Thursday, October 30, 2008

cowboy coding contests

When I worked with a team in Philly, we used to play this Cowboy Coding Contest game about once a month. It's simple, requires no prep time, and can be used as an emergency substitute any time another slack-time activity falls through.

First, we all took a few minutes to write down the description of some challenging, interesting, and quick-to implement programming task (e.g., output all the fibonnacci numbers between 1,000 and 10,000). Then we added these index cards to a hat. On contest day, we would randomly pull out a card, read it, and race to do the implementation. The idea is the task can be completed in 20-45 minutes, and the first person or pair to complete it correctly wins. At the end of the pre-negotiated time box (usually 30 minutes, but depends on the task), everyone stops and reviews the code. We compare and contrast implementation styles, talk about how people felt, and compare the results of different practices (was this code test-driven? was it done solo or by a pair? did the programmers use different languages or built-in APIs? is it readable? is it a valid strategy? why did this person get stuck? does it look procedural/functional/object-oriented?)

For me there are a few main objectives here
  • learn how to manage scope, under pressure, to get something working quickly
  • provide a safe, open forum to discuss different programming practices/styles
  • practice doing the simplest thing that could possibly work

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