I'm sorry, but yes, it usually is. I've been in this business for over 25 years, and I'm one of the few people that actually enjoys the challenge of dealing with legacy code.
But most of the code I've seen is shit. The answer to the question "could it have been done better" is usually "yes, if it had been done by someone who understood the basic principles of the paradigm they were developing in and the tools they were using to do it, and actually gave crap".
The difference between shit code written by shit coders and less than optimal code written by good coders dealing with constraints is quite clear.
I completely agree with the point the author is trying to make about the attitude problem, especially amongst coworkers, but let's not gloss over the fact that halfway decent code written by competent developers is still very, very rare.
Most code out there is shit code. Denying it is not going to help either.
I'm sorry, I respect your experience but this post is completely uninformative. It's much more specific on how awesome you are than on how to distinguish between "shit code written by shit coders" and "less than optimal code written by good coders"; not to mention dealing with and improving either.
It's possible to spend a long time in an industry and accumulate much unfounded prejudice along with solid knowledge. As long as the appreciation of "shit code" and "shit coders" remains subjective, it's virtually certain you'll also be considered one someday, when the prevailing paradigms and fashions change again.
Conversely, I've seen code written in Java where instead of using objects the original coders used hashmaps with key/value pairs for fields. Sometimes they used some public static strings or an enumeration for the keys but often times they're just randomly hard coded throughout the program with string literals for field keys.
In another system I've worked on the coders did not understand objects/collections at all. So rather than having an array of type Person you had the Persons object that looked like this:
While it's true that good vs bad code is somewhat subjective... code like the examples I provided above is pretty horrible by the standards of all but the worst coders.
Are you sure they didn't do it for performance? That is a well-known pattern for getting better data locality ("structure of arrays" vs. "array of structures").
It's stark in the arts, but it applies to almost every human endeavor. As an example in the arts, I dance, and I'm good at it according to almost everyone who sees me dance. But I see myself as a terrible dancer. If I make a video of me dancing, others see every part that's well executed. I'm accustomed to them, and I tend to ignore those parts in favor of every part that's sloppy, every part that just doesn't look right.
And it's no different for code. You know what one of the marks for good code is? If the guy writing it is tearing it apart in the comments. Where do you see /* This is a dirty hack I'm ashamed of */? Usually right next to stuff that's a stroke of genius, or at the very least really good code.
It's strange that the more you know about something, the less comfortable you get with your knowledge, but it seems almost universal that "Ignorance is bliss", or rather the corollary "The more you know, the less you think you know".
But in my experience those comments are usually found above cases where it's possible to make a fix in one line rather than one hundred. (sleeping a thread for 0ms rather than re-architecting a gigantic callback structure).
Unfortunately that pretty much means everyone is shit relative to someone else.
So its important to remember, you are shit too.
However, I find that it's more helpful to have a positive attitude when reading code I didn't write. "Why did he write it this weird way?" taught me so much more than "this is shit, let me rewrite it the way I'm familiar with".
I'm not denying that I found seriously bad code running in production. And I'm not denying that it's more common that I would've believed. But the moment I start treating every piece of foreign code as shit, I'll miss out on interesting insightful techniques.
The point of this article is a reminder that it's easy to get sucked in the "this is shit" culture.
You're 3 years in. In another 3-5 years (maybe more), this 'positive attitude' will (and should) go away. You'll have a much better understanding of the 'weird' ways, and will be able to tell 'quick hacks' from 'crap code' as the OP was referring to.
You will have learned most of what you need to know by investigating the 'weird way', and you'll see the patterns, and you'll be at this for 15 years, and you'll be seeing the majority of stuff coming out being crap code by younger developers. It's the way of the world.
So... you can call it negative, I call it realistic. I'm pleasantly surprised when I discover good, well-written code, and it means my estimates can be revised downward - something everyone enjoys. Hoping for the best and getting the worst is horrible - expecting "meh" and getting a positive shock is great, but doesn't happen all that often.
I'd have loved to be at a company where people learned from each other and taught one another - imo, it's extremely rare. I've seen it a couple times in the past 15 years, but more often than not, politics and/or ineptitude takes over, and the 'learning/teaching' thing goes out the window.
