The Bike Shed

About the show

On The Bike Shed, hosts Joël Quenneville and Stephanie Minn discuss development experiences and challenges at thoughtbot with Ruby, Rails, JavaScript, and whatever else is drawing their attention, admiration, or ire this week.

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  • 432: The Semantics and Meaning of Nil

    July 9th, 2024  |  38 mins 13 secs

    The term ‘nil’ refers to the absence of value, but we often imbue it with much more meaning than just that. Today, hosts Joël and Stephanie discuss the various ways we tend to project extra semantics onto nil and the implications of this before unpacking potential alternatives and trade-offs. 

Joël and Stephanie highlight some of the key ways programmers project additional meaning onto nil (and why), like when it’s used to create a guest session, and how this can lead to bugs, confusion, and poor user experiences. They discuss solutions to this problem, like introducing objects for improved readability, before taking a closer look at the implications of excessive guard clauses in code.

  • 431: Developers Are Professional Question Askers

    July 2nd, 2024  |  38 mins 54 secs

    Stephanie shares her newfound interest in naming conventions, highlighting a resource called "Classnames" that provides valuable names for programming and design. Joël, in turn, talks about using AI to generate names for D&D characters, emphasizing how AI can help provide inspiration and reasoning behind name suggestions. Then, they shift to Joël's interest in Roman history, where he discusses a blog by a Roman historian that explores distinctions between state and non-state peoples in the ancient Mediterranean.

    Together, the hosts delve into the importance of asking questions as consultants and developers to understand workflows, question assumptions, and build trust for better onboarding. Stephanie categorizes questions by engagement stages and their social and technical aspects, while Joël highlights how questioning reveals implicit assumptions and speeds up learning. They stress maintaining a curious mindset, using questions during PR reviews, and working with junior developers to foster collaboration. They conclude with advice on documenting answers and using questions for continuous improvement and effective decision-making in development teams.

  • 430: Test Suite Pain & Anti-Patterns

    June 25th, 2024  |  40 mins 57 secs

    Stephanie and Joël discuss the recent announcement of the call for proposals for RubyConf in November. Joël is working on his proposals and encouraging his colleagues at thoughtbot to participate, while Stephanie is excited about the conference being held in her hometown of Chicago!

    The conversation shifts to Stephanie's recent work, including completing a significant client project and her upcoming two-week refactoring assignment. She shares her enthusiasm for refactoring code to improve its structure and stability, even when it's not her own. Joël and Stephanie also discuss the everyday challenges of maintaining a test suite, such as slowness, flakiness, and excessive database requests. They discuss strategies to balance the test pyramid and adequately test critical paths.

    Finally, Joël emphasizes the importance of separating side effects from business logic to enhance testability and reduce complexity, and Stephanie highlights the need to address testing pain points and ensure tests add real value to the codebase.

  • 429: Transforming Experience Into Growth

    June 18th, 2024  |  43 mins 38 secs

    Stephanie has a newfound interest in urban foraging for serviceberries in Chicago. Joël discusses how he uses AI tools like ChatGPT to generate creative Dungeons & Dragons character concepts and backstories, which sparks a broader conversation with Stephanie about AI's role in enhancing the creative process.

    Together, the hosts delve into professional growth and experience, specifically how to leverage everyday work to foster growth as a software developer. They discuss the importance of self-reflection, note-taking, and synthesizing information to enhance learning and professional development. Stephanie shares her strategies for capturing weekly learnings, while Joël talks about his experiences using tools like Obsidian's mind maps to process and synthesize new information. This leads to a broader conversation on the value of active learning and how structured reflection can turn routine work experiences into meaningful professional growth.

  • 428: Ruminating on Ruby Enumerators

    June 11th, 2024  |  35 mins 44 secs

    Joël explains his note-taking system, which he uses to capture his beliefs and thoughts about software development. Stephanie recalls feedback from her recent RailsConf talk, where her confidence stemmed from deeply believing in her material despite limited rehearsal. This leads to a conversation about the value of mental models in building a comprehensive understanding of a topic, which can foster confidence and adaptability during presentations and discussions.

