Cargo cult programming

…or how to create huge useless programs, that is. In all fairness to the folks doing this, it’s the best they can do, given the knowledge they hold. And this is where I want to make my argument, but first…

Cargo cult programming, says Wikipedia, “is a style of computer programming characterised by the ritual inclusion of code or program structures that serve no real purpose”.
Let’s expand on that a little bit. How can there be code that serves no purpose? What is the purpose? Good questions!

The purpose of the code is to respond to every need of the product. Pretty simple, right? Right! It’s the every need of the product thingy that’s sort of vague and, frankly, it’s not easy to determine EVERY need of the product. There are lots of variables in this domain, some of which are: user preferences, product usage patterns, user base growth, product runtime infrastructure changes, product developers change rate etc. And I mentioned nothing about actual code yet! That’s right, because before having actual code, we need to determine a model for all those variables mentioned before. “Architecture” I hear you say? Whatever… I don’t care how you call it as long as there is some good thinking done first, to address that model.

Please, oh please don’t get hung up on words like: architecture, model etc. This is exactly where cargo cult programming (CCP henceforth – it would have been funny to have another C in there, before the P) stems from.

I’ll give you a method to identify whether or not CCP is employed in your project/product:
Talk to a senior programmer who’s working on the product. Ask them to explain in detail, a small part of the product. Yes! In detail! Tell them to show you the classes (because OOP is almost certainly what you’ll find) and explain how and why they are organised like they are. Take your time, be patient and do your best to follow the explanation. And now the Aha! moment: if the programmer is not eloquent and you don’t understand the explanation or it doesn’t make sense, chances are you’ve got yourself a little CCP going on.
Everything is explainable in layman’s terms… if you understand what you explain, that is. Oh and beware of the “best practice” expression. It usually means: “others on the web are doing it like this and it means this is the way to do it”. So usually “best practice” = CCP (of course it shouldn’t, but that’s what it usually hides behind)

Another way to spot CCP would be to ask programmers what literature they got the ideas from, at which point, more often than not, they would quote websites, articles and blogs (that’s right! You better not be learning programming from this blog!). What you need to hear is books and good authors (e.g. Kent Beck, Robert C. Martin, Martin Fowler, Michael Feathers and many more).

So, CCP is a BAD thing. Repeat after me: CCP is a BAAAD thing. It makes programs less maintainable, more buggy, more expensive. That’s it!

All right. Enough chit-chat! I’ll let you get back to your Wikipedia binge-clicking. Cheers!

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