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Case 113

Black Sheep

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A senior monk of the Laughing Monkey Clan, exasperated by the poor quality of his team’s code, was advised to seek the counsel of the nun Zjing who lived in the valley below. He found her tending the Temple’s sheep in the high pasture.

“What have you tried?” asked the nun.

“I have left copies of our Standards and Practices in every cubicle,” said the monk. “Each morning I send out links to pertinent software engineering articles, and each evening I review the day’s code. Still nothing changes. Each monk commits the same errors as he did the day before, and the codebase grows ever uglier.”

Zjing leaned on her staff and gazed absently into the distance.

Finally she said: “The shepherd cannot move the flock; only the sheep can do that.”

The senior monk frowned. “I do not see.”

Zjing picked up a small stone and hurled it at a black-faced ram which stood at the edge of the flock. The stone struck the ram’s ear, whereupon the animal bleated and trotted away. Its neighbors promptly followed, then their neighbors, and so on, until the entire wooly herd flowed like sea-foam down the hillside. Zjing walked with them.

The senior monk folded his arms and remained on the hilltop, unconvinced. “Even if I can correct one monk, why should the clan follow him if they do not follow me?”

“Wú,” said Zjing, throwing a stone at the fellow. “It is not the monks you should be herding, but the code. Some of it strides forward with purpose, but most simply follows what came before. One monk’s IDE generates a poor method skeleton, a second monk copies the finished method throughout the class, a third saves the class under a different name for his own purposes...”

The nun found her way to the black-faced ram and stroked its bloodied ear. “Your codebase is the errant sheep,” she called back to the senior monk. “Correct it, and the laziness of your monks will prove a great virtue.”