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Code is liability

Software engineering Mar 15, 2024

In the fast-paced world of software engineering, lines of code churn out like clockwork. But as most engineers know, more lines of code don't always equal progress. Actually, code can be considered a liability.

Let's unpack this. Every line you write comes with an ongoing maintenance cost. Bugs creep in, requirements change, and systems evolve. Suddenly, that "quick fix" becomes a maintenance nightmare.

This might seem like a minor hassle for a large company with a vast engineering pool. But for smaller teams, it can be a make-or-break situation. The custom code you write today accumulates, silently demanding attention in the future. This debt can steal valuable time that could be spent on innovation or core features.

When a requirement is given to most software engineers, the majority dives headfirst into custom code to have the maximum control over what is created. But there's a good chance a library or system call already exists to do what you need. Reliable, well-tested libraries offer a wealth of functionality without the burden of building and maintaining it yourself. I am double-emphasizing "reliable" libraries, since depending on a third-party library that might become unmaintainable is another type of disaster worth a dedicated post of its own. System calls, provided by your operating system, offer an even greater benefit - tapping into the core functionality of your machine - that most of the time is way more trustworthy than any third-party library.

I think engineers should work a bit more like value investors: invest your time and resources in code that delivers the highest return. Custom code can be tempting, offering the allure of complete control. But is that extra complexity worth the ongoing maintenance cost?

This shift in mindset isn't always easy. Engineers often take pride in crafting elegant and beautiful solutions from scratch. However, a pragmatic approach is crucial for long-term success. The change though could be quite simple. Develop a "reuse first" mentality and research libraries and system calls before embarking on a custom coding journey.

By adopting this "code as liability" philosophy, you can spend less time wrestling with custom code over the long run and spend more time on innovation and strategic development. Remember, sometimes the most elegant solution is the one you don't have to write yourself.

Happy coding!


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