Does being isolated lead to a better codebase?

For the last 5 months I’ve been halfway across the world on sabbatical from Bluewire. I’ve been observing the development of Epro back in Bristol and doing bits of work here and there to keep myself familiar with the codebase.

Before I left we were already fairly well set up for remote development – there is sometimes a need to do some coding at a customer site or on the road – so the infrastructure was in place, and we set up a git mirror of our subversion repository so we can make complex changes without syncing back to the office. However, there is one part of the development infrastructure I’m missing – my co-workers.

In Brisol our office is open plan. If there is a piece of code or architecture you don’t understand then the path of least resistance is to wander over to person who wrote it and ask them how it is supposed to work. Forgetting the well-documented productivity hit that interruptions can cause, this seems like a good thing for whoever is stuck because it can quickly solve their problem.

In Australia, without the luxury of easily contactable co-workers, my only immediate option when I don’t understand something is to read the code. There is a much stronger motivation to refactor and review when access to the person who originally wrote the code is restricted. Maybe this is yet another reason to allow developers more isolation from their co-workers when writing code?