a place I put stuff

The Quick Hack v. Developing Software

Posted on January 8, 2015

I find that I operate in one of two modes when I’m writing software. I’m either approaching a project as a quick hack or as developing software. As much as anything else, this affects how I approach the project and what kinds of results that I get.

When I’m operating under the auspices of the quick hack, everything is moving toward and subordinate to the goal. The end product of the quick hack is everything. I approach the actual hacking in a fit of pique, it’s annoying that this thing isn’t done yet. I always take the way that’s most expedient and I’m always looking for a shortcut or quick fix.

When I set out to develop software my mindset is different. Here I’m nurturing a seed of an idea. I’m taking small pieces and building connections between them. I have the sense that I’m making something new, or at least I’m making something that’s mine – I feel ownership. I also assume that the thing that I’m building has to last.

The natural habitat of a quick hack is a framework. When I’m confronted with something that doesn’t fit, I look for that next StackOverflow answer that’ll tell me how to shoehorn it in among the Tetris pieces that I already have. The framework is not malleable, I must square-off my round peg.

Libraries are what support developing software. Properly in charge, I choose a subordinate library and apply its talents appropriately. There is no hint of having to make my design fit within the strictures of someone else’s plan. I have the skeleton, I merely need the flesh. If I find that a library no longer suits my needs, it is easily removed. Well-scoped libraries tend to match one another much more closely than frameworks do. The problem that the library solves, the abstraction that it grants, tends to be more universal than a framework. Two HTTP client libraries will tend to expose those actions that HTTP supports. With a framework, I must first accept its world-view before I can start using it.

As I’ve grown as a software developer, I’ve come to believe that whenever possible I should use libraries over frameworks. This has been said many times before, but now I’m getting there via my own experience. I’m beginning to see that the advantages of frameworks can be matched by a powerful language combined with a little sense about the high-level architecture that the application demands. Over time, I’ve developed my own palette of designs and code to accomplish most tasks. I can act as a linker, assembling only those functions that are needed to accomplish the task at hand.

Lastly, I worry that time and brainpower that I pour into frameworks goes unrewarded. When I don’t want to use a framework, the framework changes, or I want to do something that the framework doesn’t support, I’m left out in the cold. All of these scenarios play out often. Each time a new version of Rails comes out, it is infused with whatever OOP fashion is reigning at the time: concerns, presenters, etc. The way that I used to do something is rendered obsolete without warning and without recourse. The knowledge that I had about how to work with the framework has gone stale – like money, “you can’t take it with you.”

I think that it is time that we, as software developers, become responsible for our own fate. Make decisions, find out what works, learn! We have no excuse for being held hostage to decisions that we didn’t make just because we didn’t understand the nature of the decision. Software development is more than just filling in the blanks on some giant MadLibs of a framework. Software is the most infinitely pliable medium of design that the world has ever seen. Like a proof, if you can show your reasoning to be sound you can do it that way. There’s no limit, so go out and build!