Thursday, December 04, 2008

Software Configuration Management for Developers

Coming out of my post on locking down merges, Tim Wingfield provided the following intriguing inquiry (paraphrased):

First, most of our clients don't delve into what our dev practices are, what source control we use, how we use it, or any of the specifics below feature/deliverable level. Am I being sheltered from a bigger problem out there?

Secondly, how can we as developers alleviate that issue? Source control, like the language something is written in, really shouldn't matter beyond that of a maintenance issue. A competent dev team is going to make use of all tools available. Removing merging from that list is like telling us to develop in Notepad!

These are great questions. First off, if your team is developing a product or a deliverable but not source, I feel the process and tools your team is using shouldn't be of much concern to the client. We should be leveraging 100% of our best practices and the optimal tools to deliver high quality software in the most efficient method possible. You should be leveraging tools for parallel development such as branching, merging, Test Driven Development (TDD), test plans, automated Continuous Integration (CI) builds, etc.

That said, this rarely happens (clients not caring about process, tools, and/or wanting source code). So, addressing Tim's second, following question, I think senior or lead developers must be well-versed in Software Configuration Management (SCM) and the software development process. Great developers should understand concepts such as:

  • Version control
  • Branching / merging
  • Test Driven Development (TDD) with test harnesses for class libraries
  • MSTest, NUnit, TestDriven.Net, Resharper, etc.
  • Continuous Integration (CI) builds
  • Automated deployment and promotion between environments
  • Automated execution and interpretation code analysis and code metrics/coverage
  • Well-versed in frameworks/methodologies: Scrum, Kanban, TDD, MDD, etc.

...and this is probably the short list. If you're an aspiring developer wanting to ascend to the next level, my advice to you: get great with SCM and the software development process. You will differentiate yourself significantly from other developers.

How about the situation where we're on site developing a solution the client will eventually maintain? As with most client situations, you're there to provide expertise and advice. If there's an existing SCM solution, certainly we should adhere to this--but seek to optimize! In an amicable and calm manner, gently make suggestions for improvement to your clients. "Hey, I've had great success and increases in quality through introducing test harnesses with continuous integration into the process. I could set up a demo in a day if you like."

System Integrators (SI), in my opinion, aren't hired to provide amazing development expertise. They're hired to solve problems. Typically, development shops have business problems but they also perpetuate software development issues due to shortcomings in SCM technique. You, as that trusted advisor, need to evangelize and lobby for optimal and proven processes and tools which increase the likelihood of quality and success in software development.

Go forth and optimize with SCM! To this end, here is my list of resources to aid your journey with SCM.

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