Back in autumn 2012, we took on a bunch of new graduates, and had to think about how to get them up to speed quickly. Each week we set a simple kata — the kind you can find easily online, such as Uncle Bob’s Bowling Game. We paired each of our new starters with an experienced developer and asked them to spend no more than 90 minutes solving the kata together. At the end of the week, we met up to look at the code we’d written and discuss what we learned.

It turned out to be a really powerful idea. Why?

  • A regular schedule meant that once we started, it was easy to keep the series running. The one adjustment we made later was to change to a two-weekly schedule.
  • As well as making the whole thing cheaper, setting a time limit on the kata helped us focus more on what we’d learned than what we’d produced. This is what distinguishes a kata from most of the other code we write.
  • Iron sharpens iron, and pairing is a great way to encourage good coding practice and to transfer skills. It’s an invitation to think about what quality code looks like and how to write it.
  • People generally don’t like having more meetings, no matter how much cake we ply them with, but a follow-up meeting proved to be really useful to get timely feedback on how the series was going. It also let us share and review the code we’d written, and encouraged us to think about what makes code good.

The series turned out to be so popular that we had a crowd of people wanting to join in, so we opened it up to the whole company. Right now we have 28 people participating.

It dawned on us that others might be interested to hear about what we do, so we’ll be publishing our katas here every two weeks, and writing about how they went. We hope you enjoy it.

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