As a developer, I had a technical manager over me who'd never coded. I've had a colleague who was hired to 'fix bugs', and has to watch the people who wrote the bugs go rewrite everything in to a 'version 2', rewriting exactly the same problems, because "they've been here longer".
So... yeah, companies that foster teaching/learning environments might be nice, but it takes a LOT of work to get right.
That seems like a false dichotomy. Someone who's a pollyanna even about horrendous abominations is a problem in one way, someone who's indiscriminately contemptuous of reasonably useful code is a problem in another way. Software projects (or teams, or companies) can bog down or die in more than one way. Driving off people who are doing reasonably good work is one way, tolerating unreasonably low standards is another.
And also, correct criticism is not particularly "bringing" negativity. If there is something unacceptably technically bad, and you want to point to the person or people who brought the negativity, you'd do better to point to the original creators and/or the chain of people who have signed off on it since then, rather than pointing to the person who criticizes the problem. The irreverent child did not bring the negativity to the Emperor's famous tailoring fiasco.
Someone who reasonably reliably distinguishes between good and bad is useful. Making the distinction correctly is generally much more important than the style of expression. It's easy to hire pollyannas (or, indeed, to err in the opposite direction by hiring hard-driving abrasive jerks) who don't have the tech skills to make the distinction correctly and just fall back to emoting in their preferred style. It works better to hire the smaller fraction of people who can do a good job, and who can recognize a good job. When you do that, it doesn't solve all style-related abrasiveness problems, but it does help mitigate them. By the time you've worked with someone for a while you learn to translate A's "this is unacceptable" as synonymous with B's "this is flaming rancid goat barf". (And axiomatic though it seems to be to you, in my experience saying "flaming rancid goat barf" is not useful evidence of unwillingness to learn and teach.) Both A and B are useful as long as they're reasonably reliably correct. Much bigger problems are C who says "this is a good effort" about everything, and D who flips between praise and condemnation based on issues other than technical quality (randomness, politics, mood swings, whatever).
I totally agree that not addressing issues and not bring (constructive!) criticism is a poor strategy. But your persons A and B have the same problem: they're critical without being providing any actual information. Person B just compounds it by also being a jerk.
As a programmer/businessperson, I'm not interested in making people feel good about poor quality work. I'm interested in people who want to improve themselves and the overall product, and ideally, enjoy the process. I just don't see how insulting code or people helps. I think it's perfectly possible to hold high standards on code and respectful conduct, and it's perfectly possible for people to rise to those standards, guided by constructive criticism.
Those few times make it worth to never judge too early.
Blindly assuming you know better is arrogant and will inevitably lead to problems. Discussing the underlying reasons will almost always teach you something.
The article is not about the existence of shit code, the amout of shit code produced per year or how much shit code the average developer will see in his career.
It is about teamwork, and what kind of culture poisons the atmosphere in a company.
Not about shit code, which by the way everyone here has produced at some point or to be more realistic about it (since usually developers look at their old code and think it is bad) - is still producing on a daily basis.
Once I finally understood what it was doing enough to refactor it I managed to delete most of the file and replace it with a "latest_id" counter which incremented on each call, with the success handler skipping if its ID wasn't the latest. Simple.
I got told a similar thing during a code review as well, since I'd used map on an array. Needless to say, I didn't stay there long.
Now that is a cultural problem, which can only be solved by pointing out shit code (although in a more polite way). Some people are so stuck in their ways that they don't care about improvement because they see their stuff as 'good enough'. In those cases, they need to be shown that no, it's not good enough, because XYZ.
I wasn't trying to gain points on anyone; I was just frustrated at the utter lack of care about the codebase we all had to work on. Whenever I spotted anything particularly WTF I'd send out a "Code of the day" email. My favourite is still this one:
blah blah blah
</td style="....." id="foo" class="bar baz">
FWIW: when I was fresh out of school my logic was sometimes pretty twisted, to put it kindly. Lots of deeply nested if statements, global variables used to maintain state (in the state machine sense) that sort of thing. That is unworkable, I recognized it, and I learned from my peers, from books, from good code, from myself (reality is a wonderful instructor. Work til midnight fighting a bad piece of code you wrote, well, you should learn something from that). That's not ego, that is learning your discipline.
