Thursday, 19 July 2007

Different Programming Styles

I was reading Serge’s Blog on Programmers and Temperaments this morning and it reminded me of a project I did for a company in Wellington once. It was a large international company (no, I'm not going to tell you which) and they had a very large project that they needed to produce. The project was technically difficult requiring a lot of thought each step of the way.

After a lot of design by their chief software architect, they called for programmers. About twelve of us were hired for this one project and it was really fun to get to work with a number of others on one project like that. We were given regular daily meetings to try to bring us all up to speed on the technical requirements, and then shown to a large, open plan room with a computer on each desk to choose our own work area.

What was most interesting though was a discussion that I was having with the project manager about a week later. He commented on the work styles of each of the programmers from the perspective of an observer. This wasn't a moan or gossip session, but a discussion on a real observation.

After all the meetings and the whiteboard sessions were over, we all drifted into the desks and work practices we wanted. The project manager observed the following different styles...

I found my niche in a corner desk that was on its own, then got out my pad and spent the next 2 days planning what and how I was to approach my part of the project, before I even touched the keyboard. I wanted to completely understand the requirements (which were mostly in the architect's head, given out on the whiteboard sessions). Once I understood and had a clear plan, then it was a matter of programming.

Two others immediately grabbed two desks that were joined to each other so they were sitting side by side, then simply pulled one chair over to the other desk to together at the same desk, one computer between them, and designed and programmed together. They needed to talk through what they were doing and help each other plan and program. Occasionally the second programmer would move to the computer on the other desk to program a sample procedure to help explain to the other his thoughts on a subject.

Another programmer sat down at the first available desk and started pounding out code. He needed to try out various prototypes and work from there, building up his code as he went.

Various others worked somewhere along the spectrum of the above three different styles. Some couldn't handle it and after a few days left for greener and much easier pastures.

What was interesting over the following several months was the general effectiveness of the different styles. I (admittedly somewhat surprisingly as there were some seriously experienced programmers that I enjoyed working with) ended up producing the end result much faster, followed by the pair/buddy approach. The person who immediately started coding, had to change and restart so many times that he turned out to be the least effective.

I'd love to hear your comments on what you have found in your experiences.


  1. Great story Steve I guess I sit somewhere between you and the "code-straight-away" guy. Over many different projects I have wavered up and down that spectrum but have found myself most productive at your end of the scale. Never tried pair-programming but I hear that is also a good way too if you aren't too egotistical about coding. Anyway, keep up the good work. I've only come across your blog just recently and I've had a long break from developing and look forward to getting back into the game. My skills are bit rusty but reading your blog is just the motivation I need to get stuck into it again. Thanks Steve


  2. Thanks C, I appreciate the feedback.



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