How to quote a code review

A premise: I don’t trust gantt and fancy IT project managers’ document where every project step fits in a perfect order without dealing with the unpredictable.

Planning is guessing. The more information you have, the more close to reality your guess will be. Without any hint, when you say you will take 5 days to get the job done you are just shooting a number.

In their best seller, guys from 37signals do have strong opinion about plans and project timing.

Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.

Of course you need to have your project well organized with a sequence of actions you have to deal with but you need also a lot of information to make good planning. And most of times, nobody can tell you that much.

So let’s figure it out a possible scorecard for a successful security code review.

Some basics

First of all, this scorecard and all the assumptions I’ll make, they work for me. Maybe you’ll find them useful (and I’ll happy about it), but maybe you want to tune them in order to fit your needs.

The overall quote in terms of days relies on a key ratio that it’s completely up to the application security specialist. It depends his seniority and how many code reviews he did.

This values is the lines of code you can review on average (no matter how) in a day. Let’s say you are an experienced appsec specialist. You do a lot of security code reviews in a year, and you’ve got some supporting tool and a bunch of heavly customized scripts you wrote during the years. You know, because you calculated, that on average you can review X lines of code in a working day. This is your base starting pint of your quotation.

Now, you apply some modifiers to your loc/day value.

Do you assess software developers?

A critical point in a code review is that you’re dealing with source code wroet by people you’re not familiar with. You must understand how they work, if they have continous integrations, if they relies on a centralized versioning system, if they do pair programming, if they have some security coding guidelines.

It’s also very important to understand the story behind the source code you’re reviewing. Which is the source code goal? Which is the system architeture? How many developers work on it? Which are the users interaction with the code? Is there a user interface? Is it easy to use? Is it well designed? How the source code is logically organized?

Assessing developers this way can give you an idea on the source code taken as a black box. Let’s now assign score for this point.

Before starting the code review, did you talk with developers assessing their workout gathering some preliminary information?

Answer Modifier
Yes+2 points
No-2 points

Do you master the target technology?

Let’s say it very clearly. If you call yourself a security code reviewer, you must be able to write code. Reasons are very simple. You must write patch proposals to the target source code, and you must understand the source code you deal with.

If you’re one of that guys, selling automagically generated source code reviews report made by an automatic scanning tool and you called sourceself a security specialist, you can stop reading this post and please forget this blog.

Remember, developers don’t trust you. You must convince them you’re familiar with their gergo and with their work.

Are you familiar with the technologies used by developers in the project you’re working on?

Answer Modifier
Completely+5 points
Partially+2 points
I'm not that confident-2 points
I don't know that programming language-5 points

Are you happy?

You may think you don’t influence yourself the quote but you’re completely wrong. How good you can perform is connected on my aspects of your life. If you feel good, you’ll perform good; otherwise you may lack in concentration adding some overhead in terms of day spent trying to solve a problem.

So, sit down and try to make a quick evaluation about your stamina level in the days you’ll perform the review (of course, the unpredictable will be there).

How do you evaluate your quality of life? Are you happy? Are you peaceful and well organized? Do you feel under pressure?

Answer Modifier
I can manage any kind of workload. I'm pretty organized and most of times stress is under control+5 points
I'm kind a of organized. I'm quite but sometimes I miss some milestone due to high amount of work+2 points
I'll do a lot of freelancing those days / I've got a lot of family stuff to do-2 points
It will be a mess, I'll experience a very hard workload but I can do it... I hope-5 points

Now make some math

Now that you tried answering scorecard questions, it’s time to sum up your score.

The following table will give you an idea on how to add something to your code review quote.

First, you know approx how much big is the source code you’re going to review, let’s call this number Y lines of code. The X lines of code versus days is your basic “code review speed”.

The time you will spent (theoretically) on this code review is: Y/X days.

Score Amount to add to your quote Note
Q >= 10+5%Believe me, you missed something in your anwswers. It's alwasy better to include a soft area just in case something unpredictable will happen.
7 >= Q < 10 +10%
5 >= Q < 7+20%
2 >= Q < 5+20%
-2 >= Q < 2+30%At this point I strongly encourage you rethinking something in preliminary steps when you create a quote
-7 >= Q < -2+50%
Q < -7+75%Critical here. You don't have enough information to make a good quote, you're completely blind man.

Off by one

I do really think planning is voodoo. You can’t always estimate in advance how many days you’ll spent in a code review. I use this scoreboard myself to drive decisions and give a number and 80% of times I make a good estimate. The other 20% however it turns the activity in a completely mess, most of times because project managers don’t give too much information about the code or developers give poor answer to preliminary questionnaire.

The idea is feel comfortable with your skill and with your swiss army knife tools and methodologies. Good estimates will follow… however I do think it’s better to make good code reviews, of course.

Enjoy it!

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