Yesterday we held the first Code Retreat Aberdeen. About two dozen coders (and one designer) gathered to take part at the University of Aberdeen. It was a joint effort between myself on the Refresh Aberdeen side, and Bruce Scharlau on the Aberdeen Uni side.


If you haven’t heard of code retreat before the description at does a better job than I will here… Code Retreat is very much a coders event. We tackle a single problem in pairs, writing code for 40 minutes before having a quick review, deleting our code, swapping pairs, and starting again. We do this all day. Insane. Insanely brilliant.

Adrian Mowat from Edge Case facilitated, and kept it pure with an instistence on pair programming and TDD. The TDD part caused some funny looks at the start, as many of the participants had never worked a truly TDD workflow before (a fair number of students). The first iteration (or two) were largely about getting to grips with testing frameworks and principles.

The general hubbub between iterations changed really quickly through the day from “why TDD?” to “TDD makes me slow” to “TDD changed how I thought about the problem” to “TDD led me to a more elegant and smaller solution”.

I’d call that a pretty successful day.

I took part properly for the first three iterations to keep numbers even, and then looked to spend more time getting to grips with facilitating.


My three iterations covered Java, Ruby and JavaScript. In all three the writing of tests was the focus, rather than the writing of code. I loved this. I don’t write as many tests as I should – and have a habit of bashing through a rough solution rather than writing tests to test my assumptions. So this was good discipline.

The afternoon was interesting. Talking to everyone about how they were finding the process, seeing where a nudge in the right direction can kick people out of timesinks, and generally observing the workings of the code retreat was fascinating.

Thanks to Adrian for facilitating. And thanks to the sponsors Codify, Fifth Ring and The University of Aberdeen – because of them we managed to keep the event free to attend and provide breakfast pastries, a great lunch from itsyworld and some pixelly event t-shirts.

Feedback has been excellent, so we are definitely planning to do another later in the year. If you fancy it make sure you’re on the Refresh Aberdeen mailing list to hear about it.


Thanks to Kevin for the photos, and to his kids for helping us finish the cakes.