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Why everyone in your startup should understand the codebase (even a little)

Why everyone in your startup should understand the codebase (even a little)

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Shanea Leven is CEO of CodeSee, a visualization tool for the lifecycle of your code. CodeSee is available as a benefit to Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub members.

If you’re building a web application for your business, then your team is likely made up of more than just developers. You may have non-coding designers, sales and marketing reps, product owners, and executives who have never read a line of code. Not everybody who has a stake in your application is a coder, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t motivated to learn more. After all, they want to see the business succeed, and part of contributing to that success is familiarity with what’s under the hood. Whether they’re requesting new features, using your system for their day-to-day work, or assisting customers who use the application, everyone on your team greatly benefits from knowing what’s going on in your codebase.

Your codebase refers to the complete set of source code, configuration files, and other resources that make up a software application or program. It includes all the code and files required to build, test, and deploy the software. It is usually managed using a version control system, such as Git, to track changes made to the code over time, making it easier for your team members to be sure they’re working from the same version.

With the right tools, everyone on your team gains an intuitive understanding of the codebase, how your system is built, and why it does what it does. In this article, we look at how this is possible and how your team members (and your business overall) will benefit.

Which team members benefit from understanding the codebase?

  • Key stakeholders are people who make high-level decisions about the design of your systems. They might be product owners, management, or even developers working on a different part of your system. They may not need to understand your code fully, but they need to know the extent of what’s required to change it. Showing the inner workings of your application to key stakeholders can help them understand what it takes to add new functionality.
  • Library or API consumers are not as invested in the specific design of your entire system, but they may want to add a feature of their own or fix a bug they encounter. This is especially the case if they’re within your company or if you’re working on an open-source project. Providing an elegant interface for understanding a codebase can help ease other developers into contributing to a project.
  • Interested non-contributors can’t contribute to your application codebase, but they have a vested interest in seeing your application succeed. They may be team members from customer service, sales, or marketing. For these people, understanding high-level aspects of your application can assist with cross-team collaboration.

Helping non-coders easily understand what your code does

Understanding a codebase can be a daunting task for non-developers. There are several ways to make it more accessible and easier to understand, but your company’s ability to implement them can depend on staffing and time constraints. One of the simplest ways is to ask a developer to give an overview of the codebase, explaining the structure, the key components, and how they work together to create the application. This can provide a high-level understanding of the codebase but may not be the most efficient use of work hours.

Another way is to have non-developers read the codebase documentation that describes the purpose and functionality of each module or component. This can help them understand how the codebase is organized, how it works, and key information about the software’s features, limitations, and known issues. Of course, this method is only as effective as the amount of technical knowledge your team possesses.

If the codebase includes user interfaces, exploring them can give your team a sense of how the software functions from a user’s perspective. This can help them understand the purpose of different components in the codebase and how they contribute to the user experience. Similarly, visualization tools are available to help understand a codebase. These tools can show the relationships between different components and highlight key features. This can be especially helpful for non-developers who may struggle with reading and understanding the source code.

Open Source Hub Onboarding Codebase Map
Onboarding Maps introduce devs to your codebase, delivering visual knowledge of dependencies so that they can ship new features faster.

The CodeSee approach to helping non-coders

While code visualization tools aren’t new, CodeSee takes a fresh approach. By providing an automated base layer of code analysis, we visualize your entire codebase quickly and intuitively, without any human input other than providing the address of your GitHub repository. And since it’s a GitHub plugin, your code stays on GitHub, and only the high-level summary ends up in CodeSee. Your CodeSee maps and summaries sync directly to your code as it changes, without littering the code itself with comments.


Tour Walking Through Planned Feature New Redux Architecture
Reach alignment on future releases with a Feature Planning Map that allows devs to visualize feature architecture and explore functionality in detail.

After the automated CodeSee analysis, you can add further layers of documentation on top of the simple map to show references between the files in your codebase. You can add labels, colors, and notes to any node in the automatically generated dependency graph. It’s also possible to configure onboarding maps to guide developers (or others) new to your codebase on what matters most. If you’re interested in more details on what CodeSee can do, check out our three-minute demo video.


Open Source Hub Interactive Onboarding Tour How to Add Project
Pair codebase maps with interactive code tours to help devs reduce initial time-to-commit when onboarding to new projects.

Your entire team can benefit significantly from CodeSee tools, regardless of their technical experience, and outside (or new) developers can also reap the rewards. Our code maps can be an incredibly smooth way to onboard any developer who is new to your codebase. Not only that, but since the maps automatically update whenever you commit code changes, there is minimal maintenance required to ensure developers can join your projects at any time.

Keep your entire team in the know

Building software is difficult, but keeping non-coders in the know doesn’t have to be. Involving all the members of your product development team helps your developers be more effective and allows them to inform their colleagues about technical decisions.

CodeSee is one of several trusted partner benefits available to members of Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub. Members can receive three free months subscription to CodeSee Business Plan with an additional three months with a 25% discount (total value of $109).

Looking for more tools that can help you and resources for building your startup? Sign up today for Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub.

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