Understanding Software

By Max Kanat-Alexander
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    Before You Begin…
About this book
In Understanding Software, Max Kanat-Alexander, Technical Lead for Code Health at Google, shows you how to bring simplicity back to computer programming. Max explains to you why programmers suck, and how to suck less as a programmer. There’s just too much complex stuff in the world. Complex stuff can’t be used, and it breaks too easily. Complexity is stupid. Simplicity is smart. Understanding Software covers many areas of programming, from how to write simple code to profound insights into programming, and then how to suck less at what you do! You'll discover the problems with software complexity, the root of its causes, and how to use simplicity to create great software. You'll examine debugging like you've never done before, and how to get a handle on being happy while working in teams. Max brings a selection of carefully crafted essays, thoughts, and advice about working and succeeding in the software industry, from his legendary blog Code Simplicity. Max has crafted forty-three essays which have the power to help you avoid complexity and embrace simplicity, so you can be a happier and more successful developer. Max's technical knowledge, insight, and kindness, has earned him code guru status, and his ideas will inspire you and help refresh your approach to the challenges of being a developer.
Publication date:
September 2017


Chapter 1. Before You Begin…

One of the major goals that I have with researching software design is the hope that we can take people who are "bad programmers" or mediocre programmers and, with some simple education and only a little experience, bring them into being good programmers or great programmers.

I want to know – what are the fundamental things you have to teach somebody to make them into a great programmer? What if somebody's been programming for years and hasn't gotten any better – how can you help them? What are they missing? So I've written quite a bit about that in this book, particularly in Part Seven -Suck Less.

However, before somebody can even start on the path of becoming a better software developer, one thing has to be true:

In order to become an excellent programmer, you must first want to become an excellent programmer. No amount of training will turn somebody who does not want to be excellent into an excellent programmer.

If you are a person who is passionate about software development – or even just somebody who likes being good at their job – it may be hard to understand the viewpoint of somebody who simply doesn't want to get any better. To fully grasp it, it can be helpful to imagine yourself trying to learn about some area that you personally have no desire to be great in.

For example, although I admire athletes, enjoy playing soccer, and sometimes enjoy watching sports in general, I've never had a desire to be a great athlete. There's no amount of reading or education that will ever turn me into a great athlete, because I simply don't want to be one. I wouldn't even read the books in the first place. If you forced me to take some classes or go to some seminar, it would leave my mind as soon as I took it in, because I would simply have no desire to know the data.

Even if I was playing sports every day for a living, I'd think, "Ah well, I don't have any passion for athletics, so this information simply isn't important to me. Some day I will be doing some other job, or some day I will retire and not have to care, and until then I'm just going to do this because they pay me and it's better than starving."

As hard as this can be to imagine, that is what happens in the minds of many "bad" programmers when you tell them how or why they should write better code. If they don't sincerely want to be the best programmers that they can be, it does not matter how much education you give them, how many times you correct them, or how many seminars they go to, they will not get better.


If You're Going To Do It Then Do it Well

So what do you do? To be fair, I may not be the best person to ask – if I'm going to do something, I feel that I should do my best to excel in it. Perhaps the best thing you can do is encourage people to follow that concept.

You could say to them something like: "If you're going to be doing it anyway, why not do it well? Wouldn't it at least be more enjoyable to be doing this if you were more skilled at it? What if some other people were impressed with your work, how would that feel? Would it be nice to go home at the end of the day and feel that you had done something well? Would your life be better than it is now, even if only a little? Would your life get worse?"

However you do it, the bottom line is that people must be interested in improving themselves before they can get better. How you bring them up to that level of interest doesn't really matter, as long as they get there before you waste a lot of time giving them an education that they're just going to throw away as soon as they hear it.


About the Author
  • Max Kanat-Alexander

    Max Kanat-Alexander is the Technical Lead for Code Health at Google, where he does various work that helps other software engineers be more productive, including writing developer tools, creating educational programs, guiding refactoring efforts, and more. His roles at Google have included Tech Lead for YouTube on the Xbox, work on the Java JDK, JVM, and other aspects of Java for Google, and Technical Lead for Engineering Practices for YouTube, where he's supported developers across all of YouTube in best practices and engineering productivity. Max is a former Chief Architect of the Bugzilla Project, where he was one of the two main developers of the well-known Bugzilla Bug-Tracking System, used by thousands of organizations worldwide. Max also writes the legendary programming industry blog, Code Simplicity, where he challenges Complexity and embraces Simplicity for the programming industry. Max has been involved for several years at Google with enabling developers to work more effectively and helping shape engineering practice, and in this highly readable collection of essays you can share the best of his experience.

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Latest Reviews (16 reviews total)
There are some original ideas. Will be interesting to try them.
A bird's eye view of what software is and pitfalls to avoid. A must-read for juniors & seniors alike...
Dicas boas, Embora ache que poderia haver exemplos mais reais do dia a dia do desenvolvimento de software
Understanding Software
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