Scrapheap Challenge, PoMoPro, London, November 2006

Ivan and I ran our Scrapheap Challenge workshop at the PoMoPro conference at the end of November.

The results were quite similar to our previous experience at OOPSLA in 2004: shell pipelines and dynamic languages that can easily run other programs won the day. Unlike last time, a few pairs had some success with Java. However no winning solution used Java and no all-Java solution was completed within the time frame.

As Ivan noted, the process that pairs followed had as much if not more of an effect as the technology they used. Unlike last time, not all pairs actually did pair programming. Some split the solution into parts and worked independently on separate modules and then brought them together for integration. Pairs that did pair programming did noticeably better than those that split the work into individual tasks. From what I observed, I don't think that pair programming itself was the decisive factor. Pairs that split the work were hit by integration problems at the end of the challenge that were too great to solve by the deadline. Pairs that pair-programmed grew the software incrementally and always had a running program. The only pair that did well when working independently integrated every 15 minutes or so instead of once at the end.

A valid criticism of the workshop was that our challenges were could easily be met by batch programs and involved a lot of text processing, so they were biased towards solutions using Unix-style pipes and filters. Next time we run the workshop we'll throw in some challenges to build interactive desktop applications so that Unix pipelines don't have such a strong advantage. If you're going to be at SPA 2007 on the Sunday, brush up on your GUI skills and show those Unix developers what real programming is all about. I hope some Smalltalk, LISP or J developers will turn up and demonstrate the obvious superiority of those development environments (instead of just talking about it).

Copyright © 2006 Nat Pryce. Posted 2006-12-18. Share it.