I followed a neat project for the last couple of months which today became a reality, Visual Studio Achievements. Achievements are something the gaming world are very familiar with. They're milestones of recognition to meet like "Blowing up 30 Enemies with 1 Grenade" or "Destroy a Super Tank playing the Classic Game". There are a lot of sites around the Internet to track them including one dedicated to just XBox 360 ones here.
They're fun and you get a bit of an internal high when you see this on your screen:
The Visual Studio Achievements follows the same idea and, once installed, are based on your activity as you work. Achievements are measured and discovered in the background when you compile. And hey, it's cool and fun to see this after a compile:
However when you look through the list of achievements one thing jumps out to those that try to follow good coding practices. These are certainly not that. In fact if I caught you writing a class with 10 levels of inheritance I would rip you a new one at the next daily stand up that would make even the likes of Gordon Ramsay shake in his knees.
Ahh but you say these are for fun. Yes, yes they are and far from me to be the party pooper. What sparked me to write this blog response is to emphasize F-U-N and not practice. Seriously you won't believe (or maybe you will) how many developers I talked to around me that thought this was a cool thing to install in their work environment.
Wait. Let's think about this for a minute.
Install achievemnts add-on in work environment.
Okay, the first step is fine. The second step is what we do. The third step? Hang on. Didn't I just say that having 10 levels of inheritance is a bad thing? So if you get the achievement during your daily work it should be a bad thing, not something to celebrate.
It's like breaking the build (which we all do at some point and certainly people get ridiculed for it, it's all fun right). Breaking the build is a bad thing but it's a good spin. It means we recognize something went wrong and whatever mechanism you have to let you know (since everyone on the team should get notified) means you get up, rally around, and fix the problem. Good stuff. Build fixed, work continues.
Where's the rallying here? The only thing that will happen is the dev will see the achievement, pat himself on the back and have a chuckle then what? What should happen if you installed this and got an achievment should be:
Silently say "Oh shit"
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Hopefully this is the case, but again I've asked a few people and they miss the point of the fun aspect here. This shouldn't be something you strive to achieve, the achievements here (as they stand currently) should be something to avoid. In fact it should set of an internal whoop-whoop alarm and cause you to think "What the Hell was I thinking".
Before you dismiss me, I'm all for fun. I'm the guy that has robot zombies and posters of Close Encounters in my cubicle and challenges developers to games of magnetic Angry Birds after stand-up. I'm all that. However I just want people to be aware that this is fun and there might be a message here. Keep focused on good practices and not bad ones. In the game achievement world, we try to achieve these tasks. Heck when I get a game and I'm bored I look through the achievements and set myself up to try to accomplish it (mostly failing since I literally suck at almost every game).
However developers should not be looking at these achievements as something they should be striving for (except just to get the achievement and make it onto the site). What would I really like to see? Some actual achievements that developers can strive for and be proud to achieve. How about "Eliminate 10% of the codebase without removing functionality" or "Mock a service and pass 10 unit tests against it" as achievements.
Herein lies the real problem though. Getting the fun achievements is easy. They're tangible and simple to measure. How do you measure "good code"? Can you scan code with a computer and determine separation of concern? Or if your code follows SOLID principles or not? Somethings are detectable but most of the good stuff is not. That's the real trick here (and if you figure it out in a system where you can automatically detect it and award and achievment for, all the better).
Like I said, have fun with this addon. It's neat and I applaud the developers for coming up with it. I don't discourage its use but keep in mind what it is and what the message behind it is. Hopefully one day with might have some positive achievements to strive for as well as the fun ones.