The goal of code review is to maintain or improve the overall level of code quality for a given project. It’s important to understand the basic principles of effective code review since it is one of the ways software engineers interact with each other. Not paying close attention to this detail may result in unwanted situations that can vary from actually not improving source code quality at all to even conflicts between engineers. So instead of creating additional steps in the process that might be a waste of time or lead to harmful interpersonal situations, let’s explore best practices on how to make it better.
The first step to improve the code is to have an open mindset. Opinions that you are holding and were of great use in your previous projects, may not transpose to the project that you are currently working on. So having the ability to see a bigger picture instead of your convictions will not only improve communication inside your organization but also codebase quality.
Training the muscle of “seeing a bigger picture” can also go a long way to the future of the project. Foreseeing the beginning of the problem today can save a lot of time in the long run. Especially when it comes to decision-making regarding the tech stack at the start of the project.
It gets easier maintaining an open mindset when you review the code if you acknowledge that staying humble will influence your team’s morale in a great way. There is no space for harsh language in the code review process, even if it contains mistakes. Software written by humans will contain mistakes.
Too soft language can also be a problem. If we are afraid of expressing our opinions or pointing out mistakes made by others, we won’t find any room for improvement. So the key element here is to just stay humble. It’s much easier to keep a culture of self-improvement and high morale in the team when developers can find the right tone in their communication which can be characterized as professional and positive.
Keeping a high level of communication
Keeping a high level of communication between team members is a key factor in having high-quality review code delivered in a fast manner. One of the steps to improve your communication with your peers while doing code changes is to not be afraid to ask questions. In the reality of working remotely, it is much harder to communicate so coming forward and asking questions directly to the person involved in the code review process will fasten the process. It can also improve interpersonal bonds between team members.
Another step is to keep your communication clear. If you do comment on the pull request, it has to be clear if the comment should be resolved immediately or if the follow-up from the other team member isn’t needed as fast as possible. This aspect of the code changes has another element to it. Reviewers that start discussions that are considered urgent, should make themself available to the other developers involved in the process to make sure that problems are resolved quickly. Reviewers should be ready to comment back and forth. In some situations, there might be a need to start a call or in-person discussion where developers can express themself more directly.
Seeing that the other person cares as much as you about the project can be a big morale boost. It can be a key element for the newcomers in the team. New people usually won’t know the guidelines or overall approach to the pull requests in your organization. Having in mind that new peers may struggle at the beginning, it’s a great idea to put more effort into explaining to them the company’s culture when it comes to its workflow. In some places, it may be already written down, so that they can open and read about it at any time.
The code review process has prerequisites that will maintain a high quality of your codebase. First of all, a person that wants to merge changes has to correctly explain what they are all about. It means that the title and description have to be meaningful and in compliance with the standards established in the workplace, especially the pull request template that is used inside an organization.
This aspect also covers checks in your CI/CD tool, test coverage tool notification, and code review guidelines or checklists. If any of those prerequisites are not met, reviewers shouldn’t start their code review. It all comes down to code change and work quality, which we strive to keep at the highest level possible.
As it was said in the previous paragraphs, the main goal of the code review process is to keep or improve the source line of code. It means that code reviewers should not only point out errors but also show new ways of approaching problems found in the process.
Experienced engineers should be able to spread the knowledge that they gained throughout the years of working in software development. It will lead to raising the overall level of the team, especially when it comes to junior developers since it’s one of the ways of mentoring them. Engineers involved in the process should keep in mind that sharing knowledge has to be based on the underlying principles of software engineering, not on personal opinion. Eliminate nitpicks and any other unnecessary comments that do not provide value to the process.
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Applying code review best practices
These are underlying principles of code review. The topic is much more complex than it seems, but the aforementioned aspects cover the basics of this process. Having them in mind will speed up the delivery of the code. It may also affect in a positive way the environment that you work in, especially when it comes to interpersonal communication between team members.