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The Joel Test in Real Life and How I Try to Get 12 Points

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The Joel Test in Real Life and How I Try to Get 12 Points

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When I was assigned as a CTO, I was very excited. I think it’s time for me to bring the joy and delight of coding. So I wrote my plan ahead and I have a commitment to apply the Joel Test. It’s not an easy road though and in my one and a half year as a CTO, I will share how I have achieved more than a half of them.

It’s pretty easy to achieve all of them, 12 points, when you work for a company like Google, Facebook, Yahoo or even Microsoft (yes, Joel said that Microsoft always run at 12 full-time. Incredible!). When I was at Yahoo, people were really supportive and we always try to achieve perfection in building and crafting a software. It would be different if you work for a company where not all people understand about Software Craftmanship. It’s more difficult when you work for a company (or clients) who has a type of “yesterday is the deadline.” Those kind of companies (and probably clients?) didn’t understand about planning, priority and design. The Joel Test will help you, my friend, and me to be not only an ordinary developer, but also an outstanding developer who always ship the best crafting code ever written.

Let’s get started.

1. Source Control
At first, the team were already familiar with SVN. That’s good. But the downside of SVN still remain and I tried to change the habit a little by introducing Git. It wasn’t all romantic. Wrong commits, forgot to add files, confused between clone and checkout as well as commit and push (remember, there’s no push in SVN; everything is a commit), and hardly learn about .gitignore.

Once everybody’s familiar with it, I also try to introduce Git flow concept. Today, everyone can do push on master, only one person can merge it into develop and only one person, too, responsible merging it into release. The result? We hardly find a bug on our production.

2. Build in one step
I asked to the team how they do deployment from their local development to production before? The answers vary and all of them surprised me. The answer ranging from “no, we don’t do deployment. We directly code into the server” to “Using FTP software such as FileZilla or Cyberduck”. I got it. So I introduce the thing called “build automation.” At first, the team was uncomfortable because they never do that using any language other than PHP (I suggested that they use bash or Python). So I built one sample script using bash to auto-deploy one of our branches and sent to them to start from there. Today, we’re thankful that deployment only takes less than five minutes without human error. I repeat, without any human error.

3. Daily Builds
Before, it was not daily nor once every two days. We could have more than 5 deployment in a day or just only one deploy for three or four days. You can call it “on-demand deployment” but that’s not good for the speed of the team. So I propose to set the deployment schedule to twice a day. Like every change, everyone refused at first because they couldn’t predict how much time the would spent on one or more bugs and features. So I encourage them to learn how to predict and ship on time.

Here’s our schedule:

11.30 Deployment to staging
11.30 – 11.45 Testing on staging
11.45 – 12.00 Bug fixing followed by deployment to production

16.30 Deployment to staging
16.30 – 16.45 Testing on staging
16.45 – 17.00 Bug fixing followed by deployment to production

With this schedule, we’re able to plan our day ahead and finish everything on time. We also able to leave the office on time (to those who don’t want to stay late at the office) without leaving a bug on production.

Warning: there’s always be a person or two in your team, whether from management or other divisions who have a “yesterday or today is the deadline” mentality. Beware as this kind of sense-of-urgency-mentality seems good but it does actually nothing except nervous which affect your team’s ability to code well.

4. Bugs database
We use Excel at first but as the list grow larger and larger, we hardly maintain those list. So I decided to move those bugs and features list toBitbucket. No issues while moving all of them to Bitbucket but we faced one challenge: getting everybody logged in to Bitbucket and always update the issue list. But that’s not a problem.

5. Fix bugs before writing new code
It’s hard to explain to those who don’t understand programming the differences between bugs and features (to some people, they’re look the same: as a coding activity). It also hard to explain, when your team busy coding, why the features someone just proposed five minutes ago never go to production. Well, to some extend, I hardly implement this because some people who pretend to have power doesn’t understand that bugs usually have higher priority than features, except the engineering manager wants their team to have a huge technical debt.

Some people sometimes need to push their power by ordering a technical team to just forget what they’re doing right now for a sec and rushing to the new features proposed five minutes ago to be deployed one minute ago. This kind of people usually doesn’t understand about software development and the only one they have is power. Too bad, I’ve seen a lot of technical team frightened and do what he/she says. The result is predictable. The features weren’t build very well and those bugs were getting worse and worse. Technical debt is real. Realize it before it’s too late.

6. Up-to-date schedule
No, we don’t always have an up-to-date schedule because sometimes, requirements change without notice. Yes, we try to keep the schedule up-to-date by setting a meeting for tech team everyday (just like a 5-mins stand-up, but with different discussion). Keeping a schedule up-to-date is as hard as hunting a bug sourced from days or months of coding, but it worth the shot. I don’t think I’m successfully doing this but I always do my best.

7. Writing a spec
We hardly follow this rule because, as Joel said, many programmers hate to write a spec (even though they realize it’s a good thing). We do write specs but not in regular time. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. So we still miss this point.

8. Quiet Working Conditions
Yes, we do. In fact, our company is some kind of “traditional” companies which doesn’t encourage employee to play the music out loud. If you want to play music out loud, use your headphones. Of course, the downside of this, if I might tell, is that you can’t do party on your office. You should go out and find some proper place to do the party.

9. Use the best tools money can buy

10. Testers
No, not yet. There is one tester who doesn’t know about coding and how to do an automatic test but he’s still very good at spotting the bugs. He also not a dedicate guy for the test. We picked him from a tech support team and taught him how to do bug report. The result was very good. Still, we need to get at least one dedicated person to do that.

11. New candidate write code during the interview
Yes, if they applied as a programmer. I asked them how to do the merge-sort in any languages they want or just using pseudo-code. I asked them how they connect to more than one database (say it three or four). I asked them to demonstrate on their laptop connected to projector (so I can see how they code) on how to solve a word puzzle (just a very simple puzzle, trivia to some programmer). It doesn’t matter whether the answer were right or wrong. The important thing is that they can code on their own (no copy-paste from Google’s search) and solve the problem one step at a time. Oh, also, I allowed them to read the documentation, but not to search the answer on Google. Most of the time, good programmers could solve the problem but forgot what function they should use (because of anxiety, maybe?). Documentation is a programmer’s best friend so I never prohibited them to take a look while in the interview.

12. Hallway usability testing
Yes, yes and yes. We do have many volunteers to try and brake our software. They also voluntarily report the defects to us.


The result is 8 out of 12. Of course, we still need to improve that 8 to be in a better state and chase the other 4 to get the perfect 12 in score (from the original score 2 out of 12). It’s important to get 12 out of 12 but the most important thing is that to make sure everyone in the team experience this kind of challenge and be happy with it so they understand the before-and-after conditions hence they will value their job (if they called it a job because I called it a hobby which, in side effect, get paid) more than 9-to-5 activity.

“Most good programmers do programming not because they expect to get paid or get adulation by the public, but because it is fun to program.” – Linus Torvalds.

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