My first coderetreat abroad

Last Saturday January 7 Adi and I traveled to the beautiful city of Amsterdam. We were invited there to facilitate the first coderetreat of 2012. I was really looking forward to this and also a little anxious at first, being in unknown surroundings, and especially facilitating for Dutch people who are known for their honesty and open communication. This was indeed my first coderetreat outside of my Belgian comfort zone.

Most participants never went to a coderetreat before and had little or no experience with pair programming and TDD. So that was our first challenge for the day. We had a couple of experiments we wanted to run. First of which was to start off with explaining the 4 elements of simple design. This immediately got everyone’s attention to writing tests and having clear naming. I think those were the two elements people focused most on.

Just before lunch we were confident that we could fire off our second experiment. Adi and I had been working on a new session that forces people to focus on baby steps. I’ll explain the session in more detail soon. At first people were very stressed and felt as if this would never work. After a couple of timers and some cursing here and there, people really started to get in the rhythm and even started to finish up well within the two minute window. We got a lot of positive feedback on this session afterwards. It really focuses you on taking the smallest step possible and avoid design up front discussions. We will definitely continue on trying out this session and gathering feedback.

We had some really cool discussions during lunch, about agile development in general and around the question of “how many companies do we know that do real TDD?”. We talked about how to inspire motivation in people, why Adi and I so strongly believe in this format that we spend our free time helping and challenging others. It was awesome for me to see so many people that were genuinely surprised that we are this crazy.

After lunch it was time for the people’s first TDD as if you meant it session. And we had the same feedback afterwards as on the Global day of coderetreat: people found this session the most inspiring and useful to start using in their everyday life. They really saw the huge potential this way of working has. It’s always a bit hard to be able to predict how people are going to react to a session which is so different from their normal thinking patterns. And I’m really happy to see people are responding to it better and better.

We rounded up the last two sessions where people got more and more tired. During the last session a lot of people were already so tired that you could see the energy level dropping and the focus being lost.

During the closing circle we learned that people really liked the focus on behavior that TDD as if you meant it brings. Next to that some people were surprised by how pair programming can actually help you focus on the right things more and speed you up when you get used to it. If we had to pick one topic that people were going to start applying more on Monday, it was thinking about behavior first.

Adi and I have heard several new facilitators talking about that they want to avoid giving the TDD as if you meant it session to people that are not used to TDD or are not as experienced in general. We were talking about this on the tram to the city center for dinner and we agreed that, given all the feedback we got about this, this session is extremely useful for new people because it really focuses on the basic foundations of TDD. So our advise to all facilitators who are struggling with this: give it a try and see what happens. And if you don’t feel comfortable about it, let’s have a chat about it or invite Adi and me and we’ll come over and rock your world 🙂

Oh yeah, I love Belgian beer and Adi challenged me to drink a Dutch beer, so I tried it. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t Belgian beer ;-). We deserved it after a long day like that.

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