It’s just annoying that Joel Spolsky is such is great writer…

…because I almost never agree with him!

For instance, in this post – inspired by the book, Coders At Work – he describes the character he calls “the duct tape programmer”, who is the archetype of that annoyingly great programmer, who just seems to be able to solve any kind of problem with only a few tools.

One of the attributes of “the duct tape programmer” is that he seldomly wastes time writing tests, because “(…) the customer isn’t going to complain about that”. Another is that he does not succumb to hype and trends in software development, he is confident that what he knows is enough.

And so Joel goes, on and on about this fantastic programmer, who’s capable of delivering what the customer wants without all the fancy hypes brand-spanking-new technologies and methodologies that all the other programmers seem to waste their time with.

The problems, as I see it, are: a) Very few programmers are like that (you know, that Linus Torvals/Bjarne Stroustrup kind of guy), and b) I will NEVER be the guy who maintains his code!

The thing is – to continue Joel’s analogy – that “the duct tape programmer” might be able to win a go-cart race with a go-cart made of duct tape and WD-40, but I would NOT trust him to make a car for me to drive on the highways! – because I would not expect that car to be safe at high speed, and I would not expect it to last for years, and I would not expect it to withstand rain, snow, sand, etc.

In my opinion, automated unit tests and integration tests serve many purposes. One (obvious) one is to continually verify the behavior of a system, given that implementations may change and bugs be fixed and so on. Another is to DOCUMENT the behavior of the system, like in “we agreed with the customer that it should work like this”. Yet another is to aid the programmer while writing his code into separating concerns, because doing that just causes less pain when writing tests. Joel should stop bashing TDD.

And when it comes to new technologies and methodologies, I think it is SO IMPORTANT to keep an eye open for new AND old better ways to do stuff. My opinion is that I get smarter all the time by keeping an open eye on what other people are thinking and doing, and I get smarter all the time by putting some of it to use. Joel is just annoying here, because his statements lack nuance – keeping up with new stuff is NOT the same as bringing in new stuff unconsciously, but Joel does not seem to be capable of drawing this distinction.

In my opinion, there is no place for “the duct tape programmer” on a team. At least not on my team.

So if you care about your teammates, about the quality AS WELL AS THE MAINTAINABILITY AND EXPLAINABILITY of your code, please DO write tests!

And please DO separate concerns and take the time to factor out stuff into easy-to-understand narrow and focused classes!

And please, please DO use new as well as old technologies and practices where it makes sense – don’t put stuff off because it’s new, and you are used to hand-rolling your own linked lists and string structs in C and the C++ STL is just another fancy new hype to you.

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