Stories about Software


I Don’t Really Do That Anymore

The title of this post has become my answer to a surprising number of things lately and something of an unsatisfying conversation ender. For instance, I was having dinner with some friends the other night, and one of them mentioned a bizarre ‘pattern’ in the code he was working one where people would have a switch statement with a single case (and no default) instead of the more traditional if statement. There was some discussion of this approach as an anti-pattern, and when it was my turn to weigh in, I realized with some embarrassment that I couldn’t really remember off the top exactly how enums behaved in all situations. You see, I don’t really do that anymore. I don’t think I’ve typed “public enum Something {” in well over a year.

This comes up in other situations that I can think of. Someone was telling me about duplication in unit tests. Someone was asking me about cursors in stored procedures. Someone was showing me unit testing troubles they were having around a logger with a public static API. There seems to be an endless list of things to which my response is something along the lines of, “that was a point of ickiness for me too, so I wound up avoiding the whole mess altogether.” Or, more succinctly, “I don’t really do that anymore.”

It’s hard to know when saying something like that if you’re being off-putting and sounding like snot, and, more subtly, it’s hard to know whether or not you might be copping out. I tend to think I’m not, however. I don’t generally shy away from attempts at mastery and generally working toward understanding something. I find that usually I shy away from things that result in flailing without mastery — pain without gain. I never found that using enums resulted in cleaner, better, more defensible code, but I definitely found that using them was a surefire way to make me regret the decision later.

I’ll keep this post short and sweet (as an aside, I’m insanely busy, so I’m trying to gravitate a little more toward posting vignettes). Pay attention to what you find yourself avoiding and see if you can put some reason to it. If there’s some programming practice or construct that makes your fingers subconsciously clench every time you think about doing it, ask yourself why. It may be that a very good explanation or discovery awaits you at the end of some brainstorming and white-boarding. Likewise, if your friends, coworkers or peers in general seem to have developed an aversion toward something, ask them about it or do a little research for largely the same reasons.

We all learned hard lessons as children. After the first time you touched the hot stove, you surely never did it again (at least not on purpose). See if you can pull some wisdom from that stark, simple lesson, and put some solid rationale behind your aversions.