Archive for March, 2011

Coding in the Clink III – Another JavaGuys Code Retreat at MCI

I wish I knew who came up with the name “Coding in the Clink.”  It’s perfect.  I think it was somebody on Twitter.

Anyway, once again due to the driving force of Louis Pierce, with much support from prison staff, Win-Win staff, and outside volunteers, we’ve had another successful Code Retreat in prison.

This time there were eight outside professionals and thirteen prisoners: so we had five triples and three pairs.  It seems mostly the prisoners like triples (I think maybe because the full intensity of the professional’s personality is not focused solely on one person), and the volunteers like pairs.

We also had a photographer wandering in our midst, snapping photos that beg to be posted somewhere.  However, we’ll have to get some special administrative permission to get those photos out of the prison, so they’re not part of this blog post. We gathered in the corridor outside for a group photo too: that should be in the mix, when it comes, as well.

Two of our outside volunteers this time were women: that’s our record so far.  Women volunteers who are not authority figures get a lot of attention from the men inside, but it’s all extremely respectful and gentlemanly attention–even from guys who have only the vaguest idea, mostly from hearsay, of what a gentleman is.

Most of our volunteers were from central Ohio, but three of them came all the way from Michigan.  At least two of the three were enthusiastic enough after the experience to declare that they would definitely come back for the next one.

The problem we chose was scoring tennis.  The story test most of us probably used, taken straight from the problem description, would have been to turn this:

AABBBAABAABBBB

into this:

love all
Alice fifteen, Bob love
Alice thirty, Bob love
Alice thirty, Bob fifteen
thirty all
Alice thirty, Bob forty
forty all
advantage Alice
deuce
advantage Alice
game Alice

Since the Code Retreat was (probably inadvertently) scheduled for the same weekend as Kairos, scheduling was a bit unusual and we only got to run two cycles in this Code Retreat, which is not as many as three, but a whole lot more than none.

I happened to wind up in pairs both times, mostly because a number of the guys have already paired with me and are more interested in using the Code Retreat to pair with unfamiliar folks so as to learn new things rather than old things.

For the first cycle I paired with Lee Leonard, and although we slid the keyboard back and forth, he pretty much took the strategic lead.  It was a good one, because we finished the problem almost half an hour  before the end of the cycle.  (Finishing a problem at a Code Retreat is a new experience for me.)

Between the two cycles we ate lunch, again in the prison chow hall.  It seemed to be a pleasant adventure for most of the outsiders, although the prisoners mostly seemed embarrassed to have us experience their food.  It wasn’t the best food in the world, perhaps, but it seemed better than–for instance–what I remember from elementary school.  (Of course, that memory is decades and decades old, so it could be a little fuzzy.)

For the second cycle I paired with Jason Sexton, and it worked out that I had most of the strategic lead, because Jason thought a functional solution sounded more interesting than another imperative solution, and he hasn’t really had a lot of functional-programming emphasis in Java.  As it happened, we finished the problem again, but this time just barely under the wire.

There was plenty of time for retrospective and socializing, and most of the folks there seemed to take advantage of it.  Next time, we’re going to try for not two cycles, not three cycles, but four cycles.

Once again, it was a thoroughly positive experience both for prisoners and for volunteers, and the prison staff, even heavily loaded down by the requirements of Kairos, were cordial, professional, and prompt as well.

The next Code Retreat hasn’t been scheduled yet, but it’ll likely be in the summer sometime.

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Big Meeting Tonight

From the time when the JavaGuys program started to the time Rob and Joel joined, there were just the guys inside and me.  The program was run a certain way because that was the best way I could think of to run it with just one guy on the outside.

When Rob and Joel joined, and were inexperienced with working in prison, we pretty much kept doing things the way we had done them before, just because that was the way everybody knew to do them.

Lately, though, both the inside guys and we outside guys have been becoming dissatisfied with the status quo.  Joel and Rob and I met for dinner to discuss it, and wound up burning up three hours.  The next time we were in prison, we discovered that that very night a bunch of the inside guys had also met to discuss their own dissatisfaction, and had come up with a few interesting ways to improve things.

So we scheduled a common meeting tonight, and talked about A) improved ways to get things into and out of the prison, B) improved methods of reviewing code, C) how to help the guys pair more effectively, D) how to use everyone’s time better, and D) what to do on Tuesday nights.

Lots of it is still vaporware, but I think there’s definite potential.  It was a good retrospective.

Another Code Retreat

Louis has decided to schedule a third Code Retreat in prison, this one on Sunday, March 27, 2011.  (If you’re interested in participating, go here and register your interest.)

So far we’ve got five professional developers committed to the Retreat, but if we have nineteen prisoners or so, we’re going to need a lot more.

It’ll be interesting to see how this one goes.