My Pedantic Antics

Years ago, I heard someone tell a story about a boy who never said anything. Parents knew he could talk, but he just didn’t. Nodding yes or no, shrugging, but not talking. One day, at the age of seven his family was sitting around the dinner table and suddenly blurted out: “These beans are LOUSY!”

His parents, completely shocked were taken aback, their boy had finally spoken. The couldn’t stop themselves from shedding their tears of joy and celebration. When things calmed down they asked him, “How come you’ve never said anything all these years?” and the boy responded: “I dunno, I guess everything has been fine until now.”

I say all that so I can simply tell you that I don’t always have something to say — which is why this blog has been so inactive for so long. I always swore up and down that if I really didn’t feel I had anything valuable to add, that I simply wasn’t going to add to the noise.

However, I recently posted a tweet that got some discussion. Now, this was mostly in fun. I love to talk about stuff like this. Coding preferences, pet peeves, etc (which is obvious from a series of our episodes[Pet Peeves Episode 1,Pet Peeves Episode 2,Pet Peeves Episode 3] of @SystemDotDebug). However I had a few responses remarking on how “pedantic” it was. Now I didn’t really take this personally, but I did start to think about whether or not such things are *really* important. I started thinking about it so much that it’s even going to be the subject of our next live podcast (at least its supposed to be, these things often change — and quickly).

I’ve never worked for a company that actually had published coding standards. Perhaps that is because I’ve pretty much only ever been responsible for my code. Working for small firms as I have my entire career, I haven’t had to “share” my code with many developers. Those that I have had to, just so happened to believe as I do, so I think I was just lucky.

At the end of the day, if the code works, it works right? There are questions however that perhaps you should ask yourself (yourself either being you personally or your company as a whole):

  • Is the code easily readable? (Code Like a Poet — thanks Bonny!)
  • Can junior programmer catch on to what the code is doing easily?
  • Does the code have a consistent look and feel to it or is each file/class clearly written on different days by different devs?

The people in the Python community have been doing this way longer than most of us, and there is a REASON they wrote something called PEP-8 and it wasn’t to be pedantic. I’m going to quote something from that resource that I’ve always felt: “…code is read much more often than it is written” — I’m just gonna let that sink in for a second…I’ll wait…..and follow it up with another quote from that same paragraph that references PEP 20: “Readability Counts.”

PEP-8 also introduces the idea of knowing when to “break” the guidelines. (Like Captain Barbossa says “the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”) so its okay to break them when they make sense. Say perhaps editing tons of old code, you have two choices. Clean up the code while your in there, (that’s my preference, if you’re already in there, do it) or adopt the style used in that class. Sometimes its so off from what everyone is doing that you *have* to update it, (or maybe that’s just me being pedantic).

Again, I’m going to site PEP-8 and list out their thoughts on when to break the guidelines verbatim:

1. When applying the guideline would make the code less readable, even for someone who is used to reading code that follows this PEP.

2. To be consistent with surrounding code that also breaks it (maybe for historic reasons) -- although this is also an opportunity to clean up someone else's mess (in true XP style).

3. Because the code in question predates the introduction of the guideline and there is no other reason to be modifying that code.

4. When the code needs to remain compatible with older versions of Python that don't support the feature recommended by the style guide.

Notice how I’m conveniently NOT telling you WHICH standard to follow (if there are multiple standards, is it really a standard?!?) — I’m just telling you that you should strive to pick ONE and follow it throughout your team. We could talk/argue at length over which method of curly braces placement you should use, or the value of ternary if statement usage (I really do hate them…I do, I do, I do), but that is all down to preference. Overall its about being consistent.

So is your cuddling or non-cuddling of your “else” statements important? No, as long as everyone is doing it the same way — at least across a given project. So then I guess, Yes? Which is it? Yes or No? Maybe I’m just being pedantic…