The Place For Tools in Development

Especially for new or inexperienced programmers, tools can be a great way to help get the ball rolling or learn how to create programs that work. Too often, however, programmers rely on their tools to think for them, a dangerous and often damaging decision. A post by Robert Martin on his Clean Coder Blog titled “Tools are not the Answer,” explains potential causes of the impending “software apocalypse” and also points out some common mistakes that developers should avoid. Martin acknowledges the value of tools and technologies such as Light Table, but feels that such tools are not going to solve the apocalypse. Tools only further complicate things rather than addressing the underlying cause, which Martin cites as software programmers being generally undisciplined.

Rather than trying to fix bad code with more code, Martin thinks that we should simply aim for more disciplined programming. The reasons he gives for the cause of the apocalypse are:

  1. Too many programmer take sloppy short-cuts under schedule pressure.
  2. Too many other programmers think it’s fine, and provide cover.

I feel that Martin’s first reason is more significant than the second. While often times deadlines are outside of the programmer’s control, the choice to take a short-cut that jeopardizes the integrity of the code is a conscious choice. Avoiding this dangerous mistake may require extending deadlines or missing them altogether. Weighing the risks of releasing an inferior product with delivering it past its original deadline may depend on the product’s application. Reputations would certainly be more severely impacted by the former, while the latter may cause only minor inconvenience to the end-user.

I don’t see the second reason Martin states as so much of a problem. I would argue that other, more experienced programmers should help to implement the feature properly rather than allowing an overwhelmed programmer to sloppily stumble through a buggy implementation. Martin seems to think that tattling on the sloppy programmer is the solution to making sure that he pays for his carelessness. I think that in any team-driven environment, colleagues should have one another’s backs and everyone should be accountable.

While I stand behind Martin’s opinion that the real reason behind the impending software apocalypse is a lack of general discipline among programmers, I only partly agree with the causes he proposes for this lack of discipline. I think that more importantly than anything else, the programmer must consider the risk he or she is taking by rushing through something without proper and rigorous testing. Some of the examples of software bugs that caused panic and chaos are found in “The Coming Software Apocalypse,” which is the article that Martin continuously refers to in his own blog post. While the code that I am presently writing does not have any real-world consequences (apart from a poor grade if it does not meet the requirements of the assignment), I am challenging myself to write code as if someone’s life depended on the reliability of what I write. Who knows, someday it just might.

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