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Becoming a Better Programmer by Pete Goodliffe

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Chapter 5. The Ghost of a Codebase Past

I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. And neither is your old code. Who knows what functional gremlins and typographical demons lurk in your ancient handiwork? You thought it was perfect when you wrote it—but cast a critical eye over your old code and you’ll inevitably bring to light all manner of code gotchas.

Programmers, as a breed, strive to move onwards. We love to learn new and exciting techniques, to face fresh challenges, and to solve more interesting problems. It’s natural. Considering the rapid turnover in the job market, and the average duration of programming contracts, it’s hardly surprising that very few software developers stick with the same codebase for a prolonged period of time.

But what does this do to the code we produce? What kind of attitude does it foster in our work? I maintain that exceptional programmers are determined more by their attitude to the code they write and the way they write it, than by the actual code itself.

The average programmer tends not to maintain their own code for too long. Rather than roll around in our own filth, we move on to new pastures and roll around in someone else’s filth. Nice. We even tend to let our own “pet projects” fall by the wayside as our interests evolve.

Of course, it’s fun to complain about other ...

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