When “good enough” is really good enough

We all (sweeping generalisation) get analysis paralysis at times. Or at least I think we (devs) all do. I know I certainly get it way too often for me to be comfortable. I’ve always been around REALLY good developers…. people that can out-code me in a minute, and that is REALLY intimidating. They come up with solutions that appear (and possibly are) complicated and well thought out. They’re breaking systems up into nice controller, services, data layers etc etc with what seems like endless abstractions. They’re good… they’re the top devs in the places… what am I not "getting" to see that all of this work is absolutely needed. Yes, they might know that the design they’ve come up with will be perfect for when addition 1,2 and 3 come along.

But what if the additions don’t come? Or they do, but (cue The Imperial March) "the business" have skewed the requirements enough that they appear very different to what was initially talked about.

I’ve ALWAYS preferred simple code rather than clever code, even if it makes me look foolish in front of other developers (probably not a great career move… but hey 23 years in and I’m still going ok). In C# I’d prefer to start with basic loops and THEN figure some uber-l33t LINQ to come up with the same results, although more often than not I’d just stick with the for/while loops. To me, they’re definitely more readable and understandable than the 3 line LINQ expression. But I certainly know other devs that instantly go to LINQ and know it inside and out (like I said, they’re far better than I am).

But… in saying all this, I came across a tweet recently by Alex Gurney ( https://twitter.com/ajtgurney/status/1230580904944439301 ). Unsure how Alexs tweet got on my timeline, but the thought about a "2 hour hack" really started to speak to me. Yes, if we KNOW …. and I mean REALLY know that what we’re coding up is just the basis for something more complex in the next sprint/iteration then yes, obviously put more thought into the design. But if a set of requirements are "do XYZ, take this input… output looks like this…. etc " then I’m starting to wonder is the 2 hour hack really a bad thing?

Of course there are many situations where this would absolutely be irresponsible to do, but equally I can picture MANY classes/services that I’ve seen (or written) where banging something out would have equally done just as well.

Then we need to address the infamous 2 x four letter words… "tech" and "debt". If we just "hack" absolutely everything then we’d probably be sitting on a house of cards, and as soon as something major needs to get worked on we’ll be stuck in a bad position. I think of "hacks" in 2 ways. The first is the less pleasant version…. do whatever it takes to get functional code (functional for the specs we have NOW). This is usually falls under the Perl category of coding (as I call it)…. made sense when you wrote it… come back a week later and it’s all WTF?!?!

The second option is where the solution is the simplest possible (within a small timeboxed period) that can be designed and coded up and isn’t refactored to be the smallest, tightest most elegant code you can create. To me the key thing is SIMPLE. I’m not talking lines of code (since I personally find fewer lines of code != simple), but I’m talking concepts… something my brain can handle.

Stick to simple functions, simple loops, don’t go and start making a bunch of abstractions/interfaces/wrappers that you think you might need in the future. The number of times I’ve seen DB or storage wrappers to abstract away the platform specifics and only end up with a SINGLE concrete implementation. The problem is, I sometimes feel I’m in the minority here. What I find simple and readable others complain isn’t. They’d prefer to see a 1 liner calling map/fold/whatever but I know I’ve certainly experienced issues debugging a map call where 1 entry in a collection has caused the mapping function to blow up. Personally I find a for-loop easier to debug, but maybe that’s just me.

Just as I’m about to post this… I see Nick Craver come up with a perfect summary of how I feel, "Don’t let perfection stand in the way of a net win." https://twitter.com/Nick_Craver/status/1231591808007798784 He mightn’t be talking about 2 hour hack, but I still like the tweet đŸ™‚

Maybe the readability thing is why I find Go such an attractive and productive language. Yes, you can argue lack of map/fold etc and the constant err checking causes more boiler plate, but seriously that boiler plate takes a few mins to write out and then is just left there to run.

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