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Why should we do code katas?

I participated in a coding dojo recently in which some of the comments I heard caused me to think about the purpose of practicing code katas. It seems that many programmers, including some pretty advanced ones, don’t quite get the point.

We were reading about some code katas online so that we could choose one to do for the dojo. We came across a description of the Bowling Kata written by Robert C. “Uncle Bob” Martin. A couple of the guys quickly dismissed it when they saw Uncle Bob’s name. “He’s too prescriptive,” said one. “I don’t want to be told how to approach the problem,” said another. They looked for a write-up of the Bowling Kata that didn’t try to guide us in how to approach the problem.

They found one and we used it. All evening we kept running into silly little issues and speed bumps, such that we really didn’t get a lot of value from the whole exercise. We went down tool-related side paths, broke our development environment a couple of times, forgot what we were trying to accomplish, and started over multiple times. It never felt as if there was any goal or even a general direction. Despite the fact the group included some very fine professional programmers, I have to say it was not the best coding dojo I’ve ever been in.

Obviously, due to the sort of democratic and participatory event a coding dojo is, I have to accept a share of the blame for that. I actively chose not to make suggestions to bring the activity onto some sort of intentional course, because I wanted to see where it might go. In the end it went nowhere, but the experience led me to sit down and reconsider the reasons we do these things, and how we can get value from doing them.

The key point is that there are reasons for Uncle Bob’s approach to katas. Rather than getting to the point directly, I’m going to begin with a couple of rambling digressions, as per my usual style. Continue reading Why should we do code katas?