“The Clean Coder” by Robert “Uncle Bob” C. Martin is related to his previous book “Clean Code”, except this time the focus is put on how a professional programmer should work, organize work or behave.
The book covers a broad range of topics, starting from how to behave as a professional and work with a team or with your clients, how to grow yourself as a professional, all the way to various software construction practices, like testing, QA, estimation, tools. At 200 pages it is a fairly short book, but it brings up interesting ideas and has good recommendations. I’m going to share several take-aways I got from this book, but of course there’s much more in it.
Working under pressure. There are times when you have a hard deadline, something critical needs to be done quickly, or perhaps you have a deadline approaching you’re not sure you can meet. At times like these you may start looking at how to cut corners, and disciplines are often suggested to be sacrificed. “Perhaps we don’t need to write tests right now” or “let’s skip the design phase, we can do it on the spot”. This leads into messes, which slow you down now or at some point in the future. E.g. skipping tests “for now” with the intent of catching up later, requiring a significant amount of manual testing, and later you may find the code too difficult to test.
Uncle Bob suggests finding a discipline you will adhere to even in times of crisis, if you’re not confident with your current one. Because a discipline will guide you through times of high pressure - “trust your discipline!” Crisis is the time to pay special attention to your discipline.
As for how to handle it personally, he recommends to stop stressing - “fretting won’t help”. Instead slow down and think through the problem, communicate issues with the team, bosses and clients. it is much easier to deal with and plan for if you know that a piece of software will have to be delayed from January to July, than to learn the day before release about the pushback. Issues need to be actively handled, wishful thinking that “hopefully it will fix itself” does not help and can be dangerous.
Professionalism, practicing and mentoring. The author outlines several guidelines a professional follows, like taking responsibility for one’s actions. “Do no harm. […] A software developer can do harm to both the function and structure of the software.” We want our software to work, our customers want it to work even more so. Uncle Bob suggests that “in order to be professionals, we must not create bugs”. Make sure your software works, either by testing manually, or, preferrably, automatically testing it. Don’t hope that your software works, prove it! “QA should find nothing.”
A professional developer knows his or hers field. That means dedicating some time to learn about fundamentals, new developmends and advances. Uncle Bob advocates for continuous learning and deliberate practice. Just like musicians or sportspeople practice, so should professional programmers. Some companies dedicate some time each week for learning and fun projects, but that’s not the norm. We own our careers and not our employers, so it is our responsibility to enhance it and care for it. As a way of practising the author suggests doing code katas, or mentoring others.
There were some other interesting soft skill related topics touched upon, like saying yes or saying no, time estimation, expectation management and working with the team. It is an interesting book, providing food for thought about the way we work. I would certainly recommend this book mostly to newer programmers, although seasoned vets may find ideas on how to improve themselves too.
If you’re interested in the book, you can find it here on Amazon: The Clean Coder
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