Experimentation

Patrick Logan wrote a particularly good blog entry on experimentation.

His view matches my own — experimentation is good, and it’s something I used to do a lot more of when there were fewer books, websites, blogs, and frameworks to rely on. Since those have come about I’ve spent more time looking things up than I have working through them. There are good and bad points, obviously.

On the good side are the quick solutions or at least quick head starts on a solution that can be found from the huge number of resources. My job values TTR (Time To Resolution) above almost all else, and the great oracle Google can be trusted to help point the way. It’s also easy to figure out which of the many solutions is most likely to work. Simply seeing how many times it’s repeated and by who can tell a lot.

On the bad side, I have felt increasingly disconnected from my coding, even to the point of avoiding it altogether for a while. There wasn’t a lot of joy there any more. Ruby on Rails says to do a job this way, Django says to do it another. People stop coding, start drinking the framework kool-aid (and not just web application frameworks, either), and start bitching each other out and trying to claim superiority because their favourite framework/library/methodology is obviously the “one true way”.

This experience has led me almost full-circle. I jumped on the “modern programming” bandwagon, got filled to the brim with other peoples’ opinions of how things should be done, avoided doing much at all because some huge percentage of what was going on in a lot of communities was nothing more than advocacy, and then turned my back on those communities and their frameworks and opinions and started coding for myself again.

Sure, people writing code for a living can get pushed into believing that there is no excuse for experimentation or learning through experience when the quick and easy answer will do 80% of what you want 90% of the time. My guess is that if you look at two teams of programmers, one of each mindset (experimentation vs. copy-and-paste from their favourite code resource or going by the (cook)book) you would find that the copy-and-pasters will finish a task first, but the experimenters will do better work.

Of course, that’s just my opinion. I’m willing to discuss it, but I’m not willing to argue it. I’d rather be coding.

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