Oskar Okuno's Blog

Perfect Code

14/06/2022

'The futile persuit of perfect code in a business application.'

'Code in terminal forming a red heart'

Code that doesn't need change. Code that stand the test of time. Code that is generic enough that it will serve all future use cases.

We devs are usually both lazy and perfectionists. If we could only write these perfect pieces of DRY (Do not Repeat Yourself) business logic and helper function then we can use them as Lego blocks going forward. Then we could handle any business requirements, new or changed, in theory.

Having a file with frequent changes is considered a bad thing by a lot of validation tools. And why is that bad? Because we want to our code to reach a stable state. Write and forget. If we need to go back to the same place and make a change we missed an opportunity the first time to make it right.

However, I think this mindset is not very helpful when writing a business application. Why? Because the business requirments change all the time. The very reason for our code changes. This is nothing new, this is the basis of the agile methology. However, the agile mindset is in conflict with the dev mentality and the persuit of perfect code.

The reason we code is because we want to achieve something. If we want to achieve something different we need to change the code.

We have to embrace the fact that our code will never be finished, since the reason, (business, competition, economy, etc), is ever-changing. This is the essence of "embrace change" (2.) from the agile manifesto. Just follow the logic; The reason we code is because we want to achieve something. If we want to achieve something different we need to change the code.

in order to write good code we need to have good communication with business

It all comes down to human communication, something that we devs are naturally bad at. A lot of us devs came to the field because we like to talk to computers rather than flimsy meat bags. But, in order to write good code we need to have good communication with business. The quality of code cannot be soly determined by looking at the code, you have to also look at the purpose it serves. That's why code analytics tools can easily lead us astray. They don't take business requirments into consideration. Good code may smell, but if the reason for the code frequently change, what do u achieve by "fixing" it?

Generic code only works if we anticipate business changes.

Writing specific code rather than generic code will help you to quickly fulfill business requirments. Generic code only works if we anticipate business changes. While there are many best practices to make generic code it all boils down to guess-work. To be able to figure out what business wants in the future is similar to betting. You can take calculated risks with better communications with business to get a better understanding of upcoming changes.

We are better of if we concede the notion of perfect code and instead focus on easily refactorable, extensible code or even code that can be thrown away. This goes against programmer culture which glorifies e.g. old Unix programs that have been around for centuries and doesn't need patches since the are considered done. Perfect. The author got it right.

While the persuit for perfect code is admirable and true in some sense, it doesn't serve us as a guiding light. Instead, focusing on the reason will better guide our coding decision making. And since the reason is ever changing, your code needs to change with it.