Giving feedback to programmers

Yes: your written feedback in Code reviews is not enough.

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Feedback is really important for developers to improve

I think we’ve all seen them, around in person and online. Their Twitter profile says “Teacher, always learning”, but they don’t know that they are trying to coach (badly) or mentor. They can do better, as can the middle leaders in your organisation. One of the quickest ways to develop your team is through feedback, but it has to be done well.

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Prerequisites:

  • Some willingness to coach your subordinates or peers

Terminology

Coaching: The process of improving performance by helping the participant learn.

Teaching: Ideas of principles taught by an authority (I’m afraid, if you’re reading this, you aren’t an authority).

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Feedback is a great way to get better!

Coaching people to get better through feedback

Feedback as telling

Feedback can, at times, be equated with information transference. At times a developer needs to be told whether they are doing something right, and it isn’t open for debate.

However to give feedback in this way you need to have the authority to do so. This does not need to come from a position within your organisation or years of experience, rather from the relationship you have with the participant in the process.

When developers point to their code review online discussion, they often forget the relationship element. A conception of feedback in this way comes from an outside expert rather than peers, and is in response to the task without implications for the future.

Feedback as guiding

Pointing someone in the right direction is really important. Seeing someone who is stuck on a solved problem and giving them a helping hand is something that should happen in every healthy organisation.

This style of feedback is similar to feedback as telling in that the relationship is important.

Feedback as developing understanding

Feedback can be explority, guiding about why something is wrong as well as the fact that it is wrong. The context for this type of feedback should commonly be through conversations and keeping communication clear.

Feedback to offer different perspectives

Feedback can offer a different point of view for a problem. Imagine you are stuck in your project, and you are given guidance that there are multiple ways that the the problem can be approached. This is often seen in professions as professional development.

Conclusion

Relationships

It is important to have a relationship between the involved parties for feedback to work. This goes beyond just typing what someone should do to be better, it actually involves a relationship between people and what they can do to become better. Without a relationship between the parties involved, this just doesn’t work.

Goals

For every feedback process there should be a goal for the session. If we don’t know why we are engaged in feedback then the outcome will likely not be as effective as possible, and worse may actually produce a negative outcome and may even lead to staff stagnating in their careers or, worse, even leaving a company.

Feedback is incredibly important. Do not leave anything to chance!

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