How To Use Programming Advise

Nov 1, 2013

I’ve never been one to blindly follow what someone says I should do. I’m more of the try it and see what happens kind of guy. I can see where it’s tempting to base your decisions based on what someone says worked for them, especially when you are new to something.

This is really the case for new developers, either to a language/framework, or just programming in general. It’s easy to just ask someone what to do and do what they tell you. New people want to do the right thing and the easiest thing is to do is copy what more experienced programmers do.

This is wrong and leads to a practice that has good intentions but results in poor understanding and groups of people that are learning less than they should be.

It Doesn’t Matter What Someone Thinks You Should Do

Really, it doesn’t matter what someone else says. Sure, they may be more experienced and developed a plan that works for them, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

I recall this story and I am not sure where I saw or heard it.

A little girl asks her Mom why she trims the ends of a roast before cooking it. I don’t know what the little girl’s name is, let’s go with Sally. Sally’s Mom can’t answer her, but recalls learning it from her Mother. So, Sally heads to her Grandmother and asks her the same question. Again, the Grandmother can’t answer the question and informs Sally that she learned it from her Mother. Finally, the little girl gets to her Great-Grandmother and asks her. After asking her third person, Sally gets her answer; her Great-Grandmother would trim the sides of the roast because she didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the roast into and no one bothered to question why. They just copied the person before them.

For years, these women blindly cut the ends off of every roast they made. All because that is how they learned.

The same thing applies to programming. Maybe the person you are asking learned it from his mentor and has no clue why his does it that way, he just does. Be curious and question everything.

Base Your Decisions on Experience

Programming is a practice of asking questions. The most important question being why. This is why we are programmers. This quest to understand how something works and what’s possible is how the most powerful software is built.

It stands to reason that the same thing should be true about the decisions you make.

All decisions you make should be based on things you have tried personally. Whenever you wonder if there is a better way, just try it. Find what works for you.

Take Pieces from The Advise You Receive

It would be stupid to ignore the advise of someone more experienced. They have been in your shoes, felt your pain, and found a solution. But it’s their solution. It’s what works for them.

Listen to the advise, try it out, but in the end, only use the pieces that make sense for you.