Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

13 September 2005

PDC05: Day Two (Passing the Joel Test BoF)

We left the session and went to find David McKenzie, who had just arrived from Chicago, and then head to dinner. We wanted to find something close and quick since the Birds of a Feature sessions were due to start soon. After a little walking we opted for the California Pizza Company. As we waited for our table, we noticed literally thousands of bats flying overhead in a huge circle. I took to photographs, uploaded to my flickr set, but the bats are nothing more than hazy black dots. It was an incredible scene. The pizza was reasonable, and fortunately the bats had gone away by the time our pizza came. We headed back in time to arrive late for the first Birds of a Feather session, so I took a break to blog and relax until the second session.

The session I attended was "Passing the Joel Test" hosted by John Moody ("With All My Mind" blog). I have been a fan of his blog for some time and I am already a big fan of Joel on Software, so the combination was just perfect. The topic at hand was discussing how your team fares on the Joel Test and how you plan, or do not plan, to improve your score. Coming into the session I had rated DeLorme's team at either a 9 or 10 out of a possible 12. I had thought we would rate very badly, but when everyone was asked to shout out their scores the average was about 3 to 5. How could that be?

We then had a great discussion about several of the line items. We started with #12, "Do you do hallway usability testing?" At Delorme we have experienced two limiting factors with this form of testing. First, the people you bring tend to learn your style of UI design and gradually pick up on subtle hints that most users will not notice. Thus the design is usable for a co-worker, but not usable for someone less familiar with your particular style. Second, developers often fail to heed the advice of co-workers. We found the results of a usability test conducted were almost the same as advice already given by co-workers but ignored. The other points we discussed including the relationship between #5 "Do you fix bugs before writing new code?" and #10 "Do programmers have quiet working conditions?". Most people felt the two rules expressed the idea, "All things being equal, fix a bug before adding a new feature." This is a good rule of thumb from my point of view. Finally, we had a long discussion about #2 "Can you make a build in one step?" and #3 "Do you make daily builds?" Our practices at DeLorme were well ahead of most of the other companies in the session. We have an extensive one-step build process and run multiple nightly builds. The session was well worthwhile; I wish more people have been able to attend.

Lastly, it was a real hoot to meet John Moody. He is a pleasant, bright guy and did a great job as a presenter. We had a good chat on the way back to the last bus out of the conference center. Heck, he even referenced me as "the guy from Maine" in his blog posting last night.


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