Code is worth a thousand words

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There is a benefit to writing that first line of code during the planning phase. Sometimes a problem that at first seems difficult to think about, maybe because it’s too abstract, becomes simpler and not all that scary after a first attempt at writing it.

Akin to The Pragmatic Programmer’s tracer bullets idea, you can use code as a resource during the design phase of your solution, or use it instead of trying to explain something verbally.

You must, however, write these pseudo-tracer-bullets with at least the intention of throwing them away once they’ve served their purpose, which is to help you understand more intimately your ideas and their aptitude to solve a specific problem. In the book, tracer bullets aren’t suggested as throwaway code:

Tracer code is not disposable: you write it for keeps. It contains all the error checking, structuring, documentation, and self-checking that any piece of production code has. It simply is not fully functional. [1]

What I’m proposing here is that you can do the same, but with the sole intention of understanding or explaining a concept better, and in a less constrained way, with throwaway code.

More often than I’d like, I find myself struggling to put in words some architectural decision, or to understand in conversation a design that a colleague is explaining to me. In those cases, I try to remember to always put it down in code, and maybe, as it happens with pictures, that piece of code is worth a thousand words.

References #

  1. David Thomas and Andrew Hunt, The Pragmatic Programmer, 20th Anniversary Edition, Addison-Wesley, 2020.