Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Book Review: Practices of an Agile Developer

Software development is widely known as having the largest gap of any discipline between the best known practices and the actual practices utilized in the field. The most depressing part of that statement is how inaccurate the qualifier of "widely known" probably is, because if the gap was as well and widely known as it should be, the gap would be shrinking much faster than it is. Is the gap even shrinking at all?

One of the things on the good end of this gap is the collective practices known as Agile Development. The creation of software is fluid and must be adaptable at a moments notice, defined as it is created, and grown rather than built, says the mantras of the agile development proponents. They contrast to the traditional and aging mentality of designing everything before writing anything, following a walled path to the goal, and building monoliths of code. The differences between the old side and the new side are great, and this is the gap we need to wade across to solve the ever growing problem of software quality nightmares.

Practices of an Agile Developer does a fantastic job of taking you across that gap, step by step, and bestowing the benefits of engineering yoga. First to last page is packed with excellent tips, techniques, proven methodologies, and stories of horror and salvation by the blessing of a better way to create software.

There is a lot in this book that I was not aware of and a lot I was well aware of, and even some things that I tried actively to practice. I didn't know how much of the practices I used were part of the "agile" moniker, but they worked. Because I knew a lot of my favorite practices had something to do with this strange movement I kept getting glimpses of, I picked up a copy of the book at Borders and decided to fill in the blanks between what I knew.

I found most of the book to be a reinforcement of things, but there was a sizable number of completely new thoughts to ponder. Iterative development, unit testing, small and non-breaking changes, and utilizing the tools like bug trackers and source control, were all related to my real world experience, which made them even more mentally valid.

For anyone who can program and wants to become a better developer, this is a great volume to pick up. At 178 pages before the appendixes, you can run through and absorb the content quickly and begin putting it to good use. I've seen improvement in my own work, and it takes will power to put the things you learn to common use by yourself, but its worth the effort. If you have heard of agile development, learned some things about it, or know nothing at all of the issues, you will find this a good read if you want to be better at what we love to do: create good software.

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I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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