This experiment lead to some some interesting conclusions, some of which contrasted highly from my work at CleanCoders.com and other “agile” workshops. This blog post is the lessons I learned from it.
You don’t always “have it”
In the past 5 years of having an employer, I’ve felt very guilty often about how some days I just can’t focus on code well enough to make any real progress. In fact some days I code everything all wrong the whole day, and need to delete it all at the end.
I’ve learned to not be anxious over how much I can get done or trying to hit goals. Instead, I’ve been practicing finding the right task to fit my state of mind at that moment. I’ve been much more productive this way, especially because getting smaller tasks done when my mind isn’t able to focus on bigger tasks tends to motivate me more the next day.
Processes are mostly for shareholders
Development processes are way more for shareholders to have confidence than for increasing productivity. They want confidence and assurance that things will keep moving towards their interests, and process gives them that. In my experience, processes used by employers are almost always riddled with glaring inefficiencies.
For a while I tried to follow some of the processes I used when I was employed. But I found that it just made me anxious and worrying about artificial goals, rather than keeping me motivated or focused. Ironically, I’ve been more productive just winging it for the most part, only keeping a todo-list in a text file (or sometimes screenshots).
Sometimes clean code looks dirty
Working with professional software developers is difficult because there’s a lot of context going on. There’s egos and there’s selling the Right Way &tm; and there’s a huge variance in personalities and skill levels, and all of these get mushed into the workplace.
But the definition of clean code I’ve come to prefer over time is “code that doesn’t slow you down”. It’s like a kitchen: keep it clean and you’ll be able to go faster. There’s no “correct” definition of clean though. There are design patterns and anti-patterns, sure. But I’ve actually seen these used wrongly and detrimentally about as often as they’re used correctly.
Sometimes dirty code is better
So many times I’ve tried to make code “clean” or “perfect” or “ideal” or whatever. And I’m not even talking about over-engineering. Just noticing potential flaws in the code or the design, and being uncomfortable with it. I’ve learned that you just have to push past that. If the code works, then it’s the right code.
There have been some times I’ve had to go and rip out code just to fix bugs. And that’s a bit therapeutic, sure. But most of the time, my code isn’t really dirty, even though many people I respect would probably say it has a lot of code smells. For example, the front-end kind of has a God-object or two, but that’s okay. If the front-end grows to the point where that becomes a hindrance, I can deal with it then.
Bugs are not the end of the world
I’ve always been very nervous about any kind of incorrectness in my code. But that’s often prevented me from making progress, because I always have this lingering feeling that if I write the wrong code, it could be buggy, so I tend to just panic and freeze up at the keyboard.
When I push past that feeling, accept the fact that there may or may not be bugs, and I may or may not encounter them, and just deploy code after manually testing it a bit, I actually make progress a lot faster. Because in practice, bugs don’t happen that often, and when they do happen, they’re usually easy to debug when you’re at least semi-experienced with programming in general.
The right tool is the one that works
I’ve often been paralized with needing to have the perfect setup, the perfect tool-chain, etc. and it led to stagnation and sometimes was so discouraging that I would just not move forward with an idea.
For this project I started simple: everything was in a single HTML page on the front-end, the back-end was a single Node.js server with a single file. I spun up a single EC2 instance and didn’t worry about load-balancing. I downloaded and used VS Code even though I have way more experience with Emacs. I even deploy with
scp. All of these simplifications to my setup got me up and running fast.
After a while experimented with TypeScript and adding some build-processes, but they proved too time-consuming to be worth it. If the project grew, or if I was making real money from it, then it’d probably be much more worthwhile to streamline things.
Balance is important
Getting enough sleep is important, but so is taking breaks and not working for 12 hours straight several days in a row. It decreases productivity a lot and especially morale.
People can be great
I’ve shown the website to people at Imgur and Hacker News, and several people have regularly come back every day since then. They’ve done little games and had little pretend wars and it’s just amazing. I love how creative and collaborative people can be and that’s the exact thing that inspired me to want to do this in the first place.
My name is Steven Degutis, and I've been writing software professionally for a decade. During that time, I've written many apps and websites, quite a few technical articles, and kept up-to-date with the rapidly evolving software industry.
