Code and Coffee 💻☕️

Written by Daniel van StrienJanuary 27, 2020Comments: 0

Alongside our deep learning reading group, we have introduced ‘Code and Coffee’. These sessions – as the name implies – involves drinking coffee and writing code whilst working together in a common space for an afternoon. The sessions aim to provide an informal environment for working on code, getting support from the rest of the team and as a way of setting aside time to work through tutorials, try a new tool or read through documentation.

Tech support

A potential approach that a project like Living with Machines can fall into is to divide people into ‘technical’ and ‘non-technical’. Whilst this could be a valid approach, it does lead to a potential ‘service’ relationship where one set of people come up with the historical questions and another group provide the technical implementations to help answer these questions. We are trying instead to foster a deeper collaboration in which people mutually learn from each other and try and work together rather than alongside one another. Doing this in practice can be tricky but we have found ‘code and coffee’ sessions to help foster better collaboration.

Don’t know what to Google?

Most people’s approach to coding involves lots of googling and StackOverflow (a website for asking questions and getting support for programming) – but sometimes you don’t know what to google to get help for a project or don’t feel confident choosing between the competing answers found online. This is when Code and Coffee can be a good way to help work out a problem in the company of people with a range of experiences who might be able to help.

Time to learn

Going through tutorials and trying new tools can feel like an indulgence and is often the thing that ends up at the bottom of the list. However, for a project aiming to develop new methods and work at scale, we need to be aware of new approaches and have time to reflect on how we could tackle problems in new ways rather than reaching for the most familiar tool or method.

Time to code

For a project using digital methods writing code should be a fundamental part of your working time but again this is something that can fall off the list under flurries of emails and meetings. Finding a slot already blocked out on your calendar to work on code can be helpful in this case.

Too much caffeine?

Although Code and Coffee have worked well we did find some challenges. One is that there can be a temptation to hijack the slot for something else that suddenly seems urgent. Another challenge is that in spite of opening up the sessions to everyone on the project the attendance of the sessions tends to skew to people who are more technically focused already.

Despite these challenges, overall we have found code and coffee to be a useful part of our working week. Whilst it won’t work for everyone Code and Coffee might be a useful calendar item for other projects too.

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