Develop With Passion Bootcamp Course - Denver 2011

A very talented coworker and I recently went to JP Boodhoo’s Develop with Passion bootcamp training course (previously known as Nothin but .NET). I had originally heard of the course from Dave Tchepak who attended the course nearly two years ago. This blog post is a wrap-up of my thoughts and feelings about the course itself, JP Boodhoo as the instructor & experienced craftsman, and the .NET development community in general.

My prior impressions of the course from what I had read was that I would be in awe of JP’s coding and design skills and very overwhelmed with the feeling that I didn’t really know how to code; also that I would get no sleep at all that week, going from early morning to past midnight every day. I had also heard from a previous course member (off the record) that JP’s organization and direction with course material was a bit disorganized back then (luckily this has changed significantly since he had taken the course). I was really excited to see some good BDD in action, get my TDD passion ignited again (I had actually mentioned on twitter recently that my motivation for test was waning as of late), and see JP’s mad Vim skills (since I have gotten into that the last few months).

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the fulfillment of most of my positive expectations and initial impressions going into the course. JP’s personality and passion are infectious, and his teaching skills are pretty top-notch. The course material was well-structured and there was a clear direction for what we hoped to cover throughout the week (and yet, he was still flexible enough to be able to briefly entertain an off-topic direction the students wanted to take the course). He stayed true to the advertised 9am-9pm every day no matter what. He said that when he did the late nighters with previous courses, people came back the next day with little sleep and trashed as far as coding & learning capabilities go.

Watching him code so efficiently is quite a treat. He automates anything he does more than once so that a particular task doesn’t ever get in his way and hold him back the next time. His AutoHotkey scripts and automation tools that he has put together are absolutely incredible. He briefly touched the mouse two times the entire week, and it only for when one of his programs or Windows VM was wigging out. Screens and dialogs flew by so fast, you could tell he wasn’t going to let any UI (even Visual Studio) get in the way of his productivity to code. He mentioned he will be open sourcing some of his scripts that he uses to keep his development environment consistent across OS platforms. Definitely cool stuff.

As far as JP’s actual coding/design skills, I am absolutely floored. He certainly understands C# and .NET well. But it’s his Object-Oriented design skills that blew us away. I’ve realized I don’t really know OO design. I think too mechanically about the implementation of the solution instead of focusing on breaking down the problem into smaller manageable chunks. His TDD skills (both Top Down Design and Test Driven Development) are amazing. I’ve never been a fan of the TDD samples and intros I’ve seen (where the instructors do the absolute dumbest thing to make the test pass; JP admitted that style didn’t jive with him either). I’ve always thought that Behavior Driven Development and Top-Down Design were the way to go if I were to have tests drive my designs (or have tests at all for that matter; I’m still having trouble finding enthusiasm for tests written after development for modules and units). So it was great to see a master at that particular craft. It made me excited to use tests as a tool to guide my OO design, behavior discovery, and problem solving.

Some of you may recall that I had previously investigated BDD, Machine.Specifications, and Top-Down Design a year and a half ago doing the Anagram Code Kata. I think I can recognize better design and responsibility break-up and assignment nowadays. I likely will blog on these subjects again this year with new & improved passion and knowledge.

There was one sad takeaway for me personally from the course, which was a sense of disappointment in the .NET development community in general. Giving myself some time since the course to really think it through, I’m realizing I’m probably being too tough on our community, as I know each Dev community out there suffers from it’s own set of problems. But I don’t want to excuse our shortcomings either; rather, I would like to point them out so that we can focus on them and root those weaknesses out. I think our community in specific is unique in that there is a big shot company that dictates the direction our community should take, sometimes taking credit for all the innovation. Things are improving lately no doubt; it appears Microsoft is listening more and more and trying to let outsiders get involved and contribute.

But we as .NET devs need to step up and take matters into our own hands, we need to take better control of the code we write and encourage best practices within the realms of our responsibilities and influence. I believe many .NET shops rely on the tools sent down from above so heavily that we don’t really solve problems anymore. JP’s focus on problem solving and code katas from the course attack this deficiency at its core. I do somewhat blame our university Computer Science programs for not teaching real OO (a great discussion on formalism versus hermeneutics in a book I highly recommend, Object Thinking), but at some point we have to take what we were given and no matter our current standing, focus on sharpening our skills through practice and continuous learning. It boils down to individual responsibility for our current skill set and progression as a software craftsman. JP’s course does a terrific job of waking you up to that realization and inspiring you to be a better professional at your craft.

I have a few takeaways from the course that I’ll publicly spell out now. First, I (and hopefully our whole team) need to better understand design patterns and have them become integral to our code discussions. JP was all about efficiency in keystrokes and related dev tasks, and it seems natural that our language and code discussions could benefit from more efficient communication using design pattern terminology to convey a lot about a specific design concept in only a few words. Second, I hope that I (and our team again) can really put our tests to work for us, helping us recognize the problem to be solved or the behavior that needs to be captured, and then guiding us toward a simple solution. The third takeaway is related to that last part, and that is to have simple solutions that are distributed across simple object implementations (focusing on behaviors) that adhere to SOLID principles. It appears the key is to not focus on implementation specifics until the very last responsible moment; if done right, the implementations to create should be so clear cut and trivial, almost spelled right out in the tests themselves. It’s hard to put into words, but it seems crucial to focus first on the collaborators needed while designing code at the higher levels, finding ways to offload as much responsibility as possible (at least that’s what it felt like) onto dependencies that have yet to be designed and implemented. Designing Top-Down in this way gave such simple and elegant solutions that were totally extensible and adhered to the Open/Closed Principle better than any other code I have ever seen before. Perhaps as I blog more about this, I’ll be able to better put this style of coding into words (especially as I try to better understand it myself; it all seems so magical still!).

Overall, a great course that I highly recommend to all. JP has mentioned doing a similar course in Ruby, which I personally find especially interesting, given the same design/coding techniques would seem to run against a lot less friction compared to the heavy reliance on interfaces and mocking that C# require.

Stay tuned as I try to put some of this stuff into practice!