July 20, 2012

There's a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery that says: "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away". I think any experienced programmer can relate to that. You always strive to find the most elegant solution which describes the problem simply and clearly.

A lot of novice programmers have a habit of writing clever code which uses some esoteric properties of the language, or other tricks to get the job done. An experienced programmer knows that the real cleverness lies in being able to solve a problem with very simple code, that might even seem obvious in retrospect.

Eventually one develops an intuition for coming up with solutions which do not involve kludges, avoid edge cases, and forgo cleverness in favor of simplicity. Sometimes, however, this can lead to paralysis, where you don't yet know the elegant solution and you are unwilling to write down the one you know to be imperfect.

I find that REPL development is a great tool for overcoming this dilemma. You can quickly start experimenting with your problem, and through the experimentation gain the understanding necessary to implement it properly. At this point you can easily refactor your existing ugly solution into something beautiful.

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