The Enterprise Programmer Blues

Others, like Bob Martin, have made the point, that coding, in fact, is writing.  So I was not surprised when I found that the venerable writing guide, “The Elements of Style“, which has been around for about a 100 years now, had something to say about computer programming.

Before beginning to compose something, gauge the nature and extent of the enterprise and work from a suitable design.  Design informs the simplest structure, whether of brick and steel or of prose. You raise a pup tent from one sort of vision, a cathedral from another.  This does not mean you must sit with a blueprint always in front of you, merely that you had best anticipate what you are getting into.  To compose a laundry list, you can work directly from a pile of soiled garments, ticking them off one by one. But to write a biography, you will need at least a rough scheme; you cannot plunge in blindly and start ticking off fact after fact about your subject, lest you miss the forest for the trees and there be no end to your labors.

I write computer code in the enterprise.  There have been no cathedrals in my past, much less a solid hut.   The only promise that the big bad enterprise makes to me is spaghetti, or with poetry now, ‘soiled garments’.  How many clumsy hands have roughed you up, you poor code?

Ever wonder what ‘analysis’ is, which is merely the door that leads to ‘design’?  I haven’t heard a more melancholy answer than this, “… lest you miss the forest for the trees and there be no end to your labors“.   I’ve labored, Lord, how I’ve labored.   

In enterprise programming, very little is complex.  Dissect a bug, and 9 times out of 10, you will find, to borrow the Captain’s words from Cool Hand Luke, “a failure to communicate”.   Bugs have made me laugh. They have made me want to pull my hair out in frustration, and angry enough to challenge the miscreant to a duel. But I have never felt like crying, till I saw “16. Be Clear”.

Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveller expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram.  Think of the tragedies that are rooted in ambiguity, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it.  The chances of your having said it are only fair.