If you have software needs for web, mobile, or desktop, and are looking for a seasoned software professional, please reach out to me at email@example.com to set up a phone call.
- Self-employed – present
- Clean Coders – 5 years
- 8th Light – 2 years
- Big Nerd Ranch – 1 year
- Self-employed - 1 year
- Web: full-stack
- iOS (UIKit)
- macOS (Cocoa)
- REST APIs
- AWS / EC2 / ELB
- HTML5 / CSS
Over the past decade, I've written a total of 172 technical articles on various programming languages, frameworks, best practices, and my own projects, as I kept up-to-date and active in the software industry.
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- 2017 — "Clean code" isn't actually clean
- 2017 — Passion in your field is overrated
- 2017 — What I learned in 5 days of writing an experimental website
- 2014 — Age of the Polyglot
- 2013 — How to Program
- 2013 — Ignore the Naysayers
- 2013 — Writing Clearly
- 2012 — Reinvent the wheel
- 2010 — Good usability
- 2009 — Twitter is the wrong tool
- 2009 — We're all pretty bad at driving
- 2008 — Why I Code
|August||NDD: Narrative Driven Development|
|August||The truth about TDD|
|August||Macroframeworks vs Microframeworks|
|March||Notes on Haskell Extensions|
|February||Second thoughts on front-end tools|
|February||First thoughts on front-end tools|
|February||Some thoughts on GUIs|
|February||First thoughts on OCaml|
|February||First thoughts on Haskell|
|August||Age of the Polyglot|
|August||The history of Mjolnir|
|August||Quitting the GUI wars|
|June||Lua: my new favorite extension language|
|January||My programming life-goals|
|January||Lingua Latina, Pars I|
|January||Allocating an AST on the stack|
|April||Ruby Accessors Considered Pernicious|
|March||Reinvent the wheel|
Here are some of the projects I'm most proud of. They were created using a variety of technologies, running on several different platforms and OSes. They're all finished products, and many of them are open source.
I made Docks in 2009 for users who wanted to swap out icons in their Dock with a single click. Its unique functionality and design aesthetic attracted the attention of Apple, Engadget, MacWorld, and led to an acquisition of my start-up by Big Nerd Ranch.
This toy was made in a weekend to entertain my 1 year old daughter. It lets you create bubbles with your fingers, which then simulate physics by bumping into each other and falling.
When I couldn't find an app in the App Store that let me make very simple lists extremely quickly, I made one myself. I use it almost every day to organize and track my activities.
I created this app to increase my productivity by letting me move windows around in macOS using keyboard shortcuts. It grew into a community-driven highly extensible app, using Lua for its plugin system.
Implementing this elite social network gave me experience integrating both Apple Pay and credit card payments (via Stripe.com) seamlessly into web apps, for a frictionless and pain-free payment experience.
This isn't just any chatroom. In this web app, you can see what everyone is typing while they type it. I made this in order to scratch my itch for making real-time apps and games, and learned how to use WebSockets in the process.
This was written in 2009, before the time of Slack, when IRC was the main way for programmers to get short-term assistance from each other. Its purpose was to be a beautiful app with an emphasis on simplicity and usability over technical power.
This is an app I actually use every single day. It lets you move windows with global keyboard shortcuts. Since it uses Vim-like key bindings, it should feel pretty natural to any programmer. There's no configuration needed; it Just Works™.
As an evolution of Phoenix, Hydra was my first attempt at embedding a full Lua virtual machine into an Objective-C app, to make a lightweight and efficient window manager that focused on speed, low memory usage, low CPU usage, and overall being gentle on laptop batteries.
These may be tiny, but they're interesting technical feats.
|Lua4Swift||Swift framework for embedding Lua with a native Swift API.|
|choose||Command line fuzzy-matching tool for macOS that uses a GUI|
|music||Command line music daemon for macOS that only speaks JSON|
|hecto||Command line text editor with an embedded Lua plugin system|
|ZephSharp||Window manager for Windows using Clojure for scripting|
|management||Minimalist EC2 configuration & deployment tool in Ruby.|
|go.assert||Assertion helper package for writing tests in Go.|
|go.shattr||Go library for printing shell-attributed strings to stdout.|
|OCDSpec2||Objective-C based testing framework with Xcode integration.|