“Cowboy coding” in ServiceNow

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“Cowboy coding” – I first heard this term when reviewing a ServiceNow instance with a customer, and we encountered an issue while trying to move some new code in an update-set into production. The customer said something along the lines of “oh yes, I did this last week, we had a problem and no time, so I just did the “cowboy” thing and fixed it directly on production. 

When I asked about “cowboy coding,” she explained that this is a term they use in the team. Sometimes, more often than they like, they go out of the process when urgent fixes are needed, especially in production. That is where “cowboy coding” comes in. Sound familiar? Well, while I’d never heard the term before, I was certainly familiar with this sort of thing and knew it from experience. I admit I like the sound of it. I found a Wikipedia entry for it as well! It doesn’t just happen in ServiceNow, of course. In over 15 years of enterprise software development and product management, I have seen many similar issues dealt with outside of the process. But it just felt like this is even more tedious then it needs to be in ServiceNow. The lack of branching and a real code-base (or “master”) in ServiceNow is why this is so. As we continued to work on this problem, I started taking notes. I noticed a manual process she took to examine each component in the update-set we were previewing and, since it was quite a large one, she also had a notebook handy and taking notes. It took quite a long time to get through and involved lots of cuts and paste between tabs. As I was new to ServiceNow and had just come out of a rather large system programming project using Git, I started thinking about the benefits of more modern approaches to packaging, releasing, and hot fixing it offered. There are just so many more options for changing things and reverting things in that world. Here is an excellent non-ServiceNow example https://www.atlassian.com/git/tutorials/undoing-changes/git-revert Don’t you wish you had this capability here, I thought to myself?

This story happened over a year ago and is one in a series of inspirations that eventually drove my team and me to start working on xtype. Our goal is to transform ServiceNow development and operations to be as flexible and agile as any other coding project, no matter its scale. We know that coding in ServiceNow isn’t just “customization” or “IT work,” it is real software development. It should support the scale and flexibility of any distributed development project. And it needs to this without losing all the benefits of the now-platform itself. Last week we released version 1.0.10 of our product, which now includes update-set verification and real-time analysis. xtype now analyses any object you want to modify and let”s you know if anyone else is or has worked on it. It checks in progress, completed, and remote update sets and allows you to spot easily any cowboy coding in higher environments. It is wanted, dead or alive!

If you also have cowboys and girls in your organization, give us a try.

Next week we”ll talk about pirates and hideaway passengers in ServiceNow. Stay tuned!

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