Broken Build, Funny Hats

06. August 2019

Almost every software developing company runs a build server(s). As the team updates the codebase, the server is continuously building the project and when someone introduces compile/test breaking problem, build fails. When I started working in the business, I was surprised there are different ways how to punish the person who broke the build. It's not even a new concept. Software developers can be sometimes very mean. Punishments can range from harsh ones to innocent ones.

To give you a few examples:

  • Office space of the person is taped in yellow caution tape.
  • A person has to wear funny (read not very funny) hat.
  • Put a few coins to the money jar.
  • Apologize with cookies, chocolate or donuts.

Funny Hat

While offering edible treats is an innocent way of apology, pushing someone to do something uncomfortable is in my opinion unacceptable. Not only this can give junior developers bad first experience, it actively discourages developers from committing anything to the repository. They will keep their code for themselves for as long as possible. Commits will be huge and hard to merge. Colleagues won't be as updated as they could. At the end of the day, the purpose of the build server is to catch problems in the code. Everybody makes mistakes and broken build is usually not the end of the world.

When it happens, the whole team should stop whatever they are doing and start fixing the issue. But who does it in practice? The build is usually quickly fixed by the creator of issue. Or the next day. It's not very effective to let the whole team fix the same bug. No one was hurt so why do silly rituals? One could say the same amount of fault lies on your colleagues since it's their job to review pull requests to master. Fix the build as quickly as possible, learn from your mistakes, done. Even though the rituals can be funny (for everyone else), they can potentially lead to fear-driven development and that has many negative consequences.

As always, this topic opens up for a lot of opinions and what you read is just one of them. Do you have a different one? Or experience with build rituals? If so, please share them with us on our Facebook or LinkedIn.

Author: Luděk Novotný