Once Upon A Time

I clearly remember when I started my first job way back almost 30 years ago. At that time, computers didn’t have such a major role in the work environment. Although I was always into software development, there were a lot of engineering jobs. So that’s what I ended up doing. I worked for a telephone company, and the first task I was given was cleaning this thing from used wires so that it can be reused again:

That’s called a distribution frame, and what I had to do is to pull out the wires with a hook. These boxes were used in pairs, one for connecting the telephone system and one for the actual distribution to each telephone. Each 2-wire point was connected from one distribution box to the other to make a path from the system to the actual phone.

And we were instructed to wire everything neatly. And we used colour coding as well, so the same coloured wires would be always in the same spot for all installations, and it would be easy to spot mistakes and to maintain. Sometime later, patch leads with plastic (RJ11) connectors became the norm. And after spending a day patching the system we used to be proud of our work. A cabinet such as this one is such a joy to behold:

A neat installation

We often suggested to our clients to invest in proper cabinets with cable trays and room to work properly. However I also know that it costs money and is not always easy to justify the spending against cheaper alternatives. I remember this one time when we provided a quote which was double that of our competitor. The labour cost of our competitor was almost non-existent, and the customer chose the cheaper option.

When the work was finished it looked like this:

A messy installation

Of course, everything worked initially and the competitor was promptly paid. The problems started after some time when trying to patch a phone to a new location required hours of work trying to find the correct patch lead and untangle it from the rest. Eventually, it got out of control, our competitor admitted that they focused on installations rather than maintenance work and suggested that the customer gets in touch with us.

We were happy to help, and the customer, in the end, was happy too. Although we did charge extra for cleaning the existing installation on top of the original quote.

I did write a lot of software during the next few years, both for the telephone company as well as a freelancer. Fast forward some more years and I wanted to find a full-time development job. You know, I thought programmers are cool and earn big bucks, but mostly I wanted to do it to gain experience. I wanted to learn how the pros write their software and I wanted to become one of them.

That’s when I realised that a lot of the software industry just tries to earn a quick buck by delivering stuff quickly (and breaking things along the way). It reminds me of the wiring incident all those years before. Since then I have been looking for information about writing clean code. Code that does not only work well the first time but also after every time it needs modifications.

I have been following a number of people who have been trying to teach us what it means to be a professional coder. People like Martin Fowler, Uncle Bob, Kevlin Henney, and recently Kate Gregory to name a few. If you have never done so before, I suggest that you take your time to discover and realise what writing good code means. And how it will benefit the long term health of your project. This is much more important than learning the next big language or framework that can do this and that other new thing. This is about tidiness in your work, and going back home at the end of the day with something that you are proud with.

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