    The episode then shifts focus to the practical application of enumerators in Ruby, exploring various mental models to understand their functionality better. Joël introduces several metaphors, such as enumerators as cursors, lazy collections, and sequence generators, which help demystify their use cases.

  • 427: RailsConf Recap and Conversing About Coupling

    May 28th, 2024  |  37 mins 3 secs

    Joël and Stephanie discuss RailsConf! Joël introduced Turbo features using a "Dungeons & Dragons & Rails" theme, performing as a D&D character to make his talk interactive. Stephanie addressed test pain by connecting it to code coupling. They emphasize continuous improvement as speakers and developers and encourage trying new approaches in talks and code design.

  • 426: Bringing "Our Selves" to Work

    May 14th, 2024  |  33 mins 4 secs

    Joël shares his preparations for his RailsConf talk, which is D&D-themed and centered around a gnome character named Glittersense. Stephanie expresses her delight in creating pod-related puns within thoughtbot's internal team structure, like "cross-podination" for inter-pod meetings and the adorable observation that her pod resembles "three peas in a pod" when using the git co-authored-by feature.

    Together, Stephanie and Joël discuss bringing one's authentic self to work, balancing personal disclosure with professional boundaries, and fostering psychological safety. They highlight the value of shared interests and personal anecdotes in enhancing team cohesion, especially remotely, and stress the importance of an inclusive culture that respects individual preferences and boundaries.

  • 425: Modeling Associations in Rails

    May 7th, 2024  |  29 mins 39 secs

    Stephanie shares an intriguing discovery about the origins of design patterns in software, tracing them back to architect Christopher Alexander's ideas in architecture. Joël is an official member of the Boston bike share system, and he loves it. He even got a notification on the app this week: "Congratulations. You have now visited 10% of all docking stations in the Boston metro area." #AchievementUnlocked, Joël!

    Joël and Stephanie transition into a broader discussion on data modeling within software systems, particularly how entities like companies, employees, and devices interconnect within a database. They debate the semantics of database relationships and the practical implications of various database design decisions, providing insights into the complexities of backend development.

  • 424: The Spectrum of Automated Processes for Your Dev Team

    April 30th, 2024  |  36 mins 47 secs

    Joël shares his experience with the dry-rb suite of gems, focusing on how he's been using contracts to validate input data. Stephanie relates to Joël's insights with her preparation for RailsConf, discussing her methods for presenting code in slides and weighing the aesthetics and functionality of different tools like VS Code and She also encounters a CI test failure that prompts her to consider the implications of enforcing specific coding standards through CI processes.

    The conversation turns into a discussion on managing coding standards and tools effectively, ensuring that automated systems help rather than hinder development. Joël and Stephanie ponder the balance between enforcing strict coding standards through CI and allowing developers the flexibility to bypass specific rules when necessary, ensuring tools provide valuable feedback without becoming obstructions.

  • 423: Cognitive Strategies for Coders

    April 16th, 2024  |  39 mins 52 secs

    Stephanie is back with a book recommendation: "Thinking in Systems" by Donella Meadows. This book has helped to bolster her understanding of complex systems in environmental, organizational, and software contexts, particularly through user interactions and system changes. Joël describes his transformative experience watching last week's total solar eclipse.

    Together, they explore how systems thinking influences software development and team dynamics by delving into practical applications in writing and reading code, suggesting that understanding complex systems can aid developers in navigating and optimizing codebases and team interactions.

  • 422: Listener Topics Grab Bag

    April 9th, 2024  |  35 mins 23 secs

    Joël conducted a thoughtbot mini-workshop on query plans, which Stephanie found highly effective due to its interactive format. They then discuss the broader value of interactive workshops over traditional talks for deeper learning.

    Addressing listener questions, Stephanie and Joël explore the strategic use of if and else in programming for clearer code, the importance of thorough documentation in identifying bugs, and the use of Postgres' EXPLAIN ANALYZE, highlighting the need for environment-specific considerations in query optimization.

