A lesson in courage...

Kent Beck in Extreme Programming Explained (first edition, page 31):

We will be successful when we have a style that celebrates a consistent set of values that serve both human and commercial needs: communication, simplicity, feedback, and courage.

Of all the agile values, courage is the one that doesn’t translate directly into specific practices. Communication is fostered by sitting together in an open space. Simple design pushes the simplicity meme, as does refactoring out duplication and YAGNI. And, feedback is built into the processes with things like Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives. But, courage? Which one of the practices embodies courage?

This is not a question I was asking myself. It wasn’t even on my mind until my test-obsessed friend and mentor, Elisabeth Hendrickson, offered to let me pair program with her on Entaggle this week. You see, Entaggle is written in Ruby using Rails, rSpec and Cucumber – tools I’ve never used. And, I have (as Elisabeth so delicately put it) “competence issues” – meaning that I have a fear of incompetence.

So, I was fairly aware that it was going to take some courage to overcome my fear of not knowing the tools in order to just sit next to Elisabeth in front of a keyboard. But, it wasn’t until we were sitting there and Elisabeth was muttering on about how she couldn’t believe she was showing me the code in such a sorry state – in need of multiple refactorings – that I realized that pairing with me took as much courage from Elisabeth as pairing with her took from me.

Suffice to say that the next time I sit down to pair program with someone, I’m going to be cognizant of the courage it took to bring both of us together with the code. I might even go so far as to recognize it before we begin pairing, just to get the fears out in the open so we can move past them.

I also think the next time I pair with Elisabeth, I’m going to muster the courage to write at least one test. (I can’t believe we didn’t write one!)

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