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Quality of Code is Quality of Life

About 20 years ago when I started working in technology companies I remember “the best” engineers had similar patterns:
- They worked crazy hours
- They knew the systems no one else knew
- They could react and deliver something faster than anyone else
You could always hear other employees say: “Bob is really smart, no one knows how to get anything done in system X besides him!”

This reinforced optimization around being the only person who knew how to do something in some part of the code.  That in turn reinforced job security and bargaining for those engineers, but also chained them to a particular system.  We had big code bases of C++ or Java code where some “Bob” hacked up features as soon as he possibly could.  “Bob” would have occasional nuclear disasters where he’d sleep in the office or through the weekend and then everyone would thank him for how he “saved the day.”  “Bob” sacrificed his quality of life to get praise when he hacked stuff up quickly and then the second time when no one besides him could fix an issue.

Two decades later many of us have worked with our version of “Bob” enough. The field in general started growing up and expanding to people who had families, life outside of work and cared for their health.  We have all seen the patterns of the "hacker hero" who gets the praise of getting stuff done by racking up code debt and most of us want nothing to do with it.  We now know that quality of code going into our code base has an impact of the quality of life of the team.

Good engineering teams understand that just solving the problem is usually the easy part, solving the problem in a way that someone else can learn, tend and fix it is the bar for professional code today.  What are some of the key things that make code easy to maintain?
1) Understandable design and structure
2) Documentation
3) Unit tests and other integration tests and verify that the system functions even after changes
Those three things provide very little overhead to the actual solution and generally pay dividends even to the original code author.

There is a critical shift in a view point here: one must realize that you are not writing the code for yourself, you are writing the code for the team.  Checking in code that doesn’t have those attributes has low quality and will definitely cause a lower quality of life over its lifespan for the team that has to own it.


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