Tag: development

Ouya Support: needs improvement

A few weeks ago, my kickstarter Ouya console arrived at my house. I was excited. Since every console is also a dev kit, I wanted to set it up and see if I could build a simple game for it.

I went to the website and tried to download the SDK, but found that I couldn’t. When I clicked the link, I got served an error message.

I sent an email to Ouya support to notify them about the problem, and received an auto response immediately, thanking me for contacting them.

The next day I figured out that I could get the download link to work, by trimming some unnecessary information from the url.

Weeks passed, and I forgot all about the email I had sent them. Today, almost 2 months later, I got a follow-up message. This time, it was a generic response, written like a form letter, advising me to go read an FAQ that might answer my question. Nowhere in the response was there any indication that a human had been involved at any point in reading my email, or generating the responses.

Obviously, I am disappointed by the experience. On the bright side, I figured it out for myself, and it didn’t cost anything. On the negative side, I got the impression that Ouya support is inadequate.

I imagine that they just don’t have the resources to provide higher quality free support for developers at present, and are overwhelmed by their success. This is somewhat to be expected, so I am understanding, but I do hope to see improvement from them in time. Developer support is, obviously, going to be crucial to the success of this fledgling new platform, and I do want to see it succeed and fulfill the potential that I saw in the ideas that they outlined in the original kickstarter pitch video.

Refactor often

If you dread or fear refactoring, it’s because your code is a big ugly mess.

If your code is a big ugly mess, it’s because you didn’t refactor soon enough or often enough.

To make your code not be a big ugly mess, you need to refactor it.

So, refactor every time you see the opportunity. Keep the code lean and pretty. Then refactoring stays simple and easy and doesn’t take long or hurt.

I say do this even if you feel mounting deadline pressure. In the long run, the gains in maintainability will far outweigh perceived slowdown of productivity. Working on maintainable code is far more productive than working on unmaintainable code.

Don’t ship messy code. Messy code hides many flaws. Flaws that you’ll need to fix sooner or later anyway. When you fix a mess, it’s a lot more work than fixing something that’s clean.

Still more reflections from CodeRetreat

I’ve had some decent response to the posts about CodeRetreat. I had some more thoughts come to me in the days following, mostly on pair programming, but no time to write it until now. Here’s a brain dump:


This was my first opportunity to try it out, and I instantly liked pair programming. Much of my frustration in trying to learn how to program has come from trying to learn in isolation, getting stuck, and having no one to go to for help. Pairing means you have someone right there who you can talk to, and who can also catch mistakes that you might not have caught until much later.

Be Likeable

I think pairing is a great idea, but with the caveat that it requires you to like your partner. Establishing rapport is critical. I would say that if you are trying to program with someone and have yet to click on a personal level, it might be a good idea to stop trying to program and start trying to connect. Find some way to do this. Play a game that fosters working together with a common goal, like Jenga. If you can’t connect, then it might well be better to not try to pair up, or even not try to program together at all. Divorce is greater than the sum of its parting.

There’s only so much you can do about your partner, but you can do a lot to be likeable. Don’t focus immediately on the problem, but on the partner first. Smile. Be cheerful and enthusiastic. Remember names. Listen. Avoid negativity. Try out your partner’s ideas. When you think something, explain why you think it. When you want to try something, explain why you want to do it and what you hope to accomplish. Then don’t spend a lot more time talking about it — do it. What works becomes a lot more apparent at runtime than any other time, and the quicker you get there the better.

Assert(IsEqual(Life.Spice, Variety));

That’s not to say that you should never pair up with someone who has a very different style from yours. Very often that is precisely the type of person who you should be looking to pair with, because their differences will be the things that you learn from. Still, someone who you can communicate with easily is a must. You’re not going to enjoy learning from seeing a different style if the person demonstrating it is incapable of explaining it in a way that you can understand. Programming style is not the same thing as personality.