This is all testable in the marketplace - not in products sold, but the marketplace inside your development lab. Are you the programmer with endless bugs, or the one that generates nearly bug free code. Are you a 10x programmer, or not? Are you the one that everyone asks questions of (to learn from you, or get your opinion on a design), or not? Do people seek you out for code reviews, or not? Do people need to come to you endlessly to try to figure out what your code is doing, or not? Does your code have a disproportionate number of bugs written against it? If there is a bug in your code, do the rest of your team members assign it to you because they can't begin to understand your code? And so on. There's no ego in any of that, but it is all reality(what I called the marketplace) telling you the quality of your code, in the measurable form of understand-ability, maintainability, bugginess, and so on.
He took the one thing he could make an easy, pedantic point about and posted it. It's easier to do that and get free karma that actually be mindful. It's low hanging fruit. Just like I could find errors in his comment that would serve no purpose.
At issue is, while his point might be technically correct, it serves nothing other than to encourage "Me too" replies. This happens frequently on HN. I encourage you to down vote such posts.
All I am saying (and I think the author tries to make that point) is that it is questionable that you are going to create such an environment by pointing fingers and treating devs bad.
My very limited experience (I am the mobile lead in a company) has taught me, having done all of that myself in the beginning, that I wont achieve anything this way.
What I saw is that people got defensive by default, protective about their work (so no one can attack them for errors they made), the company started bleeding talent (what person is going to like working in such an environment?) and so called "code monkeys" never improved, because they didn't believe that they could achieve anything meaningful by themselves.
For some companies this might work in a way that I can't understand, but I changed, because frankly I didn't like to work in such an environment myself, and it did have to some degree positive effects.
People share more information, there's less pressure generally and there is more trust in general that everyone is doing their best, and if unable to complete some task, will ask for help.
By the way, here's a Google I/O talk from 2010 about engineering leadership that covers the problems mentioned in the article - I cannot recommend it enough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skD1fjxSRog
It's like the friend who complains about everything all the time: constantly complaining about traffic, about the weather, about how the city is losing its charm, about his job, about his classes, about his parents, about his car, about his apartment, about politics, about how stupid people are, etc. etc., with nothing positive to say. Maybe it's all correct from some perspective, but it's not a very useful perspective and it's definitely an annoying one to be around.
"All software sucks, be it open-source [or] proprietary. The only question is what can be done with particular instance of suckage, and that's where having the source matters." --viro
I've always found clean code to be faster to develop. I find that developers that produce lower quality code tend to spend their days debugging, fighting their code, reading and trying to figure out what they wrote 5 months ago, and so on. They are just not very productive. There are the outliers - people that have instant recall of all their code and elaborate mental models of really poorly structured code - but by and large I find that people that generate low quality code are quite slow performers.
I've worked in very good code bases, and very bad ones. In the good ones you can easily figure out what is going on, quickly make changes, confident that you aren't breaking 5 things because things are decoupled. You can produce new code quickly because you aren't fiddling with code nested 6 if statements deep, which is just about impossible to model correctly in your head. You aren't in endless compile/run/debug (or REPL/run/debug) cycles because your first try is usually just about right, because you can understand the surrounding code. I recently requested a simple feature, and was told it would take a week. I was dubious. Then I looked at the code, and decided that they were being conservative, if anything... for something I thought would reasonably take a few hours.
This is just an impassioned plea, not to Jach, but to the profession, to cast a critical eye on code. You can produce high quality code quickly. Not "nuclear reactor" quality, but pretty close. Bad code always costs you. Always. Don't write that way, don't allow it in your code base, or in your teammates.
What do you think makes your code good?
I bet the next guy that comes around in 15 years and reads your legacy code (Grats on having code actually runs for 15 years!) will think it's the worst piece of shit ever created and are sure to think you are one of the worst developers in the world.
