No Bad Code, Creeping Normality and Social Structure Code Organization

In the last post I said that another post was coming regarding using bilinear texture sampling for something interesting. Hopefully without sounding too pretentious, that interesting thing I wanted to write up has shown quite a bit of fruit, so I’m going to try to write it up and see about getting it put into The Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques. We’ll see how that pans out, and I’ll make sure and share once it’s published (or if I can’t get it published hehe) as well as a post on the process of trying to get something published, in case other people out there are interested in pursuing that sort of thing.

Today’s post is a bit different than usual. There are some interesting concepts that I’ve been exposed to that I think are worth sharing, and that I’m hoping you will also find interesting.

No Bad Code

One idea presented to me recently was the concept that there is no bad code. The idea being that people make decisions in code based on the situations at the time, and that as situations change, code that once was totally reasonable, and most engineers would likely have made the same choices, no longer is seen as a good choice in the new sets of circumstances.

I’m going to be a bit cynical here and mention that I do believe there is bad code, and that it comes around due to bugs, as well as lack of knowledge, lack of experience, and lack of testing before deployment. However, the idea of code that is now seen as bad, was once perfectly reasonable does make sense to me and is kind of interesting.

I know we’ve all hit code that we or others wrote that we despise, causes us grief, and gets in the way of us working what we ought to be working on. This concept definitely does absolve SOME such code I’ve personally had to deal with. But, there is definitely plenty of code left that it doesn’t. In my personal examples, this mostly comes from shoddy third party middleware software, and also, just a lack of knowledge or experience on the part of the implementer. I’m guilty of the second point, but I think we all are, and that is a sign we are learning and growing.

It’s probably good to keep in mind that lousy code of the present may have been perfectly reasonable code of the past, and before deciding that code was lousy, or that a specific engineer is terrible, that you have to judge the code in the light that it was put in.

… Then refactor it.

Creeping Normality

Creeping normality is an interesting concept. Basically, just like that old tale of a frog sitting in progressively hotter water til it boils (which by the way is debunked by snopes), it’s easy for individuals or companies to find themselves in situations that would NEVER be seen as ideal situations, but were arrived at by incremental mis-steps – or also just a changing landscape.

This relates to the last point a bit, because it can show how the needs of a piece of code can change over time, such that looking at it as a static snapshot in time, you might wonder why it’s so complex and trying to do so many different things needlessly.

This can also happen to a company on a more global scale, and can explain some really odd, less than ideal behaviors a company might be doing, where you are pretty sure the people involved know better.

How do you fight creeping normality? Good question… but when you are able to identify some oddness or problems that come up due to it, hopefully it’s as early as possible, and hopefully the people with the power to make things right listen to you (:

Social Structure Code Organization

The last topic is kind of bizarre, but totally makes sense once you think about it. The idea is that code will match the communication structure of the teams making the code.

This is Conway’s law which says: “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations”. Another good quote from the wikipedia page for Conway’s law states that (paraphrased) “if you have four teams working on a compiler, you’ll end up with a four pass compiler”.

This can be seen a lot in situations where you have a game engineering team and an engine engineering team. There will be a distinct line between the code bases, based on the responsibility of the teams. If instead, you have some code where the engine and game team are the same, there will be no such line, and if you then try to split that team into being a game and engine team, it’ll take some time to draw the line between responsibilities, separate the code along those lines, and possibly do something like get the code into separate projects and possibly code repositories, which all seems like a logical choice to do when you have separate teams.

I think this also relates back to the first point about “No Bad Code”, because were someone to come into a team where the organization had recently changed, they are going to wonder why the code doesn’t have nice abstracted API layers at the boundaries, like most folks would consider logical and good practice. Perhaps too, this would be a case of creeping normality, or at least, if the project organization changed, it could be the result of a reaction AGAINST creeping normality.

In short, there are a lot of ways in which perfectly good code can go bad, and it’s probably a good idea to think about that a bit before condemning code as inherently rotten.

HOWEVER, rotten code does exist. I’d name some names, but it would probably be classified as slander, so i’ll bite my tongue. I’m sure you have plenty of examples of your own (;

Lastly, if you are responsible for crimes against code-manity in days past, either due to any of the reasons above, or because you didn’t know things you know now, or even if you were just lazy or misguidedly purposefully malicious (?!), remember this: You are not your mistakes!

OK, enough of that, next post will be on some cool programming technique, I promise 😛



About Demofox

I'm a game and engine programmer at Blizzard Entertainment and have been making games since 1990 (starting out with QBasic and TI-85 games) My shipped titles include: * Heroes of the Storm * StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm & Legacy of the void * Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (PC) * Gotham City Impostors (PC, 360, PS3) * Line Rider (PC, Wii, DS) I also like hiking, making music, learning cool new stuff and attempting the impossible.