Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Zero-to-coding-hero in 5, 4, 3 ...

Improving the new-starter experience - Part 2

Continuing on from last time, let's assume you've managed to rustle up a desk, chair and network-connected PC for your new starter in software development. What's next?

In my experience, typically a good two days are wasted watching progress bars dawdle across screens - downloads, installations, setups, checkouts, plugins, pah! This has always seemed like a right-royal waste of time to me. Firstly, by installing "the latest version" of Java/Eclipse/whatever the new starter is almost certain to differ in some possibly-important way from the other developers' platform configurations. Secondly, downloading anything off the internet will always be slower than copying it from the local network.

Here's what I propose, which should have a newbie eyeballing the codebase within minutes of logging in:

  • Step 1. Install a virtuali[sz]ation environment. I'm a big fan of VirtualBox OSE on the Ubuntu desktop, but really, anything will do
  • Step 2. Copy a "developer's disk image" (aka "one I prepared earlier") from a network drive onto the local disk - anywhere you like really. This is a bit-for-bit copy of a fully-working desktop development environment:
    • OS
    • Java - the standard version for your site
    • Eclipse with all appropriate plugins
    • Tomcat
    • Database with JDBC drivers
    • A known-good (if old) source tree
    • etc
  • Step 3. Launch the image. On a modern PC, the performance hit of running under virtuali[sz]ation is so minimal as to be insignificant

Now wasn't that easy? Of course it will take a bit of work to set up that first "gold image" but it gets amortized over each new developer's immense time savings. The image can be kept regularly, if infrequently, up-to-date as a post-release action. A quick source-control update, and the new starter is ready to actually start! Huzzah!

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