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    Codal’s Code Review Journey: Fostering Quality, Collaboration, & Knowledge Sharing

    Tim McMahon, Senior Software Engineer at Codal, understands the importance of a strategic code review process when building complex software solutions. Check out this blog, written by Tim, for expert insights around the common tradeoffs and pitfalls of code review culture, along with an inside look at Codal’s unique approach to the practice.

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    At Codal, code review stands as a fundamental pillar of our software development process. It plays a pivotal role in ensuring the quality of our products, fostering collaboration among our talented engineering team, and nurturing a culture of continuous knowledge sharing. In this article, we will delve into the reasons why code review is indispensable for maintaining software excellence, how it improves team dynamics, and the potential tradeoffs that different code review cultures may bring.

    Elevating Code Quality

    One of our goals here at Codal is to deliver the highest quality software product to our clients. Code review serves as our first line of defense in maintaining code quality standards. This not only leads to better client outcomes, but improves internal developer experience.
    When a developer submits their code for review, it is scrutinized by their peers, who have a chance to offer valuable feedback and suggestions. This collaborative process helps identify gaps in test coverage (testing is most effective at catching bugs rather than code review), repeated or rewritten code, and potential vulnerabilities that might have been overlooked by the original author.
    Catching issues early in the development process helps maintain a simpler, more cohesive codebase, prevents comments and logging from cluttering the code and console, and ultimately enhances the maintainability of the software. This process contributes to a more efficient team which results in lowered costs and time savings.

    Fostering Collaboration and Team Building

    Codal’s code review process is not just about increasing code quality; it is a chance for team members to interact and learn from each other. It encourages open communication, mutual respect, and constructive criticism. We believe that diverse perspectives enrich our projects, and code review provides the perfect platform for our engineers to engage, learn, and thrive together.
    As developers review their colleagues' code, they gain insights into different coding styles, design patterns, and approaches to problem-solving. This cross-pollination of ideas enriches the team's (and individual’s!) collective knowledge and establishes a culture of continuous learning.
    Moreover, code reviews provide an opportunity for less experienced developers to work closely with seasoned ones. This mentorship-like relationship not only improves the skills of junior team members but can also strengthen the team's bonds. The feeling of being part of a supportive and knowledgeable community boosts morale, leading to higher job satisfaction and reduced turnover.

    Enhancing Knowledge Sharing

    Code review contributes to knowledge dissemination and project ownership across the engineering team. As our team members review code from various parts of the project, they gain a deeper understanding of the system as a whole. This broader perspective enables team members to identify potential architectural improvements, performance bottlenecks, and code duplication issues.
    Furthermore, documenting the rationale behind code changes during the review process helps build a comprehensive knowledge base. This knowledge base serves as a valuable resource for future team members and ensures continuity in software development, even as the team grows or experiences personnel changes.

    The Tradeoffs and Pitfalls of Code Review Culture

    At Codal, we recognize that achieving a harmonious code review process requires a balanced approach, its effectiveness largely depends on the culture and practices embraced by the team. Striking the right balance is crucial to avoid potential drawbacks.

    Speed vs. Thoroughness

    Striving for rapid code review turnaround times may result in superficial reviews, which can miss critical issues. Conversely, overly stringent reviews may slow down the development process, affecting project timelines. A rule of thumb we’ve had success with is to have one round of suggestions per developer.

    Constructive vs. Destructive Feedback

    Code reviews should emphasize constructive feedback, focusing on improvements rather than criticizing individuals. A negative culture may discourage collaboration and erode team morale. We’ve had luck following conventional comments formatting which helps combat conflict. Leaving at least one praise per review goes a long way.Style issues should be handled by a linter. Engineers can be particular about code styling issues and code review is not the place to hash out code style issues.

    Expertise and Diversity

    Relying solely on team leads for code reviews may lead to bottlenecks and limited perspectives. We have encountered issues when one tech lead or senior engineer is solely responsible for a project’s code review. Situations where the code review responsibility relies solely on one individual can have the reverse effect that we’re trying to achieve here: code review can feel purely like a red-tape formality, developers only feel responsible for their own code which can lead to feelings of being siloed and of intense pressure.Embracing a diverse range of reviewers ensures a broader understanding of the codebase and encourages knowledge sharing. It can also help increase the feeling of team ownership over a codebase. We believe it is important for developers of all levels to participate in code reviews – we don’t expect developers to review every single pull request, but reading other developers’ code (and asking questions!) is very important to increasing code proficiency and soft skills.

    Automation vs. Human Oversight

    Automating certain aspects of code review, like linting and static analysis, can improve efficiency. However, human reviewers bring critical thinking and context that automated tools may lack.

    Wrapping up

    For Codal, code review is more than just a practice; it's an embodiment of our commitment to excellence, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. It enables our teams to deliver high-quality software , fosters collaboration and teamwork, and helps create a knowledge-sharing culture.
    We’ve found that embracing an effective code review process requires finding the right balance between speed and thoroughness, constructive feedback, and leveraging the expertise and diversity of the team. By integrating code review as a fundamental practice, our engineering teams have elevated our code quality, and helped Codal deliver exceptional products.

    Written by Tim McMahon

    2023-07-31