We have a broad understanding of how to structure and write software. These ideas have been collected together in books. I refer to books like Code Complete, Debugging the Development Process, Clean Code, Refactoring, Programming Pearls, Beautiful Code, and so on. Then there are the language specific books. I don't believe you can craft well written C++ without reading Scott Meyers' books (or having absorbed the same knowledge from others), for example. Even the much maligned Design Patterns, which has been turned into the truly dreadful design by pattern, helps us to think about how to structure code.
I can't type it all in a post. But we are talking about modularity and extensibility. Decoupled code, so you can make changes here that don't break something over there, and so you can easily move code from one project to another. Well commented code - where 'well' means the author takes the use of the code into account - some deeply internal function named ComputeAverageSalary probably doesn't need much in the way of extra comments, anda top level api call to a framework being used by thousands needs a lot of documentation. Well structured code. The if statements make sense. They are not deeply nested. logic is not duplicated, or contradicted when it is nested, because that always leaves you scratching your head as to the purpose of the author(s), and clueless as to how to add code.
So, back to the question, why would you bet that? I've opened plenty of 15 year old code that is good to beautiful. This is not an arbitrary judgement of "oh, OO good/bad", nor an reactionary "it wasn't written by me, so it must be bad".
I do consider myself a pretty clean programmer, but I learned it by observing the code of others, reading a lot of books, and relentlessly applying a critical eye on everything I write and others write. All borne not on some arbitrary judgement, but from recognition of how quickly/slowly I can grok a piece of code, how easy it is to find and fix bugs, how easy to add features, and so on. In some code bases that is all fairly straightforward, and in others it is impossible - any fix or change has so many side effects that you need to add 50 if statements strewn about 50 files, in code already filled with if statements, and your if statement break about 15 undocumented assumptions about the behavior of the tightly coupled code.... that, my friends, is shit.
Honestly, I believe that this is one of the best habits I've developed at my current workplace. We use Code Collaborator (a code review tool) for about 90% of all commits; I like using to get at least one pair of eyes on my code, but even further, I only even send out a review after I've gone through my own diff with a fine-toothed comb.
Answering for myself: (1) it's short. Often significantly shorter than my colleagues'. (2) it has few bugs, if our bug tracker is to be believed (I reckon I'm not very confident about that one).
On the other hand, I tend to be slower, especially when I have to write against less than optimal APIs.
It's cringe worthy, and working my back into it seems scarce impossible. If you drew out the program logic, it'd look like an Eldridge terror. It just isn't good code.
But yes, if you're writing War and Peace in order to parse XML, it's unlikely you're writing good code.
Also, of two okay-looking pieces of code, I noticed that the shortest is almost always the simplest. Which makes size a pretty good metric.
Simply understanding that something will be a maintenance nightmare should inform a developer enough so that they, at the very least, leave useful info/docs about what corners were cut and why. Until you've had to deal with mountains of various legacy projects completely undocumented, you won't even know this is something you should be doing.
The other 50% is implementation.
To err is human; to really screw up takes a committee.
semantic point. if you're saying 'most code' is shit, aren't you saying average code is shit?
Kind of like saying a 6 min mile is shit because it's not a 4 min mile.
I'd say its appropriate to call 'most/typical code' average code, not shit.
"Everyone is a shit driver" claims almost universally come from terrible drivers: When you have no situational awareness and aren't actively predicting the behaviors of drivers around you, and you don't have confident control of the tools at your disposal, every move that other drivers make seems dangerous and scary, needing panicked reactionary responses. Every trip is a perilous journey with tales of imminent death.
I honestly feel the same about people who walk around declaring all code shit. People who aren't competent with their development tools, can't naturally trace code and truly understand functionality, and can't adapt to different styles and era of code tend to be the ones, in my experience, that declare all code shit.
I would suggest that this indicates that your figurative use of "shit" is not the common figurative use of the term in the phrase "shit code", which is impairing communication.
Most of my code is shit probably by everyones definition. So I try and write as little as possible to solve the problem. If I spent the time required to make all of my code non-shit (not good, but non-shit) then I would get very little done.
It would be nice if google wave didn't tank, or this discussion board was scriptable by the end users because I would love a sidebar where we could agree on the definitions of terms under discussion.
Due to the lack of attention, willful or otherwise, most conversations online end up talking _past_ or _at_ each other and not to.
