Read the Diffs

Do you work as part of a software team?  Here's a piece of advice for you:

Read the diffs.

Every morning before you start your own coding tasks, use your favorite diff tool to look at all the changes that everybody else checked in the day before.

There is a reasonable chance that this advice is worth exactly how much you paid me for it.  :-)

Still, many of the best developers I have known do make this their habit.

Reading the diffs is very likely to produce two benefits:

  1. The code might get better.  Reading the diffs is like an informal code review.  You might find something that needs to be fixed.
  2. You might learn something.  Maybe one of your coworkers is using a technique you don't know about.  Or maybe reading the diffs simply gives you a deeper understanding of the project you are working on.

Of course, use some common sense about whether this habit is practical in your situation.  For example, if you work on a team of a thousand developers, this probably won't work well for you.  Then again, I assume if you work on a team of a thousand developers, almost nothing works well for you, so this habit might fit right in.  :-)