The Problem with Programming: "There's No Good Code"

Anthony Malakian, US Editor, WatersTechnology

I'll admit it: From time to time I submit to bouts of jealousy. I try to be happy for other people's success and content with my own station in life, but I'm also hyper-competitive, which I try to mask with charm and an air of nonchalance.

So with that in mind, on Wednesdays I shoot pool in a league, usually at this dive bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Two nights ago, a friend of mine, Peter Welch, was talking to one of my teammates about a blog post he recently wrote and how it's taken off. Being the eavesdropper that I am, I congratulated him and asked how many clicks he's gotten, expecting maybe a few thousand.

No, it was actually a six-figure number. Over 100,000 shares on Facebook. Over 10,000 retweets. It was republished by Gizmodo. Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I smiled and congratulated Pete on his burst into blogging stardom. And I was genuinely happy for him; he's good people. But man...the jealousy. And it probably didn't help that I had lost my pool match earlier that evening after twice accidently kicking the 8-ball into the wrong pocket. Now I'm just being bitter.

Why do I tell you this tale? Well, Peter's blog post is about something the subscribers of this publication know plenty about: Programming...and why coding can become a twisted nightmare of insanity.

As an example, from the post, titled "Programming Sucks":

Every programmer starts out writing some perfect little snowflake like this. Then they're told on Friday they need to have six hundred snowflakes written by Tuesday, so they cheat a bit here and there and maybe copy a few snowflakes and try to stick them together or they have to ask a coworker to work on one who melts it and then all the programmers' snowflakes get dumped together in some inscrutable shape and somebody leans a Picasso on it because nobody wants to see the cat urine soaking into all your broken snowflakes melting in the light of day. Next week, everybody shovels more snow on it to keep the Picasso from falling over.

There's a theory that you can cure this by following standards, except there are more "standards" than there are things computers can actually do, and these standards are all variously improved and maligned by the personal preferences of the people coding them, so no collection of code has ever made it into the real world without doing a few dozen identical things a few dozen not even remotely similar ways. The first few weeks of any job are just figuring out how a program works even if you're familiar with every single language, framework, and standard that's involved, because standards are unicorns.

Peter is an engaging, smart writer, so I encourage you to read his full story. It's a rant but it's highly entertaining and if you know anything about coding it will strike a chord with you.

As for me, I'm going to go to the White Horse Tavern down here in the Financial District and have a glass of Wild Turkey and tell myself over and over that I'm a capable writer.

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