Also, comments-used-as-source-control. If I see one more gigantic block of code commented out with a set of initials and a date "this was removed by/on". Use the source control to do that, dammit.
Well, sometimes I do see code that's really very bad and I can't imagine how someone was ever able to type something like that, but that's rare. Usually it's competent people with the best of intentions but as lack of ability to predict the future.
Is code that was written on time and on budget - but has a few hacks in it shit?
Is code that is beautiful and easily maintainable, but was £1m and six months over budget not shit?
So you do it "right" then, I assume. What do you think the next guy is going to say about your code? Do you really think they're going to praise the excellent code quality? Or will they declare to all around that it all needs to be rewritten because it doesn't conform to the newest flavor of the month?
I absolutely and unequivocally agree with the author: People declare everything around them as shit to prop themselves up, and the explain their own inadequacies in advance. There is shit code, granted, but by some measure of shit all code is shit. A viewer can destroy code as over or under engineered, over or under built, over or under abstracted, over or under object-oriented, over or under functional, and on forever, and anyone who thinks there is an actual right way in any reasonably complex system is demonstrating profound naivety.
The one thing that I will disagree with in the submission is the notion that this is a new or increasing pattern. It isn't, and has been the norm for decades. This is what developers do, especially those who are weak at reading code: Declare it shit in advance and just write your own.
I'm not talking about a mismatch between approach (over- or under- whatever) and goal. I'm not talking about quick hacks that were never refactored (because of course, there never is time). I'm not talking about code that has gone through many cycles of unpredicted change and has acquired many layers of cruft. I'm not talking about code made by inexperienced developers who still have a lot to learn.
I've seen all that. I've written all that. I've left code behind I would be embarrassed to show in public. I'm shocked some of it is still in use, and I'm sure people who have to maintain it will curse my name. That is part of the job.
What I'm talking about is pure, unadulterated shit code. No structure, no logic, no consistency and barely functioning only under very limited conditions. Utterly incomprehensible unless you immerse yourself deep into the mind of the author like an FBI profiler and a serial killer.
No, there is no one "right" way of writing code, but boy there are an awful lot of "wrong" ways.
(Of course, this is among the least of their offenses.)
I try not to work at places like this.
Mostly I suspect that is because the software development practices such as code reviews and coding standards are actually enforced.
Each file was about 4,000 lines long. All 3 were nearly line-for-line identical, save for about 500 lines of differences each, strewn wantonly about. For some of the URLs the app would use foo.js, for some other URLs it would use foo2.js, and for yet more of the URLs it would use foo-z.js.
There were 4 files on the server like this which did the same thing - copied line for line and then changed in various places.
After refactoring these files together and eliminating the duplicate code, I ended up deleting something like 8,000 lines of code. I quit soon after - by then I was already looking for another job.
That code was shit. There is no question about it.
You lucky swine… Much (possibly most) code I have had to deal with was that ugly.
I'm talking about horrors such as (this was real, production code):
bool flag = true;
if (var1 == const1)
if (var2 == const2)
// quite a lot of code
flag = false;
if (flag == true)
// a little piece of code.
if (var1 != const1 ||
var2 != const2)
// a little piece of code
// quite a lot of code
I'm not disagreeing on the notion that there is some shit code in the world. Of course there is. But if anyone thinks that all or most code is shit, it often says more about the speaker. And I don't mean this as a personal attack on anyone, as it is possible that someone is in particularly dire code straights, but by and large the people who I've known who think all code is shit tend to be of questionable talent.
I have a friend who is constantly regaling the horrors they meet on the roadways because, in their opinion, everyone is a shit driver. Only it's my friend who is the shit driver, and their reactionary, panicked driving technique puts them in such constant peril that they can only imagine that everyone else is to blame.
Bad driver stereotypes piss me off because they often work under the assumption that cautious drivers are bad drivers and aggressive drivers are good drivers. Hell I bet Asian women are really the safest drivers.
So, while there are ways to make code so short that it becomes incomprehensible (code golf?), most of the time, less code is almost always a good thing. A case in point would be the factorial in Haskell:
fac i = product [1..i]