The 7 deadly sins of software development

Recognize the worst traits of programmers everywhere and save yourself from developer hell

Being a good developer takes a lifetime of training and practice. But without proper discipline, even the best programmers risk falling prey to their worse natures. Some bad habits are so insidious that they crop up again and again, even among the most experienced developers. I speak of nothing less than the seven deadly sins of software development. Read on to hear how lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride may be undermining your latest programming project as we speak.

First deadly sin of software development: Lust (overengineering)

Modern programming languages tend to add features as they mature. They pile on layer after layer of abstraction, with new keywords and structures designed to aid code readability and reusability -- provided you take the time to learn how to use them properly.

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At the same time, the discipline of programming has changed over the years. Today you have giant tomes of design patterns to pore over, and every few months someone comes up with a new development methodology that they swear will transform you into a god among programmers.

But what looks good on paper doesn't always work in practice, and just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. As programming guru Joel Spolsky puts it, "Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it." Programmers who fetishize their tools inevitably lose sight of this, and even the seemingly simplest of projects can end up mired in development hell. Resist your baser impulses and stick to what works.

Second deadly sin of software development: Gluttony (failing to refactor)

Nothing is more gratifying than shipping software. Once you have a working product out in the wild, the temptation is strong to begin planning the next iteration. What new features should it have? What didn't we have time to implement the first go-round?

It's easy to forget that code seldom leaves the door in perfect shape. Then, as features accumulate with successive rounds of development, programmers tend to compound mistakes of the past, resulting in a bloated, fragile code base that's too tangled to maintain effectively.

Instead of gobbling up plate after plate of new features, restrain yourself. Evaluate your existing code for quality and maintainability. Make code refactoring a line item on your budget for each new round of development. Clients may see only the new features in each release, but over the long term, they'll thank you for keeping off the fat.

Third deadly sin of software development: Greed (competing across teams)

The excessive desire for wealth and power -- how else to explain the motives of programmers who compete with their own coworkers? It starts when other teams are left off email lists, then proceeds to closed-door meetings. Next thing you know, one team has written a library that reimplements more than half of the functionality already coded by another team.

Programming teams seldom reinvent the wheel out of malice, but lacking clearly defined objectives, they can easily latch onto responsibilities much broader than are strictly necessary. The result is a redundant, unmanageable code base, to say nothing of the budget lost to duplicated efforts. One of the top priorities of managing a development project should be to make sure each hand knows what the other is doing, and that all the teams are working toward a common goal. Share and share alike should be your motto.

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