HumanTalks September 2016

For the September session of the HumanTalks, Sfeir accepted to host us. Everybody was coming back from vacations (including us, organizers) but we managed to find 4 speakers and a place to host in a short amount of time. Tasty bagels and a nice terrace under the warm sky of September is a perfect way to start a new year.

FedEx days

First talk was about an experiment done at NanoCloud, something they call FedEx days. They did not invent the principle, and you should be able to find articles on the subject online.

The goal of FedEx days is to bring coworkers together in a timeboxed session to work on a specific subject of their choosing. They marked a day in their calendar, and one week before they asked everbody to suggest ideas of projects that could be built. Projects need to bring some value to the company, and need to be something you can actually build (no wild dreams here). Then everybody pick a suggest and form a team of about 4 people to work on it. Having no more 4 people in a team creates a climate of healthy competition.

In their iteration, most of the people chose a group based on their personal affinities with others, so there was no diversity in the teams. It's something they would like to change for the next event.

But what was nice was to bring together in the same team people that have been in the company for a long time as well as recent hires. It helped the new hires to better know their coworkers and the product. They plan to make it an "official" part of the hiring process for the next hires.

I'm personnaly unsure this is something I'd like to do on a regular basis. Or, let me reformulate. I think small team of friendly coworkers working on small features that bring value to the company should be what every day should look like. But actually immerse new hires in a team when they join, so they can know their coworkers better, have a deeper understanding of the product and bring something to the company seems a good idea.

ES Next Coverage

Second talk was way more technical, about a code coverage tool. Oleg, from Sfeir, is the developer of esnext-coverage. We saw how testing code is important, but also how having coverage of the tested code is an indicator of test quality.

Not everybody does testing, and even less people do coverage. Configuring the whole test/coverage stack is time-consuming and often discouraging. Oleg tried to make it as simple as possible with esnext-coverage so developers couldn't hide behind excuses.

The tool allow the exporting of the results in json or HTML as well as any custom formatter. This is an improvement over Istanbul that apparently have a limited list of built-in formatters. The default HTML formatter creates a single page application that you can use to browse through the code.

We then saw how all this works in practice, including a live-code of the instrumentation phase, where the initial code is transformed into another code that will "count" each time a line is executed. The whole demo was done in AST explorer, an online AST (Abstract Syntax Tree) console.

Basically every call to a method, or every variable assignment is replaced with a call to a method that will increment the count associated with the current line.

Interesting talk, I always like to see people write code that write codes. I like the meta aspect of it. Also, Oleg is a great speaker which made understanding the underlying concepts easier.

Taking the hard out of Hardware

Alex Bucknall from Sigfox tried to show us how hardware isn't actually so hard, and why it's actually closer to software than we could think.

It looks complicated because we cannot see it. But so is software, and concepts between hardware and OOP are often the same. Classes, Objects, Inheritance, all of that can be found in hardware as well.

Alex explained how the basics of hardware are actually simple, and how more complicated pieces are built out of simpler blocks and then packaged under a new name. And even more complex blocks are built out of those previous ones, and so on.

Everything looked so easy when Alex explained it, but still it felt too fuzzy to me. There are still concepts and words I don't get (frequency, voltage, etc) that I had trouble following.

If anything, it nicely introduced what SigFox is doing, namely hardware blocks that can communicate between each other through familiar HTTP/API/callbacks mechanisms.

What is a stand-up meeting?

Last talk of the day was about the stand-up meeting ritual, dear to the Agile methodologies, presented by Thibaut Cheymol.

Stand-up meetings must answer three specific questions: What did I do yesterday? What will I do today? What issues did I face? All three questions must be answered without forgetting the current sprint goal.

If done like it should, the stand-up meeting will boost the motivation of the team, letting everyone having a clear picture of what they are going to do today, and more importantly: why.

But we all know that the stand-up meeting can turn into a reporting game where everybody waits for their turn to speak and report in a military fashion what they did the day before.

The advice given by Thibaut against that were to:

  • Actually stand up. No chairs, no leaning against the wall, no computer.
  • 15mn tops. More than that and it's boring
  • Start on time. Be concise. No discussion, no interruption.
  • Be prepared (~5mn the day before)

Other more generic advices were to always talk about what was done, not what is in progress. Trying to talk about the end goal ("I made sure that people could buy the product"), instead of the actions done to achieve it ("I implemented the API responses").

Not everything goes as planned, we often have issues that need to be dealt with in the moment, delaying us from what we planned on doing today. In that case, we need to fix issues when they arise, but talk about them on the next stand-up meeting. To avoid having discussions and/or people talking for too long, Thibaut suggested the following three-turns approach:

  • Everybody, in turn, tell what the issues were
  • Everybody, in turn, tell what actions they did to fix the issues
  • Everybody, in turn, expose the results of the actions taken the day before

I haven't been doing a single stand-up meeting in the past year and a half, and I don't miss it at all. I did a lot of them in my previous job, but never perceived it as valuable tool (because we fell into the classical traps, maybe). I'll keep those advice in mind if I ever have to do another stand-up meeting again.


Thanks again to Sfeir and all the speakers. Next month we'll be at Prestashop, with 4 new talks. Hope to see you there.

Tags : #humantalks

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