[Sublime + Python Setup] Grumpy old greybeard with a whitespace problem

One fateful day, the Agile Gods that be decided to “add some firepower” to my little team…

And so, developer Paul joined (name changed to protect the guilty).

Before I dive into this story, let me ask you this: Have you ever been on a development team that simply clicked?

My team was like that. We we’re tearing through user stories every day, constructing the backend for a new performance analytics system.

Life was good. We were in sync, had agreed on a code style, were doing continuous integration, code reviews, and continuous deployment.

The whole best practices enchilada. It felt amazing.

Enter Paul:

Based on some previous interactions he seemed to be the “grumpy old man” type —

Undeniably skilled, but also with penchant for doing things his own way, and a slightly short-fused temper.

Some personal hygiene issues aside, he seemed like a nice enough bloke.

Paul’s first code review comes up two days later and I cheerfully open up the pull-request. (Paul “doesn’t really do branches in Git” but eventually we nudged him into compliance.)

GitHub’s website churns for a while as Paul’s code changes load up…

“This feels like it’s loading little slower than usual”, I’m thinking.

And then I get that sinking feeling in my stomach:

The guy is productive… prolific even. But apparently he really enjoys writing 900-line functions, with 7 different levels of nesting, and some loooooong if/else-chains sprinkled on top.

Umm.

Did I mention he was also a fan of inconsistent spacing?

Stuff like sometimes putting zero, or 1, or… 3 blank lines between functions and statements.

Or, sneaking in extra whitespace around parentheses, and then sometimes leaving it out completely.

There was no discernible rhyme or reason to this code “style”, just a cluttered, random-looking pattern.

Ugly, yes—and a distraction from the real architectural issues in the changeset that needed discussion.

How was I going to share my feedback on Paul’s code?

I was in my late twenties and I’d recently been promoted to a leadership position on the team. Paul was easily twice my age (and it didn’t help that I basically still looked like I was 15).

From past encounters I knew he reacted badly to even the slightest criticism.

So I didn’t want to be the young ankle biter starting a quarrel with the wise greybeard—and yet this code was clearly not up to our team’s standards…

In fact, it was a maintenance liability.

Heck, simply viewing the code diff almost took down GitHub… But let’s not go there again.

Code style is a hot topic for developers. Many of us can nearly come to blows over code style disagreements, something I really wanted to avoid (also the guy was quite a bit taller than me—just kidding).

I’ve been in situations like this before and trying to get the “odd potato” on the team to fall in line when it comes to code style usually doesn’t work. And it’s not worth starting a war about it either.

To get real work done, what counts is that developers enjoy working with each other, code reviews are 99% conflict-free, and people don’t break out into angry shouting matches five times a week…

Like a true engineer, I decided to automate myself out of that conflict.

I put an automated code style checker into place on our continuous integration server.

That way Paul, myself, and the other developers on the team were getting instantaneous code style feedback every time we pushed our changes to the central Git repository.

The important detail here is that with an automated tool the feedback didn’t come from a human being —

It was just a heartless little program that called people out on their formatting inconsistencies and other quirks.

The result: No more hard feelings!

I learned that automated tools can stop a lot of these uncomfortable situations dead in their tracks, before people get emotionally attached to their style decisions.

Instantaneous and automated code style feedback is truly an amazing timesaver.

These days I make sure I never work without it.

Don’t be “that guy” (or gal) for your team and see step by step how to get instantaneous code style feedback right inside Sublime Text:

>> Click here and write more beautiful code in 10 minutes

— Dan Bader

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