Dear Developer,

Feeling anxious about giving and receiving code reviews is a common, widely-documented experience for software developers. This experience is called code review anxiety. Code review anxiety is characterized by a fear of judgment, criticism, and negative evaluation, and it can lead software developers to engage in a variety of counterproductive behaviors, such as avoiding code reviews, engaging in "rubber stamping", or procrastinating in opening and reviewing pull requests, among other things.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the avoidance and procrastination that so often accompanies code review anxiety not only makes the anxiety worse in the long-term, but also prevents developers, teams, and organizations from realizing the many documented benefits of code reviews, such as improved code quality and security, learning and knowledge transfer, collaborative and creative problem solving, and trust and community building.

And contrary to industry myths, code review anxiety is not just a “junior developer problem.” This means that any developer can experience code review anxiety, making it relevant to any individual, team or organization. Multiply the negative consequences of this anxiety across developers and development teams in an organization, and the result can be a lot of wasted time, energy, and emotion.

At the Developer Success Lab, we care deeply about the human elements involved in software development, and we believe that attending to code review anxiety matters deeply for both individuals and their software teams. It’s with this caring that we developed a single-session cognitive-behavioral workshop intervention for code review anxiety. In its design, the intervention draws from decades of clinical research on effectively treating anxiety and hinges on addressing both developers’ physical and cognitive experiences of anxiety. Over the course of 90 minutes, participants were taught strategies for managing physiological processes, as well as how to implement cognitive restructuring, a process by which we identify, challenge, and reframe negatively biased thoughts to be more realistic and compassionate. Using a randomized controlled trial, we also scientifically tested if the intervention effectively eased code review anxiety for software developers.

And the findings from this intervention study are quite exciting. Statistical analyses conducted by both Dr. Carol Lee and co-author Dr. Cat Hicks showed that the workshop was highly effective in lessening developers’ code review anxiety. It increased participants’ beliefs that they have the ability to face and manage their feelings of anxiety, and it increased participants’ self-compassion in the face of challenging code review situations.

In the Developer Success Lab, we know our research is only as useful as the number of software practitioners it helps, and it’s with this ethos that we’ve created this Code Review Anxiety Workbook. The workbook is designed to bring the intervention tested in our rigorous, empirical research to the folks who stand to benefit from it most. Its purpose is to equip software practitioners who regularly participate in code reviews with the tools they need to mitigate and manage their code review anxiety so that they can focus their time, energy and emotion on the thing they love best: crafting and shipping code.

In this GitBook, you’ll find a self-guided version of the workshop intervention that we ran with our research participants. Fair warning: There’s a lot of information here! And it’s all meant to help. So tackle it in a single session, if that best suits you (we recommend setting aside around 90 minutes), or go through it in smaller sessions. Work through the workbook on your own, if you so choose (talking about our anxiety is a vulnerable act!), or – if you have friends or colleagues who you think might be interested – maybe start a Code Review Anxiety Workbook Club and benefit from the power of group sharing and learning!

We also created a PDF version, if you prefer that format:

However you choose to do this work, just know that it’s such worthwhile work to do. You deserve to be able to do your important, creative coding work without the burden of anxiety weighing you down. And we at the Developer Success Lab are cheering for you!


Carol & Kristen

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