Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Essential Software Concepts: Broken windows

The concept of broken windows is one of the concepts I remember best from the Pragmatic Programmer book. It is one of those simple concepts that you need to be aware of as a developer. But even though it is known to most developers (at least in principle), it is still violated all over the place - just to try to crank out a little more functionality. The technical debt you build up there you will pay for a long time.

I'll explain the concept, but if you don't know it, you really should go ahead and read the Pragmatic Programmer book. A quick and good read.

The concept can be explained like this: Say you have a house. As long as the house stands firm, there's a good chance it will keep that way. But as soon as a window is broken, and nothing is done about it, the downward spiral begins. Another window is broken, vandals run free, and eventually you get to the point where restoring the house it's former self is more costly than just replacing it.

This certainly holds true for software projects as well. If you keep the architecture sound and continuously work to hold the implementation maintainable; by separating concerns, avoiding duplication, and so forth and so on, and if you fix problems once you find them, you'll have a much larger chance of keeping things maintainable than if you don't.

Taking the time to implement something properly will benefit you in the long run (and I'm talking weeks and months here, not years). The additional time it will take to implement something properly cannot be compared to the cost of being bogged down in a poorly architected code. Doing changes (again, we're talking weeks and months here) will be more costly, and you don't need to pay that price.

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