  • 421: The Idealistic vs. Pragmatic Programmer

    April 2nd, 2024  |  41 mins 1 sec

    Stephanie revisits the concept of "spiking"—a phase of exploration to determine the feasibility of a technical implementation or to address unknowns in feature requests—sharing her recent experiences with a legacy Rails application. Joël brings a different perspective by discussing his involvement with a client project that heavily utilizes the dry-rb suite of gems, highlighting the learning curve associated with adapting to new patterns and libraries.

    Joël used to be much more idealistic and has moved to be more pragmatic. Stephanie has moved the other way. So together, Stephanie and Joël engage in a philosophical discussion on being an idealistic versus a pragmatic programmer. They explore the concept of programming as a blend of science and art, where technical decisions are not only about solving problems but also about expressing ideas and building shared understandings within a team.

  • 420: Test Database Woes

    March 26th, 2024  |  28 mins 16 secs

    Joël shares his recent project challenge with Tailwind CSS, where classes weren't generating as expected due to the dynamic nature of Tailwind's CSS generation and pruning. Stephanie introduces a personal productivity tool, a "thinking cap," to signal her thought process during meetings, which also serves as a physical boundary to separate work from personal life.

    The conversation shifts to testing methodologies within Rails applications, leading to an exploration of testing philosophies, including developers' assumptions about database cleanliness and their impact on writing tests.

  • 419: What's New in Your World? (Extended Edition)

    March 19th, 2024  |  37 mins 13 secs

    Stephanie introduces her ideal setup for enjoying coffee on a bike ride. Joël describes his afternoon tea ritual. Exciting news from the hosts: both have been accepted to speak at RailsConf! Stephanie's presentation, titled "So, Writing Tests Feels Painful. What now?" aims to tackle the issues developers encounter with testing while offering actionable advice to ease these pains. Joël's session will focus on utilizing Turbo to create a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet, combining his passion for gaming with technical expertise.

    Their conversation shifts to artificial intelligence and its potential in code refactoring and other applications, such as enhancing the code review process and solving complex software development problems. Joël shares his venture into combinatorics, illustrating how this mathematical approach helped him efficiently refactor a database query by systematically exploring and testing all potential combinations of query segments.

  • 418: Mental Models For Reduce Functions

    March 12th, 2024  |  42 mins 50 secs

    Joël talks about his difficulties optimizing queries in ActiveRecord, especially with complex scopes and unions, resulting in slow queries. He emphasizes the importance of optimizing subqueries in unions to boost performance despite challenges such as query duplication and difficulty reusing scopes. Stephanie discusses upgrading a client's app to Rails 7, highlighting the importance of patience, detailed attention, and the benefits of collaborative work with a fellow developer.

    The conversation shifts to Ruby's reduce method (inject), exploring its complexity and various mental models to understand it. Joël and Stephanie discuss when it's preferable to use reduce over other methods like each, map, or loops and the importance of understanding the underlying operation you wish to apply to two elements before scaling up with reduce. The episode also touches on monoids and how they relate to reduce, suggesting that a deep understanding of functional programming concepts can help simplify reduce expressions.

  • 417: Module Docs

    March 5th, 2024  |  39 mins 32 secs

    Stephanie shares about her vacation at Disney World, particularly emphasizing the technological advancements in the park's mobile app that made her visit remarkably frictionless. Joël had a conversation about a topic he loves: units of measure, and he got to go deep into the idea of dimensional analysis with someone this week.

    Together, Joël and Stephanie talk about module documentation within software development. Joël shares his recent experience writing module docs for a Ruby project using the YARD documentation system. He highlights the time-consuming nature of crafting good documentation for each public method in a class, emphasizing that while it's a demanding task, it significantly benefits those who will use the code in the future. They explore the attributes of good documentation, including providing code examples, explaining expected usage, suggesting alternatives, discussing edge cases, linking to external resources, and detailing inputs, outputs, and potential side effects.