The Polite Code Reviewer
- Code Review is an opportunity to educate and learn at the same rate.
- Don’t comment before understanding the reasoning behind the changes.
- Spend the same energy recognizing good stuff (encouraging and/or praising it) that you apply to find bad stuff.
- Discussions in code reviews can be learning material (and they serve for future references).
- Be very specific on what is not that good and use code examples to make your point.
- Recognize the effort that the author employed on trying to make the best they can.
What is this post about, guyz!? OMG!
Lately some work colleagues told me that my code reviews are a little bit “different”. Being the very self-confident person that I am, I started to ask myself (and other people) what could I do to make them better. Then I discovered, much to my surprise, that the “difference” in this case was actually a good thing.
I’ll try to break down into steps the thought process that make me review code the way I do nowadays.
Read the code (and not “just” the diff )
At least for me it is very tempting to just glance my eyes over the diff. And I normally try my best to avoid this urge and really® read the changes.
This is how I understand the context for the changes, and I think this is a pre-condition to make up any type of conclusions.
The objective here is to bring up the motivations
- Why something is writen in the way it is?
- What was the thought process the developer used here?
- Can I learn something from it? (not just technically but even about the business?)
Maybe that piece of
that appears to be irremediably moronic
is in there due to some strange historical reasons.
And the first “code reading” that I do
aims unfold the context
within the code changes are wrapped.
So to really® read the PR before posting any comments is something that works very well for me (I guess).
Emphasize the goods before bashing the bads
As alien as that concept may appear I really (want to) believe that the main concern of the code reviewer is to emphasize the good stuffs. This way those delicate things can find the atmosphere to keep blooming.
IMHO it’s way more effective to avoid bad coding from “happening” than to just complain when it happens. And no worries or false hopes:
bad code is going “to happen”
But my advice is: just relax and focus the review on appreciation of the good stuffs. Again, since this is a difficult thing for us programmers (should I dare to say humans?), here are some examples that Time taught me and that I tend to mix, match and use on my reviews:
- Nice idea in here! I didn’t know this was possible.
- Wow, this usage of this blew me away, I’ll use it next time I have the same problem to solve.
- Clever placement here, huh?
- How have a I lived until now without knowing it!? 😱
And of course, I hereby grant the permission for you to use any kind of memes and animated gifs in this phase. Slow claps is one of my all time favorites.
Reviews are historical registers
Githubz and similars offer a great deal of tooling to make the code review comments/messages look pretty and organized. And I find myself more and more referring to “old” Pull Requests. Majority of the times to remember the suggestions that arrived on solving some specific problem, or changing some specific type of code.
Write them as if someone, much probably you, would go back to it in the future. This also should be kept in mind while creating the Pull Requests, but this is subject to a whole new blog post™.
Now, it’s that time…
I try my best to point everything that is not ok with the Pull Request. But I believe this should be done in the most polite way that I can. And let’s face it already: I’m a sir.
An important thing to keep in mind (before start to point the things that should be different) is:
bad code is going “to happen”, remember?
And this is totally fine. We make mistakes all the bloody time. Well, at least I do. MAYBE I’M A MORON, WHO KNOWS!? But seriously, if we don’t make booboos we are not trying anything new/better, right?
To point those problems is to create opportunities to assess why this is happening:
- Something is unclear about our standards?
- There is some business logic misconceptions?
- Someone could enjoy some brown bag sessions on OO design?
Never say that something is plain ugly
First because it’s just wrong.
Don’t be an
asshat douche bad person.
But also because this is very, VERY subjective.
The prettyness is in the viewers eyes.
So I try my best to be VERY objective about it.
If something is wrong, I try to show why and how
I use the miracle of code syntax highlighting and all sorts of h1, h2 and h3 on my markdowns to make my comments very readable. Well… at least I try, ok!? 😤
Another tip is to enhance the examples with references to older experiences, other people on the interwebz that the team respect (blog posts, books, etc).
Try and prove your point. Do some effort. Spent some time on it.
When I feel that something is wrong but I can’t provide a clear example on how to do it better, I try to call for a conversation. You know? That old thing when you exchange some words? Face to face? Probably some ideas will pop up, but I really avoid to write in the PR those foggy brain farts💨.
When you “THINK” something is wrong, just test it first
I’m always watching myself to punch me in the right ear before I write something like:
“I guess this isn’t really necessary, ya know? But I’m, like, not sure.”
The person that wrote the code spent some time on it, thought about some abstractions to make it cool, wrote tests/specs to guarantee that it’s working… So I think it’s just lame to “just guess” that something in the PR isn’t the best/right way to go. And more than that, kinda delegate all the job to prove or disprove something to the same person that is working hard on some feature.
And in the majority of the cases
I discover really nice stuff when I do a rapid test in the terminal.
You know? I’m talking about those
#third method is on Active Support or Ruby itself “
type of questions.
Now go there and just enjoy your day
We are all here for the fun and the learnings. So hang around with your peers allways you can, talk about what you can do better to improve your interactions.
Let’s have some fun on our working lifes.
Thank you very much. REALLY! BIG THANKS
This post would be even worst without the carefull early reading, revision and polite point fingers from
You are the man, bruv! 💙