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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

TRAINING AND GETTING ADVICE

Professional athletes use coaches to help them to play better. Doctors are required to take courses on medical advances each year. The best OO designers I know gather several times a year to trade ideas and pass on what they have learned. New bank tellers go through two weeks of full-time training before being put in front of a customer. Yet the average organization budgets perhaps one week of language training for their novice OO developers. Do you really want a $2,000,000 system built by people with one week of training? If a bank teller needs two weeks of training, how much should a developer get before tackling your OO project? A few organizations have worked out the economics of the situation, and send their new developers to about six weeks of training.

What to Teach

You expose your project to risk to the extent that your developers do not know the following topics. Arange for them to learn all eight.

  1. How to think in objects.

  2. How to make object design trade-offs.

  3. How to program in the selected language.

  4. How to use the tools.

  5. Which conventions to follow on each deliverable.

  6. What is in the class library.

  7. What a framework is, how to use it, and how to document it.

  8. Their role on the project and who is dependent on them.

The next sections discuss a strategy for each hazard.

Developers do not know how to think in objects.

YOU ARRANGE: Three days of instruction plus ongoing coaching

If your people do not know how to think in objects, the design will not have good encapsulation of design decisions, and so it will not be easy to possible benefits, 23 extend over time. It will be, at best, a design that works once. You will miss costs, 28 the benefits of objects, without avoiding the costs (see Chapter 2). So:

  • Find an introductory course that teaches object thinking, plus programming or design. It should be a four- or five-day course because usually it takes three days to learn to think in objects.

  • Hold periodic internal sessions for people to learn how good objects grow, or assign a mentor to do that task. New OO designers encounter a lot of pressure to use a nonobject (i.e., nonencapsulated) design. They have a great deal of time pressure, previous design habits to overcome, and few good examples to follow.

This process should go on for a year, until people are generating questions and answers by themselves.

Developers do not know how to make design trade-offs.

YOU ARRANGE: Another three days of instruction or mentoring on the project

If your analysts, designers, and programmers do not know how to make trade-offs in object design, then they will mistakenly think they are doing a good job when they are doing a mediocre job; the analyst will not understand when the designer/programmer rejects a "good" model because it is not appropriate for implementation. Send your database designers through this training also, so they understand the reasoning behind some of the rather different designs the OO designers come up with. Fix weak design by finding a course that explicitly teaches design trade-offs. Such courses are hard to find, I am sad to say; most teach everything but design trade-offs. However, there are some around. As an alternative, the mentor or one of the experts you hire will be able to provide this information on an ongoing basis throughout the project.

Developers program poorly or use tools badly.

YOU ARRANGE: Language/tool courses

Tools and programming instruction are the easiest to arrange. There are courses for every language and every tool. Smalltalk takes about one day to learn, C++ takes about one week. Each course typically is bundled with an introduction to object-think and class libraries. Find a C++ course that teaches C++ for object-oriented programming, not C++, the language (see section on C++ earlier in this chapter). The OO C++ classes teach object-think and language. Graduates of regular C++ language classes still have to learn object-think and then must learn which of the nifty things from their C++ class they should not use.

Different programmers write differently, making the code hard to learn.

YOU ARRANGE: A half-day meeting or course on project conventions

Programmers write differently from each other because (1) they don't know what you expect from them, and (2) they tend to seek their own way and are somewhat skeptical of others' methods. You must deal with both of these issues.

Have the project's technical leaders negotiate and agree on a set of design and coding standards, a common, technically acceptable way of designing and programming. Meeting these standards is what you expect of your programmers. You might want to believe that all you need to do is send out a note with the standards, and then everyone will know what you expect of them. This will not work for reason (2) just mentioned.

Hold a half-day class or meeting to go over the standards. Let the programmers ask specific questions. It is important that the person answering the questions be someone they trust. You will save time by answering many of their questions at one time.

Some of the programmers will have legitimate exceptions to the standards; some will identify real flaws with them. Others will express fear that the standards will not be sophisticated enough to handle their situations. Good responses to their questions from the technical leads, along with well-designed standards, will allay most of those fears.

Another purpose of the meeting is to show the programmers that the project is really a team effort. This builds a culture, without which there may always be the nagging feeling on an individual programmer's part that "Maybe (the local superprogrammer) is not really going to use these, and I am the only sucker complying." I have seen decent standards ignored because such a meeting was not held, even though the standards were issued and signed by the local superprogrammer and team lead!

Developers create redundant classes because they do not know what is in the class library.

YOU ARRANGE: Courses on and reviews of purchased classes; design reviews

This problem is more difficult than the suggested fix makes it appear. Your language course should spend time on the standard class library. When a new class library is purchased, either the vendor or someone on the project should run a course on what it includes. Not surprisingly, people forget what is in those libraries, and have a tendency to create minor varia-polyBloodyHard tions. This is part of the reuse problem (see Chapter 5).

No one knows how to document a framework well.

YOU ARRANGE: For people to read various framework descriptions and experiment with writing them

Frameworks have been around since the mid-1980s, but still the documentation of them is unsatisfactory. Circulate the MacApp framework, the Taligent frameworks, and the Gamma et al. Design Patterns book. Have people discuss those and experiment with their own documentation. Software designers don't like to write or to read documentation, so try to bring up the level of writing using examples and simple encouragement. Make sure that your courses include understanding and using (not creating) frameworks.

Developers do not understand their role on the project and who depends on them.

YOU ARRANGE: Methodology review

If developers do not understand their role on the project, they will not make a decision they could make, or they will not pass on information to another person waiting for the decision or needing the information. Make sure all team members know which other people contribute to their work, and how their work affects other people. Hold a meeting at which you present the project's roles and the role interactions. This is part of your methodology and part of setting up communications.

When to Teach

Just in time, and continuously. Teach just before people need the knowledge, or else just after they have tried something on their own. It rarely pays to teach everything at one time. The exception is a six- to eight-week "boot camp" designed to turn out fully functioning OO developers. Such a camp will be organized (we hope!) so that material is introduced just about at the point when it can be integrated into the project.

Project Ingrid successfully used both teaching strategies: just-in-time and continuous training (see Chapter 2). The leaders introduced new concepts just before the developers needed them. OO concepts with simple language topics and class library contents came first; advanced language topics, framework design, and design patterns came later. On the job, the developers had a chance to digest and put the information into practice. A few months later, the more sophisticated design techniques and language were taught just about the time the designers were being given more significant design work.

Continuous training was used to keep smaller quantities of information flowing to the designers over a long period of time. Project Ingrid conducted a weekly half-hour or one-hour study group to discuss particular topics. They chose examples of good and bad code, polymorphism, multiple inheritance, or alternatives to subclassing. The developers got used to asking questions and receiving information outside of class, and they were exposed to much more information over the long term. Those people are likely to continue to develop over time—which is what you want for your developers.

Teach just in time, and continuously.

Getting Advice

Make your own mistakes and learn, or pay for the advice up front. They cost the same, but learning the hard way takes longer. This is an unabashed recommendation to get advice. Many pitfalls have already been discovered, and it is a waste of time for you to rediscover them on your own.

You may need a consultant and a mentor. The consultant's role is to steer you away from pitfalls or to help you recover from those you have already fallen into. The mentor's role is to grow your developers by teaching them good habits. The mentor does not have to be the best developer, but rather someone with a good bedside manner, who is able to encourage and coach the trainees.

Market demand currently exceeds the supply of properly trained mentors and consultants, so take the time to investigate the experience and references of consultants and mentors you may want to hire.

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