Whether a project needs multiple areas of expertise or is just too big for one person, there are times when coding is not a solitary process. Collaborative programming enables a team to review each other’s code and track the progress of the entire project, and when done well the benefits can be incredible. But as you add more team members you also add more risk of problems like mismanaged code or computational inefficiency, often creating more problems than you hoped to solve in the first place.
Luckily there are steps you can take at every stage of your project to make sure your collaborative coding is efficient, effective, and even a little fun.
While there are many ways in which a team can be structured, the two most common ways are the Egoless Programming and the Chief Programmer team structures.
The Chief Programmer structure consists of three primary people: the Chief programmer, the Senior programmer, and the Program librarian. For simple and straightforward programming and coding tasks, this structure can be hard to beat. But as your problem set becomes larger and more complex, this structure can make communication and collaboration problematic.
Egoless Programming is a more decentralized system of programming that involves fewer than ten programmers. The entire team is involved in setting the project's goals while leadership is rotated at different stages of the project based on ability and availability. This is usually best for complex tasks and results in better communication and job satisfaction. The only drawback of this structure is that there might be a lack of control or defined direction.
Whichever path you choose, it’s important to have a defined team structure if you want your collaborative programming project to succeed. Just as important is having a defined structure for how things will be accomplished.
Once the roles are defined, the next step is to divide the project into tasks and assign them to all the team members. It is best to have one team member handling just one task, to avoid redundant work or mismanaged code. With all tasks assigned, it falls to a team leader to be responsible for arranging and conducting meetings, scheduling regular status updates and check-ins, monitoring the timeline and progress of the project, and facilitating clear goals between team members and clients. Finally, ensure everyone knows what everyone else has to do so that each member can know whom to go to for various inquiries regarding troubleshooting, deadlines, or any other issues with codes.
Different programmers have different coding styles, that’s a fact. But in order to have all code play nicely, you need to define standards for coding before development begins. If this is not done the likelihood of programming errors and overall inefficiency skyrockets. The best way to overcome this is to define the coding standard that all the team members are to follow. While doing this, it’s important to take into account the diverse styles of your team and find an ideal compromise, using industry best practices and recommendations as your final guidance.
In a situation where different team members have different coding styles, it is not advisable to start rewriting other people's codes believing that your code is best. This can affect the relationship in the team and thereby causing lower team satisfaction. The only reason code should ever be rewritten or edited is if compatibility issues arise or the code falls well outside the agreed-upon standards.
When certain codes become very large and complicated, you and your team must keep track of how things evolved. Just as Dropbox keeps a backup of your files, version control software or systems keep track of and back up your codes as you iterate upon them. The only difference between version control and a file storage system like Dropbox is that version control keeps a backup of your code forever. When a bug crops up (and it will), version control allows you to compare your new code to your previous release and quickly identify which changes may have caused it. If version control is not used, finding the root of certain errors in a collaborative programming project can be very daunting, difficult, or downright impossible.
In programming, we have a concept known as "ramp-up time." This is the time it takes for the team to bring a new member up to speed concerning a certain project. This can mean spending more time educating the new team member and removing the focus on other tasks. If your project falls behind schedule it can be enticing to add another person to pick up the slack, but it’s important to take into account what productivity may be lost by shifting the team back into “ramp-up time.” The rush to get a new developer up and working could also lead to less than adequate education, thus setting them up for failure if they don’t properly understand your team structure or coding standards.
When collaborating and working with codes, it is very important to engage in code reviews. Code review means sending our codes to a colleague to review after we have finished working on them. Some questions the reviewer must ask include:
Once a reviewer has gone through your codes, they must deliver constructive feedback to you – this means that instead of pointing out only the flaws, they should also provide constructive improvements. If the code is in the right shape, it is the reviewer's responsibility to appraise the programmer. It’s also important if you are the code reviewer to set aside time and give yourself a definitive objective, like reviewing 400 lines of code within a 2-hour span.
While it may seem daunting, taking a collaborative approach to coding can result in higher productivity and better solutions for projects. While skill plays a part in higher productivity, team members must realize the importance of communication in moving the project forward. Once a code is reviewed, it is very important to fix any issue that arises from the codes immediately. Finally, remember that to be a truly effective team member you need to be healthy and comfortable while you work. Get lots of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and don’t be afraid to take a break.