I work for Automattic a completely 100% distributed company with employees from all around the world. Once a year we hold the Grand Meetup, a frenetic week long event where the whole company flies in to blanket an unsuspecting off-season ski resort with our own wifi and friendly Automatticians.
It’s a crazy-fun experience, and one of the rare chances we get to see the folks we work with in person.
While at the meetup, I got a lot of enthusiastic thanks from folks for helping out on reviewing their pull requests. It was extremely flattering, but I also had the nagging thought of “Is it so unusual for cross-team reviews to happen?”
So Many Pull Requests
To give some more context, I primarily work on Calypso, an open source dashboard for reading, writing, and managing all of your WordPress sites in one place.
At any given time there are roughly 3-5 pages worth of PRs with a
needs review label. This is pretty overwhelming. I can understand how easy it could be to have tunnel vision and only keep track of your teammate’s work.
To encourage folks to review a bit more, here’s a quick summary of how I break up my day:
Morning – review all the things!
I happen to work in the latest time zone on my team. This means that by the time I’m online, the rest of my team already has a number of
needs review PRs that are fresh and waiting for me. This is one of my only chances to chat with folks while they’re also awake, which makes it a great time to catch up with folks or have a live video hangout.
My morning time is very interrupt-driven, which is why this is also the best time of day for me to review my team’s PRs. I have a special email filter for Calypso pings. I try to run an inbox-zero approach here, but depending on current project needs I might not be able to get through all of them.
Afternoon – Coding
By the time I’ve finished lunch, the rest of my team should hopefully be relaxing as their day winds down. Slack is mostly quiet in my afternoons, aside from helping out with a random Calypso fire or two that may occur from time to time. I usually have a solid chunk of uninterrupted time, which is great for getting into the flow, loading a complex problem into your brain, and cranking out a decent approach to a problem.
I stop when I’ve hit a good point, where I’m pretty certain I won’t be dreaming about solving the issue in my sleep.
Evening – Trash Pickup or Cross Team Reviews
After hitting a good point with my in progress issue, I usually have a little bit of time left in my day. To wind down, I might pick out a quick janitorial issue to hammer out, or more often I might peruse that giant list of PRs that need to be reviewed:
But how to pick one?
Picking a PR to Review:
Here are some suggested approaches:
- Take a look at one of the oldest PRs on the list. Ping the author with questions if it looks inactive.
- If you don’t have a lot of time, choose a tiny PR to look at. These are the fastest to review and test, and usually have the least risk of causing a regression.
- Choose something you’re unfamiliar with. Reviewing PRs is a great way to learn, and to keep a pulse of what’s happening on other teams. Don’t be afraid to dive into a section you’ve never looked at before. If you don’t follow, or something is unclear, ask questions! The PR author is usually happy to explain.
Always Waiting for a PR Review?
Do you always feel like you’re waiting for a review? A few tips:
- Add context and reasons of what your PR is trying to achieve in the summary, so someone unfamiliar with the issues can hop in and help.
- Add step-by-step testing instructions! This makes it easy for people to review your code.
- Break down huge PRs into manageable chunks. Large diffs are incredibly hard to review and test, and it’s more likely that folks just don’t have that amount of time to sit down and attempt to understand the PR.
- The might mean adding wip PRs with feature flags
- Sorting out janitorial things, like updating code-styles into their own PRs
- Do things in steps. For example, first creating a PR to add a new component, before using it on a page in a second PR
- Take some time to review a few PRs! Other folks are waiting too!
Night – Relax!
Your day might look very different, but I find that interrupted time is great for PRs, and quiet time is incredible for coding.
Remember to take it easy though and not to overwork yourself. I personally try to work somewhat traditional hours and turn on a do-not-disturb mode on my phone for night time hours. This helps me from from getting sucked back into work mode too late at night. Other folks might be able to handle a much looser schedule, but I am not one of them. 🙂
Anyway, I hope this post was helpful! To my co-workers it was great seeing you at the Grand Meetup, and I can’t wait to see you all again!