Last year, a series of offline Architectural Katas were held in almost all Godel locations in Poland. What are Architectural Katas and why are they useful to engineers? How is the Godel architecture community developing, and can it be considered a new point of growth for employees? What are the team doing now and what are their plans? We discussed all these aspects with Principal .NET Software Engineer Artsiom Ladzik.

What are Architectural Katas?  

Artsiom says that in most cases, the team works on finished products, with an existing business – the start of new projects and features doesn’t take place every day. However, they need to practice and maintain their skills and architectural katas can help with this. Katas are something between exercises, tasks, competitions, and entertainment. It is a common practice and at Godel, they are taught as follows. About ten people gather – architects, tech advisors, project leads, and engineers who are already engaged or want to engage in architecture. Artsiom says that there are no restrictions, both business analysts and managers can join. Participants are equally divided into two teams according to skills and experience. The teams receive the same task, for example, to create a second Facebook. The list of requirements is also the same for everyone. The teams work on a solution for 1-1.5 hours coming up with a system architecture, drawing diagrams and defining a conceptual database model. 

Artsiom prepared the tasks for Katas by himself:  

“There are ready-made tasks, and sources on the Internet for architectural katas. The katas themselves are good for sharpening your system design interview skills. There are a huge number of guides and videos on how to pass such an interview. You can endlessly try to recreate existing systems. I focus on the domains and clients we work with fintech, web development, insurance. By combining these areas, I come up with tasks.” 

At the end of the kata, teams present their solutions to each other. As the first team presents, the second team asks questions. Then the teams change places, the second team presents its solution, and the first one challenges it. In the final, the guys choose the winner.

When asked what is considered when evaluating solutions, Artsiom mentions several points: 

“We consider compliance with the requirements, the look of the diagrams, the way the team answers questions from opponents, and the presentation itself. The last point is especially important since architects often give presentations to clients and stakeholders, which means they must not only draw but also present their solutions in simple language. The questions that teams ask each other can be either simple or very complex, with no clear answers. Therefore, during the presentation, architects learn how to overcome difficult situations.” 

Is it possible to use solutions developed on the katas in real projects? 

Artsiom does not have an absolute answer to this question: 

“It is most likely impossible to use the solution obtained anew during the katas, because real life, real clients are one thing, but an abstract example is another story. At the same time, katas help develop a vision of similar solutions. By solving problems repeatedly, we develop patterns that can then be applied in practice.”  

Godel Architecture Community  

With the help of architectural katas, Godel managed to create an architecture community, which now includes about 60 people. The community is open, anyone can join. The only point is that not all employees, due to the specifics of the tasks, may find it appropriate for them. Neither the community nor the architectural katas require any special preparation, just come and see the process with your own eyes. You can find videos about how such competitions take place on YouTube. Artsiom recommends reading articles about system design interviews as architectural katas are similar to it and also suggests studying his own project, a site that contains a huge number of materials on architecture, preparation, and patterns.

Last year, Artsiom held architectural katas in Warsaw, Lodz, Wroclaw and Bialystok, trying out the offline format. The plans for 2024 include Godel Gdansk. Offline katas are additional events to the regular online katas, which take place in Godel every three weeks. Artsiom says, that online and offline formats differ from each other, but it is difficult to select the most comfortable one.

“Different formats allow us to solve different problems. During online events, working with tooling is the best as everyone can use computers and tools for diagrams, and share their screens. At the same time, the participants are far from each other, which makes communication difficult. In the offline format, collaboration between people is better they are in the same room, and there is an opportunity to break into mini-groups to discuss certain points. At the same time, technical difficulties cannot be avoided, the guys draw on paper, and they must think carefully about everything before making sketches that can no longer be erased or deleted. It all depends on what goal we are pursuing more collaboration or technical training,” says Artsiom.

Plans for the future 

The community helps developers grow and upgrade their knowledge and skills. 

“For example, a lead software engineer gets bored and hits a glass ceiling. Our community can become an additional point of growth he or she does not need to leave for another company, but stay with Godel without stopping growing. Senior and lead positions are not the limit,” says Artsiom. 

The plans of Architecture community are to continue holding katas making them regular both online and offline.  

“I would like the company to open a school of architects, within which we could take a more conscious approach to training people and solving complex consultancy problems. Ultimately, community, courses, and training can become an integral part of the architects’ routine. The community is a voluntary, independent unit, we do not evaluate indicators, and we do not have KPIs, so there is no grandiose goal to double our size. We want to attract as many interested people as possible, to explain that architecture is not as difficult as it seems to be, anyone can take this position. We have an idea to organise an offline kata with a client. Offering one of our customers, who has a community of architects, to hold a competition between teams from its side and from Godel in this format we could best demonstrate the expertise that our guys have.”