may have difficulty paying the price, though it’s the most sane thing to do. Remain positive about these changes.