Code And Cocktails

Coderetreat - the Need for Preparedness

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This observer has noted a repeated waste of time by attendees of the Coderetreats he has attended. Herein is described a simple way to be better prepared when you attend your next Coderetreat

Observational Data

This past weekend was the Global Day of Coderetreat and I attended the one in Cambridge, Mass. This was my third and I again saw an annoyance I want to get out of my head.

First, let me recapitulate the idea of the code retreat. The participants work on the Conway’s Game of Life programming problem in 45 minute intervals in pairs, throwing away the code after every iteration. Some iterations have interesting constraints added; such as ‘no primitives’, ‘no ifs’, or ‘silent paring’.

I have noticed that at each coderetreat I’ve attended some people spend time (usually only in the first session luckily) fighting with their environments to get the point where they can start coding. To me any time spent setting up the environment is wasted time when you have 45 minutes. I’m not saying that this was a /huge/ issue – but a very little bit of preparation can save plenty of time during the event.

An Initial Attempt for a Personal Solution

Given that I saw (and felt, when pairing with someone who was unprepared) this problem at the Chicago coderetreat (held the day after SCNA), I made sure I had a ruby and Java project all set up so that I had a failing test (true == false). That way I knew that everything was all set: all needed libraries, any special configuration (autotest & rspec always gives me a little bit of hassle), any other annoying little thing was done. I even went so far as to push them up to GitHub so others could use them to. (git makes deleting the code after an iteration very easy: git reset --hard HEAD && git clean -fqx).

It turns out that I didn’t need to do this. There was already a GitHub repository that did what I needed and much more: coreyhaines/coderetreat.


Given that the above repository is set up for 10 programming languages currently, it is likely that the ones you want to use are already there. Simply cloning the repository and doing a quick smoke test will ensure that your environment is ready for the session.

If you don’t find your favorite language – or the skeleton provided doesn’t work as well as it could – send a pull request (I tweaked the ruby starting point to let autotest work with rspec right away).