Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Your Job Isn't to Write Code

Solving problems is the role of software developers first and foremost. The most interesting aspect is that in many cases it is possible to perform this role without writing a single line of code.

Low Tech

I once worked with a digital dashboard which monitored applications. One of the yet to be implemented features was a key to highlight which each chart related to. During this period many employees would ask which graph related to which feature. The solution was a few weeks a way so as a temporary fix I stuck a post it note to the screen. This was by no means the solution, but it was good enough for the time being. The questions went away and eventually the dash was updated to include a digital version. Total lines of code? Zero.

Problem Solving without a Computer

A common experience that many developers encounter is solving a problem while not actually at the computer, programming. In fact this technique of simply taking a break such as going for a walk can yield some impressive results. One of my fondest memories of this trick was using shampoo in the shower to walk through a buggy A* implementation using the bathroom tiles. After returning to the task sometime after, the stupid mistake stood out. Lines of code to figure out the fix? Zero.


Just the other week I began furiously updating an existing application to change how a core feature worked. The solution was not going to be quick, but it seemed like a good idea. About halfway in I reverted the changes. After further thought it turns out there was a much better solution. One that would not introduce risk to the current project's goals. Total lines of code? Minus one hundred, give or take.

Goals over Code

This lack of code is not a bad thing. In all three examples the goal was complete. You can solve problems with a single line, or thousands, it actually does not matter. If you switch your thinking to focus on completing goals or hitting targets, you are still rewarded with a feeling of accomplishment. The slack time you gain can simply be redirected to other areas or personal improvement.


Many wise developers have said this before. The role of a software developer is to solve problems, not write code. This is not new, unfortunately a younger, naive version of myself ignored this advice.

  • Focus on solving business/customer problems, not writing code.
  • Sometimes you'll write one line of code, others thousands.
  • Not all solutions require code to complete.
  • Focus on hitting goals, not the feeling of productivity writing code can give.

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