Saturday, 12 November 2016

My Subconscious is a Better Developer Than I Am

Occasionally I flatter myself that I'm alright at this development lark. Such egotistical talk is foolish. What makes me pause even more when I consider the proposition is this: my subconscious is a better developer than I am.

What's this fellow talking about?

There's 2 of me. Not identical twins; masquerading as a single man (spoiler: I am not a Christopher Nolan movie). No. There's me, the chap who's tapping away at his keyboard and solving a problem. And there's the other chap too.

I have days when I'm working away at something and I'll hit a brick wall. I produce solutions that work but are not elegant. I'm not proud of them. Or worse, I fail to come up with something that solves the problem I'm facing. So I go home. I see my family, I have some food, I do something else. I context switch. I go to sleep.

When I awake, sometimes (not always) I'll have waiting in my head a better solution. I can see the solution in my head. I can turn it over and compare it to what, if anything, I currently have and see the reasons the new approach is better. Great, right? Up to a point.

What concerns me is this: I didn't work this out from first principles. The idea arrived sight unseen in my head. It totally works but whose work actually is it? I feel like I'm taking credit for someone else's graft. This is probably why I'm so keen on the MIT License. Don't want to be caught out.

I think I'd like it better if I was a better developer than my subconscious. I'd come up with the gold and mock the half baked ideas he shows me in the morning. Alas it is not to be.

I draw some comfort from the knowledge that I'm not alone in my experience. I've chatted to other devs in the same boat. There's probably 2 of you as well. Amarite? There's probably 3 of Jon Skeet; each more brilliant than the last...

PS I posted this to Hacker News and the comments left by people are pretty fascinating.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

But you can't die... I love you!

That's how I was feeling on the morning of October 6th 2016. I'd been feeling that way for some time. The target of my concern? ts-loader. ts-loader is a loader for webpack; the module bundler. ts-loader allows you use TypeScript with webpack. I'd been a merry user of it for at least a year or so. But, at that point, all was not well in the land of ts-loader. Come with me and I'll tell you a story...

Going Red

At some point, I became a member of the TypeStrong organisation on GitHub. I'm honestly not entirely sure how. I think it may have been down to the very excellent Basarat (he of ALM / atom-typescript / the list goes on fame) but I couldn't clearly say.

Either way, James Brantly's ts-loader was also one of TypeStrong's projects. Since I used it, I occasionally contributed. Not much to be honest; mostly it was documentation tweaks. I mean I never really looked at the main code at all. It worked (thanks to other people). I just plugged it into my projects and ploughed on my merry way. I liked it. It was well established; with friendly maintainers. It had a continuous integration test pack that ran against multiple versions of TypeScript on both Windows and Linux. I trusted it. Then one day the continuous integration tests went red. And stayed red.

This is where we came in. On the morning of October 6th I was mulling what to do about this. I knew there was another alternative out there (awesome-typescript-loader) but I was a little wary of it. My understanding of ATL was that it targeted webpack 2.0 which has long been in beta. Where I ply my trade (mostly developing software for the financial sector in the City of London) beta is not a word that people trust. They don't do beta. What's more I was quite happy with ts-loader; I didn't want to switch if I didn't have to. I also rather suspected (rightly) that there wasn't much wrong; ts-loader just needed a little bit of love. So I thought: I bet I can help here.

The Statement of Intent

So that evening I raised an issue against ts-loader. Not a "sort it out chap" issue. No. That wouldn't be terribly helpful. I raised a "here's how I can help" issue. I present an abridged version below:

Okay here's the deal; I've been using ts-loader for a long time but my contributions up until now have mostly been documentation. Fixing of tests etc. As the commit history shows this is @jbrantly's baby and kudos to him.

He's not been able to contribute much of late and since he's the main person who's worked on ts-loader not much has happened for a while; the code is a bit stale. As I'm a member of TypeStrong I'm going to have a go at improving the state of the project. I'm going to do this as carefully as I can. This issue is intended as a meta issue to make it visible what I'm plannning to do / doing.

My immediate goal is to get a newer version of ts-loader built and shipped. Essentially all the bug fixes / tweaks since the last release should ship.


I don't have npm publish rights for ts-loader. Fortunately both @jbrantly and @blakeembrey do - and hopefully one of them will either be able to help out with a publish or let me have the requisite rights to do it.

I can't promise this is all going to work; I've got a limited amount of spare time I'm afraid. Whatever happens it's going to take me a little while. But I'm going to see where I can take this. Best foot forward! Please bear with me...

I did wonder what would happen next. This happened next:

Caretaker, not BDFL

So that's how it came to pass that I became the present main caretaker of ts-loader. James very kindly gave me the rights to publish to npm and soon enough I did. I fixed up the existing integration test pack; made it less brittle. I wrote a new integration test pack (that performs a different sort of testing; execution rather than comparison). I merged pull requests, I closed issues. I introduced a regression (whoops!), a community member helped me fix it (thanks Mike Mazmanyan!). In the last month ts-loader has shipped 6 times.

The thing that matters most in the last paragraph are the phrases "I merged pull requests" and "a community member helped me fix it". I'm wary of one man bands; you should be to. I want projects to be a thing communally built and maintained. If I go under a bus I want someone else to be able to carry on without me. So be part of this; I want you to help!

I've got plans to do a lot more. I'm in the process of refactoring ts-loader to make it more modular and hence easier for others to contribute. (Also it must be said, refactoring something is an excellent way to try and learn a codebase.) Version 1.0 of ts-loader should ship this week.

I'm working with Herrington Darkholme (awesome name BTW!) to add a hook-in point that will allow ts-loader to support vuejs. Stuff is happening and will continue to. But don't be shy; be part of this! ts-loader awaits your PRs and is happy to have as many caretakers as possible!