Monday, March 12, 2012

6 Tips For Writing (Code)

I came across a list of 6 tips for writing by John Steinbeck: . This struck me as being somewhat applicable to programmers, so I tweeted such. And now, I want to expound on that idea.

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and just write one page for each day. ...
This is all about having a maintainable pace. A maintainable pace is valuable to the writer and the programmer in part because it relieves burnout. But it is also valuable to the editor and Product Owner because it provides an unmatched ability to forecast delivery.

... Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. ...
This is a partial quote, which indicates that the association between writing an programming is a bit loose. However, it does remind me of Kent Beck's "Make it work, make it right, make it fast." Don't refactor or redesign until you've got enough written to know what you're talking about. You may think you need a set of metric unit types, but unless you've got some code which tells you that you're getting ahead of yourself. Solve only the problems you can prove that you have.

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. ...
I've seen plenty of in-house code which was designed to withstand the application of a malicious or incompetent programmer. It's a waste of everyone's time. You cannot design around a malicious coworker, and you cannot protect yourself against an incompetent programmer. Instead, determine what kind of programmer your organization hires (you, for example), and write code for that person. Your real audience is you two weeks or six months after you wrote the code.

If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
If you can't think of a good class/method/function/field name, maybe you don't really understand what you're trying to accomplish with it. If you're having problems making your code generic, stop. Come back later when you understand the problem better.

Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest.
This is applicable in nearly every corner of life. Code or architecture which you are attached to becomes difficult to change. Change is the lifeblood of a programmers process. The code changes as your understanding of the problem changes. The code changes as the customer's demands change. The code changes as you learn new techniques. Anchors will drown you in your seas of change.

If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. 
This relates to naming things, especially systems of things, and especially test methods. When you say the name of a method, it should be easy to turn into a sentence. The receiver is usually the object, the method is usually the verb and adverb. The parameters are usually the grammatical objects. When you follow this advice, you get a rich vocabulary for the domain. And you almost never succumb to Primitive Obsession.

So, there you have it: six tips for writing code. It's an imperfect but useful mapping from creative writing to programming. Programmers can learn much from authors, and maybe we can teach them a thing or two in return. But keep in mind that they've been at it for a few millennia. Us, not so much.

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