If you don’t get along well, or have very different styles, there’s a risk of ego clashes. Frankly, there’s always going to be a risk of ego clashes. Fortunately, this did not come up at CodeRetreat — the people who attended were there because they wanted to be there, which I think makes a huge difference. If your partner isn’t at least pair-curious, if not outright interested, they’re apt not to be a very good partner.

Swing your partner

Much like… uh… square dancing, pairing is even better if you can do it with more people. Try to find more people to pair with. Put on a snazzy shirt, go to bars, wear a lot of jewelry, buy someone a drink, and ask them if they code. See where that leads.

Good pairings are unequal

Intuition suggests the best pairing combinations are unequal. The value two great programmers contribute to a pair is not as great as the value created by pairing a great programmer with an average programmer. The great-great pair may be more productive, but the great-average pair will produce another great programmer in time.

Pairing isn’t just about mentoring and learning, it’s also about collaboration, error catching, and creativity. But mentoring and learning is a hugely valuable part of it — in most cases, probably more valuable than the resulting product.

Dance like no one’s watching, Code like your repository is /dev/null

Being willing to give things a try is a huge factor to pair success. I think what made CodeRetreat so easygoing was that it was deliberately structured to be coding without consequences. We threw out what we’d written at the end of each session, so there was no goal of getting it done, no stake in one person’s approach “winning”.

In the real world, there are consequences. But if you can, try to structure the project workflow in such a way that you can code as though there were no consequences. Be willing to take risks and experiment. Don’t just stick with what you know; grow.

If the established code base is getting in the way of this, don’t be afraid to cut it. From working on numerous development projects over the past five years, I’ve learned that the actual coding takes hardly any time at all, relative to the rest of the project. Requirements gathering, design, and testing all take considerably more time in my shop. Therefore, starting over rewriting code should not be intimidating.

In fact, going back over 20 years, to the bad old days when operating systems didn’t have protected memory and applications didn’t have automatic data recovery, in every instance I can think of when I was writing something and lost it, whether it was prose or code, the re-write was always faster and the results better. So don’t be afraid to take a clean-slate approach at times.

Start over

If CodeRetreat had taught me only one thing, it would have been that it’s not just OK to start over sometimes, sometimes it’s quite helpful. Too often, though, we attach value to code that has already been written and are reluctant to throw it out. Even if it was written as a short term stopgap, if it basically works no one wants to let you throw it out. “Reusable” code is something of a mantra in a lot of shops, as well it should — rewriting the same thing over and over again sucks. But if it wasn’t the right code to begin with, reusing code is about as appealing as reusing toilet paper. Before you try to re-use code, be sure that it is in fact re-usable.

Addendum to Things I learned at CodeRetreat

The most memorable moment for me was in the afternoon, when I spoiled a rant that Mark was about to launch into about a perceived problem he had with TDD “forcing” the programmer to code improperly by requiring them to expose inner members of classes that should properly be kept private.

Instantly, I blurted out, “So write the test method inside your class!” It was kindof a “from the mouth of babes” moment. I barely even thought before the words came out of my mouth. I wasn’t even sure if that was the right answer or not, but I guess it must have been, because the look on Mark’s face was priceless.

There were so many messages in that look: 1) that I was right with my guess; 2) that Mark had been stuck on this mental error for some time; 3) that it might’ve humbled him a little bit that he hadn’t seen it before.

I don’t mean to embarrass him by recounting this — if I thought this would, I’d never be using his real name. It wasn’t that I’d really shown him up — he’s got way more experience than I do, plenty of success under his belt, and he’s someone I like personally as well as look up to. But that was the first moment I felt like I was capable of making a tangible (if relatively tiny) contribution, that it wasn’t just a one-way knowledge transfer from the more experienced programmers at the event to me.

What made it a moment I’ll never forget was that I saw that I wasn’t the only person who gets mentally stuck in my own problems when it comes to programming. If a guy like Mark can still make a mistake like that once in a while, it makes me feel a lot better about doing it too, now and then.

But the bigger lesson is, it totally reinforced the value that we all get from being in the same room, talking to each other, making mistakes in front of each other, and learning from each other what lessons we might. With enough eyes, all bugs become shallow.