Write code that helps write code

Writing tool codeI have discovered a rather surprising fact about my fellow programmer colleagues. Some of them, hate, programming. They go through the day writing code, copying and pasting where appropriate, crushing bugs and then go home. Their distaste for writing code has blinded them to the notion of creating programs to help them in their work. They will only create a program for a project, and not create smaller helper programs to ease the work.

Code generators
For my university thesis, I wrote a simulation program for computer virus behaviour. It was coming along fine, until I wanted to have graphs of my results. The simulation program was written in C and I didn’t know how to create graphs from C. Luckily, I had some experience in Matlab, and remembered how to create graphs for mathematical functions.

So I added some code in my simulation to output the results in a text file, which became the input for my graph generating Matlab code. Basically I used two different programming languages to help in writing my work. The output of one became the input of another.

Random data generation
There was a time when I had to generate a huge amount of data in the database, for a presentation of a web application I developed. And it had to be relatively similar to the real production data. Copying and pasting SQL insert statements wasn’t going to cut it.

So I wrote a small program to generate the insert statements into a SQL script. