fear@large codebase #web/script coders

One Conclusion — my c++ /mileage/ made me a slightly more confident, and slightly more competent programmer, having “been there; done that”, but see the big Question 1 below.

— Historical view

For half my career I avoided enterprise technologies like java/c++/c#/SQL/storedProc/Corba/sockets… and favored light-weight technologies like web apps and scripting languages. I suspect that many young programmers also feel the same way — no need to struggle with the older, harder technologies.

Until GS, I was scared of the technical jargon, complexities, low-level API’s debuggers/linkers/IDE, compiler errors and opaque failures in java/SQL … (even more scared of C and Windows). Scared of the larger, more verbose codebases in these languages (cf the small php/perl/javascript programs)… so scared that I had no appetite to study these languages.

— many guys are unused to large codebases

Look around your office. Many developers have at most a single (rarely two) project involving a large codebase. Large like 50k to 100k lines of code excluding comments.

I feel the devops/RTB/DBA or BA/PM roles within dev teams don’t require the individual to take on those large codebases. Since it’s no fun, time-consuming and possibly impenetrable, few of them would take it on. In other words, most people who try would give up sooner or later. Searching in a large codebase is perhaps their first challenge. Even figuring out a variable’s actual type can be a challenge in a compiled language.

Compiling can be a challenge esp. with C/c++, given the more complex tool chain, as Stroustrup told me.

Tracing code flow is a common complexity across languages but worse in compiled languages.

In my experience, perl,php,py,javascript codebases are usually small like pets. When they grow to big creatures they are daunting and formidable just like compiled language projects. Some personal experiences —
* Qz? Not a python codebase at all
* pwm comm perl codebase? I would STILL say codebase would be bigger if using a compiled language

Many young male/female coders are not committed to large scale dev as a long-term career, so they probably don’t like this kinda tough, boring task.

— on a new level

  • Analogy — if you have not run marathons you would be afraid of it.
  • Analogy — if you have not coached a child on big exams you would be afraid of it.

I feel web (or batch) app developers often lack the “hardcore” experience described above. They operate at a higher level, cleaner and simpler. Note Java is cleaner than c++. In fact I feel weaker as java programmer compared to a c++ programmer.

Q1: I have successfully mastered a few sizable codebases in C++, java, c#. So how many more successful experiences do I need to feel competent?
A: ….?

Virtually every codebase feels too big at some time during the first 1-2 years, often when I am in a low mood, despite the fact that in my experience, I was competent with many of these large codebases.
I think Ashish, Andrew Yap etc were able to operate well with limited understanding.
I now see the whole experience as a grueling marathon. Tough for every runner, but I tend to start the race assuming I’m the weakest — impostor syndrome.
Everyone has to rely on log and primitive code browsing tools. Any special tools are usually marginal value. With java, live debugger is the most promising tool but still limited pain-relief. Virtually all of my fellow developers face exactly the same challenges so we all have to guess. I mean Yang, Piroz, Sundip, Shubin, … virtually all of them, even the original authors of the codebase. Even after spending 10Y with a codebase, we could face opaque issues. However, these peers are more confident against ambiguity.

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