I was thinking the other days – why writing good code is so hard? Why the industry still hasn’t got to producing quality software, despite years of efforts, best practices, methodologies, tools. And the answer to those questions is anything but simple. It involves economic incentives, market realities, deadlines, formal education, industry standards, insufficient number of developers on the market, etc. etc.
As an organization, in order to produce quality software, you have to do a lot. Setup processes, get your recruitment right, be able to charge the overhead of quality to your customers, and actually care about that.
But even with all the measures taken, you can’t guarantee quality code. First, because that’s subjective, but second, because it always comes down to the individual developers. And not simply whether they are capable of writing quality software, but also whether they are actually doing it.
And as a developer, you may fit the process and still produce mediocre code. This is why my thoughts took me to the code from the eyes of the developer, but in the context of software as a whole. Tools can automatically catch code styles issues, cyclomatic complexity, large methods, too many method parameters, circular dependencies, etc. etc. But even if you cover those, you are still not guaranteed to have produced quality software.
So I came up with seven questions that we as developers should ask ourselves each time we commit code.
- Is it correct? – does the code implement the specification. If there is no clear specification, did you do a sufficient effort to find out the expected behaviour. And is that behaviour tested somehow – by automated tests preferably, or at least by manual testing,.
- Is it complete? – does it take care of all the edge cases, regardless of whether they are defined in the spec or not. Many edge cases are technical (broken connections, insufficient memory, changing interfaces, etc.).
- Is it secure? – does it prevent misuse, does it follow best security practices, does it validate its input, does it prevent injections, etc. Is it tested to prove that it is secure against these known attacks. Security is much more than code, but the code itself can introduce a lot of vulnerabilities.
- Is it readable and maintainable? – does it allow other people to easily read it, follow it and understand it? Does it have proper comments, describing how a certain piece of code fits into the big picture, does it break down code in small, readable units.
- Is it extensible? – does it allow being extended with additional use cases, does it use the appropriate design patterns that allow extensibility, is it parameterizable and configurable, does it allow writing new functionality without breaking old one, does it cover a sufficient percentage of the existing functionality with tests so that changes are not “scary”.
- Is it efficient? – does work well under high load, does it care about algorithmic complexity (without being prematurely optimized), does it use batch processing, does it read avoid loading big chunks of data in memory at once, does it make proper use of asynchronous processing.
- Is it something to be proud of? – does it represent every good practice that your experience has taught you? Not every piece of code is glorious, as most perform mundane tasks, but is the code something to be proud of or something you’d hope nobody sees? Would you be okay to put it on GitHub? Here we can also add the ethical aspect, although it’s not necessarily related to quality.
I think we can internalize those questions. Will constantly asking yourself those questions make a difference? I think so. Would we magically get quality software If every developer asked themselves these questions about their code? Certainly not. But we’d have better code, when combined with existing tools, processes and practices.
Quality software depends on many factors, but developers are one of the most important ones. Bad software is too often our fault, and by asking ourselves the right questions, we can contribute to good software as well.