Sucking less every sprint

After battling the feature for about a week, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  His comment to me was, “man, looking back I could have gotten this completed so much faster if I knew what I know now.”

Earlier this month we hired a recent C.S. graduate.  He had been working as an intern for several months, and with the transition to full-time he let me know that he wanted to take on a bigger task.  The timing was right and I assigned him a simple yet slightly more involved task than he was accustomed to, and he went to work.

During our morning standups each day he would indicated progress — and it truly was progress — but the final solution kept eluding him.  After four days he said during standup, “today is the day I will complete this feature.”  But it didn’t get done.  It took him an additional three days.

I don’t fault him at all for taking the amount of time that he did on this feature.  It was more difficult than he was used to, and he wanted to make sure he nailed it.  In the end, he did a great job.

What struck me was his statement about how quickly he could have completed the task had he known what he knew after he was done.  It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  In a way it’s part of becoming self-aware:

Self awareness
Self-awareness

OK, maybe not self-awareness. Maybe it’s closer to self-reflection. This helps us suck less every year:

I’ve often thought that sucking less every year is how humble programmers improve. You should be unhappy with code you wrote a year ago. If you aren’t, that means either A) you haven’t learned anything in a year, B) your code can’t be improved, or C) you never revisit old code. All of these are the kiss of death for software developers.

I’d go as far as to say that you should suck less every sprint. If you’re not self-aware, if you’re not continually self-reflecting — you are dying as a programmer. If your team slogs through sprint after sprint, release after release, without any time to reflect on recent work, and how it could have been improved, it slow its progress to a halt. Or at least lose momentum. Which may turn you into a zombie.