First MCI Code Retreat

The Pillar client where I was working had occasion to hire a number of developers.  Since we were particularly interested in smart Agile developers, we decided to hold a Code Retreat at the client site, and then troll through the participants we attracted to see if we could find any worth hiring.

The problem was that even though we advertised it far and wide, nobody but Pillar developers signed up for the Code Retreat–not even client developers.  Therefore, the decision was made to cancel the Retreat.

I told the JavaGuys about this the next time I went to see them, and one of them, Louis, said, “Well, do you think we could have a Code Retreat here in prison?”

It was an interesting idea: a day given over to pairing, preferably with the more experienced prisoners pairing with the less experienced prisoners.

I said sure, no problem: I thought that was a great idea.

“Can you come in to be with us during the Code Retreat?” Louis asked.  “We can’t be in the computer room without somebody from the outside to supervise us.”

“Only on the condition that I get to play too,” I said.  “If I can be part of the Code Retreat, then I’d love to be here with you guys all day.”

“And how many guests will you be bringing with you?” Louis asked innocently.

Guests?  Never occurred to me to bring guests.  But I was instantly captivated by the idea, because earlier I had had to deal with word that, as part of an argument between two of them, one of the JavaGuys had called me their “sensei.”  Allegorically, of course.  That frightened me.  I’m not a particularly accomplished software developer; I’m just a guy.  The thing that makes me a little different from the norm is not that I’m brilliant, but that I have no fear of prison or prisoners.  I didn’t want these fellows slavishly following my ideas simply because they were mine.  I had for some time been trying to get another developer to come in some Tuesday night and speak to them for purposes of cross-pollination anyway.

So I told Louis I’d see how many guests I could attract.

Two or three, maybe, I thought.

Boy, was I surprised.  Nine developers–all from Pillar–decided to participate in the Code Retreat.  A carload of them even came down from southeastern Michigan to participate.

From central Ohio, we had Rob Conaway, Tracy Harms, Ronak Patel, Nilanjan Raychaudhuri, and me.  From Michigan, we had Sean McMillan, Matt LaForest, Zachary Spencer, and Kevin Baribeau.  The Michigan guys apparently stayed at Matt Van Vleet’s house overnight so as not to incur hotel bills.

And guess how many JavaGuys we had in the class during the first Code Retreat?

That’s right: nine.  Almost enough to make a fellow believe in God.

Everything went amazingly well. Even the correctional officers seemed to be happy to have us.  The prisoners learned all sorts of stuff from the three professional developers each of them was paired with, and a couple of the outside folks were brand-new Pillar developers who weren’t really comfortable with pairing yet, so the prisoners were able to give them some experience with and instruction in that.

We decided that we definitely wanted to do this again.


Group Photo from the First Code Retreat

Group Photo from the First Code Retreat


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