Code Better or Code Less?

| November 12, 2012

This great article was originally posted by Pawel Brodzinski at his blog.

An interesting discussion (that might have happened):

I would rather students apply their effort to writing better code than to writing better comments.
~ Uncle Bob Martin


I would rather students apply their efforts to writing less code than writing “better” code.
~ Bob Marshall


There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.
~ Peter Drucker

Having read this, one realization is that better code often means less code. I don’t think about lines of code exactly, or something similarly stupid, but in terms of meaningful code. However, argument for less code isn’t about making code as compact as possible, avoid redundancy, etc.

The argument is about not writing code at all whenever reasonable or possible.

Should we focus on deciding what should and what should not built instead of polishing our software development craft then?

Yes and no.

Yeah, I know. Exactly the kind of answer you expected, isn’t it? Anyway, you can’t answer this question meaningfully without a context.

Better code

One perspective is the one of a developer. The developer in almost every medium-to-big organization, and in quite a lot of small ones too, is pretty much disconnected with product management/product ownership part of a project. It means that they have very little-to-no knowledge what actually should be built.

Of course being a developer I can, and should, share my concerns about usefulness of building specific features but it’s unlikely I have enough information to judge such situations correctly in many cases. By the way, even when I’m right and this darn feature shouldn’t be built odds are that it’ll be built anyway because a client says so. Sounds stupid? Sure, it does! Does it make the client change their minds? Not very often.

If you’ve ever worked on one of those big contracts where everything is (allegedly) specified upfront and no one on a client’s side is willing to change anything because of internal politics, you exactly know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, damn you, you lucky bastard.

So it might be a great idea not to build a feature but developers either don’t have enough knowledge to be aware of the fact or aren’t allowed to skip the feature anyway. In this case a better thing to do is to focus on building better code, not less code, because one can hardly say what meaningful less is.

Less code

The other perspective is the one of product management folks, however this specific role is called in your org. For them, their first and main focus should be on building less code. Yes, product owners, product managers, etc. Yes, less code. And yes, I do know they don’t write code. It still should be their main goal.

You see, this is the place where meaningful decisions about not building features can be made. Product folks should know what adds value and what doesn’t. What’s more, they are usually better suited to start such discussions with clients, whenever needed. After all, it is so common that clients want, and pay for, unnecessary features and useless code.

Organizational-wise you get more value, or less waste, focusing on building less code. Given that you’re free to work on both: better code and less code across the organization, it would likely be wiser to choose the latter. At the same time efficiency of your efforts depends much on the part of the organization you work with and, locally, it may be a much better choice to focus quality of code and not quantity of code as an issue to tackle.

So if I could choose what kind of superhero posters are in rooms of my people I’d go with Peter Drucker for product folks and Bob Martin for developers.