How to Avoid Pitfalls and Mistakes When Coding for Quality
June 10, 2024

Kevin Macwan

The debate about the importance of code quantity versus code quality hinges on whether an appropriate balance between the two can be achieved. In some cases, writing large amounts of code can lead to overwhelming complexity, system maintenance challenges, and an increased likelihood of "bugs." Learning to write clean code takes significant effort and determination, requiring a vast knowledge of coding principles and patterns.

Prioritizing code quality results in cleaner, maintainable code that is easier to understand, debug, and extend. Emphasizing quality involves adhering to specific coding standards, implementing and following best practices, and refactoring when necessary to improve readability and efficiency. Ultimately, the goal is to produce a large volume of code and deliver robust, reliable software that meets user needs effectively while minimizing technical debt and long-term maintenance costs.

Impact of Bad Code Quality

As the quantity of code increases, so does complexity. When more lines of code are written, more opportunities are available for bugs to surface. That said, dependencies between one system and another and logical errors are more likely to happen when a larger chunk of code exists. From a maintainability standpoint, a larger code base can be more challenging to read and comprehend. If the base is poorly structured, the head would have to be broken by someone unfamiliar with the code to decipher it.

When code quantity is so exaggerated that redundancies emerge, "code bloat" occurs. An abundance of unnecessary code can adversely affect the site's performance and the code can become too complex to maintain. There are strategies for addressing redundancy; however, as code is implemented, it is crucial for it to be modularized or broken down into smaller modular complements with the proper encapsulation and extraction. Code that is modularized promotes reuse, simplifies maintenance, and keeps the size of the code base in check. Utilizing extraction and encapsulation to hide specific implementation details can also help reduce dependencies between one part of the code and another.

There is a tendency to "reinvent the wheel" when writing code. A more practical solution is to reuse libraries whenever possible because they can be utilized within different parts of the code. Sometimes, code bloat results from a historically bloated code base without an easy option to conduct modularization, extraction, or library reuse. In this case, the most effective strategy is to turn to code refactoring. Regularly take initiatives to refactor code, eliminate any unnecessary or duplicate logic, and improve the overall code structure of the repository over time. Code analysis tools are available to help keep code "clean."

To that end, ideally, team members who are not writing the code will conduct code reviews to promote consistency in code quality across any project. Maintaining documentation on the purpose and functionality of different code components is critical, as documented code is always easier to understand.

Benefits of Focusing on Code Quality

Writing more code quickly can achieve the goal of faster feature delivery. The tradeoff is the possibility of sacrificing quality. A balance between the delivery speed and the delivery standard is essential. Sacrificing quality for speed will almost always produce poor outcomes. Features launched with suboptimal code can introduce multiple items that sit in the backlog. Those prioritizing quick delivery might be lulled into the appearance of short-term benefits, but neglecting quality is almost sure to invite bugs that slow future development.

Instead, consider evaluating customer satisfaction versus technical debt. Launching features without proper balance could hinder the ability to launch features more quickly over the long term as code becomes disorganized. Adding new features to messy code will also slow functionality. Code that is rushed instead of focusing on quality will likely create dissatisfaction on the developer side and with customers.

Formatting and Refactoring Code for Quality

It's critical for engineers to ensure that the code is formatted well. This is accomplished by teams choosing a set of rules that dictate the format of the code for all team members to comply with. Often, to ship code faster, code formatting is ignored, however, the coding style and readability affect the maintenance of code in the long run.

It is also paramount to prioritize code refactoring to improve its structure and readability without changing its functionality. The benefits of doing this include enhanced maintainability, easier debugging and testing, improved performance, and increased adaptability to future requirements.

Code Reviews, Consistency and Quality

One of the more reliable methods to maintaining code integrity is through peer-based reviews, which serve as an overall code inspection and allow for manual identification of errors or bugs. These reviews, generally suggested to be performed any time code is deployed to production systems, foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing among development teams. There's also an ownership aspect to this, where the team can feel collectively responsible for the quality of code produced. Additionally, if there's consistency among those reviewing code, the coding style, formatting, and documentation should likewise become more consistent. Optimal consistency can be achieved through frequent reviews that don't last longer than 60 minutes. In an ongoing podcast and blog series, Dr. Michaela Greiler, PhD, offers a variety of recommendations and insights about productive code reviewing.

It is vital for code reviews to be supported by establishing clearly defined, comprehensive coding standards that are documented for reference purposes. Address elements such as naming conventions, indentations, and function conventions as part of any standards to ensure consistent compliance. A typical example of a code quality metric is code coverage or calculating a percentage (given as a range) of implemented code to be tested regularly. This can also be monitored and enforced on an organizational level so that code quality is not affected by unintended bugs. Code coverage can be calculated using tools that produce guidance reports. High code coverage means that most code parts are tested, which increases software quality.

Prioritizing Automation, Tooling and Testing

Conducting automated tests to ensure functionality remains is an important aspect of quality assurance before a code hits production. It's also essential to automatically test a code base periodically. Different scheduling tools can test site execution against particular environments, offering longer-term assurances. Investing in automated testing, continuous integration, and deployment pipelines will help streamline development workflows and maintain code quality.

The success of any system hinges on the collaboration and skills present within the development team. Investing in talent and best practices will produce high-quality software more quickly. Effective code resembles a piece of art that invites interpretation and understanding of how it performs and flows. This is the essence of correct coding.

Kevin Macwan is a Software Development Manager at a major online retailer
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