Remote legacy coderetreat

A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to facilitate several in-company legacy coderetreats for one of our clients together with the software craftsperson exatraordinair Koen Metsu. I still believe this is an extremely powerful training format to help people to get into practising babystep refactoring and test automation. 

One of the sessions was with 18 people of which none were physically close to us. We are talking about people in India, Hong kong and the Netherlands. We are hardly ever shy to take on a challenge so we choose to go for it. We got our Sococo platform up and running, prepared the virtual instead of physical locations for pairs, we prepared the storyline, codebase and off we went.

The start was a bit difficult, people were not used to the sococo environment, the concept of a legacy coderetreat and frankly not used to us (Koen and I are an acquired taste - we know). We had way less technica difficulties than expected to be honest. We were afraid of bad audio, video, screen sharing and connection loss. We really did not have any real trouble with that.

We used one virtual room to present the intro, all session constraints and concepts to take into account. We used another virtual room, just like we would do physically, to run the debriefings. And we had “smaller” virtual rooms for each pair to work in so we could enter each room separately and virtually “watch over their shoulder”. Just like we would normally do. It worked out pretty well, but we ran into our biggest learning experience of that day rather fast: if a pair is physically sitting together remotely, they have only one headset! We never thought about this upfront but that was one of our biggest takeaways.

Another struggle was to remind pairs everytime in the morning that they should enable their screen sharing because otherwise we can not look over their shoulder. That took a few rounds to integrate and then worked beautifully. The smoothness of switching from one room to the other, from one screenshare and audio to the other was extremely close to real life. A big congrats to the people of sococo for making that possible.

Overall we were really happy about the experience and are looking forward to other experiments like this. If you want us to facilitate one for you, don’t hesitate to drop me a message. Another big thanks to Koen for joining forces for this one and providing me with the pictures for this blogpost as well.

Biggest takeaways:

- get an adapter or something so that both people have an audio connection or ask people to collaborate remotely as well

- ask participants to get to know the tool a little bit upfront, this worked miracles for us

- don’t expect the same level of interaction as with a physical session but try to mimic this as much as possible

- give people an opportunity to make it clear that they are “out” for a while. Normally you would see that in the room, that needs to be visible in the virtual room as well

- we need to ask sococo for more information about temporary “external” licenses for these kinds of workshops

Any thoughts or questions, drop them in the comments below