Sunday, March 12, 2006

Confident Programming

I propose that a core goal in the set up of a development environment, including choice of language, in-house code libraries, version control, build process, requirements management, third party components etc is to enable developers to write application code confidently.

To write code confidently requires :

  • The ability to hold a complete concept of the problem at hand in the brain at once.

  • Definition and separation of the problem from other problems.

  • Definition and separation of the the problem from its dependencies.

  • The ability to experiment and undo. Version control to allow experimentation without affecting other developers or production code.

  • Coding conventions – to avoid having to think about how to name or format things.

  • In-house code libraries – basically a collection of solved problems. These must be robust, reliable, organised, well maintained and easy to add to. A graduate developer once asked me “how can you write reliable code on top of unreliable libraries ?”. Good question – if its possible its probably not worth the effort. My answer was that you build libraries from the ground up that are reliable.

Without these things, an astute developer can be overwhelmed by all the possible side effects and implications of what they are doing. A less attentive developer will overlook these things, leaving them to be discovered in testing, when major changes are required, or worse, in the hands of customers. Testing becomes more important as a developer is less able at coding time that what they are doing is correct, or will remain correct as the code it is built on shifts over time. Application code becomes more platform specific, less agile, and includes more low level detail.
While much has been said of defensively finding and removing bugs from software, there is disproportionate discussion about how to create an environment where bugs are not created in the first place.

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