Friday, August 8, 2008

Of Code Reviewers and Food Critics

For last 2-3 months, I was involved in testing our in-house customizations of Sun's IdM product. My responsibilities included not only leading the QA effort for the customizations but also to support the development effort by reviewing and suggesting improvements to the code/design.

So engrossed in my newfound glory as a unit tester/code reviewer, I realized that it may be easy for me to look at the code and find out a problem with it. But if I had to write something like that myself, I'd end up spending much more of my mind and time than it usually would take an average programmer. That realization reminded me of something I had recently heard in a movie.

The movie was "Ratatouille" and the scene was when Anton Ego starts writing his critique after visiting Gustaeu's Restaurant and having a meal cooked by the new but unknown chef Remy:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

The parallels between a food critic as described above and what I was doing seemed surrealistically close, so much that I had to finish this post (after realizing it had been lying in my drafts for a few weeks). In some ways, that was exactly what I was doing. I enjoyed a position over those who wrote the code because finding out a problem with a piece of code drew much more attention than the original act of writing it. I thrived on negative criticism because it would get immediate credit, instead of the work of a developer which was the reason my role existed in the first place.

There are some fundamental differences as well. One being that Anton Ego, as a food critic does not have to care about the success of the Restaurant he is reviewing. This affords him the luxury of being overtly aggressive and have a dismissive attitude. My role on the other hand (both as a tester and code reviewer), is as responsible for the success of the product as any other stakeholder. That is the reason I'm as much pained when I find an issue in some code that I previously have reviewed and may have overlooked as the developer with whom I have to revisit the information once again. But the basic responsibility of both is still the same: to challenge the creator of an artifact to produce a better product which aligns with or exceeds the expectations of the users/consumers.


The project is nearing its completion now and in hindsight, this is what I have to say:

This was a dream project for me. The kind of project that comes like once in a few years and offers amazing challenges with tremendous learning opportunities. Right kind of people, right kind of responsibilities and right kind of control over what I wanted to do. As much as I enjoyed working every moment in this project, I have to realize that in my enthusiasm, I may have stepped over some boundaries. I may have offered some unwarranted advices that were probably irrelevant or I may have criticized something to hide my lack of competence. I will take full responsibility for all the misgivings I caused, in however form I may deserve. But I do hope it will be realized that most of whatever I did was aimed at the common cause of project's success, and the fact that I enjoyed every bit of it and tried to make it enjoyable for everyone else should make it all the more worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. roles switch easily - I'm a programmer, but also a manager of others ... your attitude is very well suited to allow switching of roles without immediately having to feel guilty for thoughtless past actions.
    I appreciate what you're doing and always try to do the same: take into consideration the role, responsibility and feelings of the other person, as it could be you, after all, in the next project.