Sunday, May 22, 2016

How can I be a faster programmer?

Recently, "Tommy" posted the following question on Quora, a question-answer site with lots of good stuff (and some really cheesy stuff) on a variety of topics:

How can be a faster programmer?

Tommy received a goodly portion of excellent answers, with lots of details of tips and techniques—great stuff. Reading them over, I saw that a few of the answers offered some good high-level advice, too, but that advice might be lost in all the details, so I decided to offer a summary high-level view of what I've learned about speedy programming in my 60+ years in the computer business.

First of all, read all the great answers here on Quora and incorporate these ideas, one at a time, into you programming practices. In other words, to become faster or better in some other way, KEEP LEARNING. That’s the number one way to become faster, if you want to be fast.

Second, ask yourself, with each job, “Why is programming speed so important for this job?” Often, it’s an unskilled manager who knows only a dangerous amount about programming, but can always say “work faster.” So ask yourself, what’s an appropriate speed for this job, given that speed and error are tightly related.

Third, ask yourself, “Do I really need a program for this problem?” If you don’t have to write a program at all, that gives you infinite speed. Sometimes you don’t have to write a program because one already exists that will do an adequate job. Sometimes you don’t have to write a program because a back-of-the-envelope estimate will give all the answers needed. Sometimes you don’t have to write a program because there’s no real need for the function you’ve been asked to implement.

Fourth, don’t skimp on up front work because you’re rushing to produce code. If you’re working with the wrong requirements, any nifty code you write will be worthless, so any time you spend on it will be wasted. If your design is poor, you’ll write lots of wasted code, which means more wasted time.

Fifth, when you finally have a good design for the right requirements, slow down your coding in order to go faster. We say, “Code in haste; debug at leisure.” Take whatever time you need to think clearly, to review with your colleagues, to find solid code you can reuse, to test as you build incrementally so you don’t have to backtrack.

Sixth, develop in a team, and develop your team. If you think teammates slow you down, then it’s because you haven’t put the effort into building your team. So, in fact, we’re back to the first point, but now at the team level. Keep learning as a team. Your first job is not to build code, but to build the team that builds code.

Many of these principles are developed in much more detail in my many books on software development, so if you want to learn more, take a look at my author page and make some choices among about fifty books and a bundle of bundles of books. Good reading!

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