I have had a few conversations with some fellow developers here and there (most often with Mat) around code quality, and sometimes I get really frustrated to see what passes for “Good enough for now” code. In user interface development, its very easy to confuse all work with all visually displayable features. But when you are going to live with the code for a while or this code is going to be the foundation of later features, how can you not track code quality?
And of course there are extremes to that argument. I have worked with enough wannabe-architects who want the code to be pristine and who would much rather write their perfect piece of software no matter what the cost (in terms of time, features dropped or developer-pay) is. They should be tarred and feathered cause they weaken the valid calls for code quality.
But there has to be a middle ground here. The problem is well-written code is hard to quantify. Features are blessed with visibility but architecture isn’t. I had a conversation with a friend yesterday on how I prefer being a developer to a designer since design is so subjective, and what I might think is wonderful design may be pooh-poohed by someone else (worse, my theoretical manager), but code either works or it doesn’t and thats instant feedback.
Software architecture or “well-written code” seems to suffer from the same problem of subjectivity as design to some extent. And if you are fortunate enough to actually have a conversation around code quality (and I dont mean in the theoretical sense but you actually sit down and review what you have written), its lack of visible benefits to the product makes it one of the first things to be dropped when trying to make deadlines.
How do you quantify code quality then? As a developer I can tell you it has real returns. In my (Flash) world it sometimes translates to faster load times, less taxing of the CPU, smaller number of classes to be maintained, but its really hard to measure. How do you say the swf weighing 300k is worth the extra couple of weeks than a swf weighing 600k that was never written but would have if checks on code quality weren’t there. How do you measure against something that never existed ! Worse, how do you track that when there is no feature that maps to lighter swfs ?
And then there are the the really invisibles: dead code paths within code, extra classes that you dont use or are so badly written that they are such pain to work with that other developer on the project just writes new classes with the same functionality? How do you check such things? How do you justify investment in tools that enable high quality code ?
Heck, if you had to justify version control, how would you? Thank God some things like that dont have to be justified anymore but when will that stature be given to tools like Review-Board. Is code quality just a developer itch ?
Do you track code quality ? How ? Do you use any particular tools ? Do you have coding standards ? Please share your thoughts here, cause I am really curious.
Does good code-base just accidentally happen to get written or is there a process to get to it ?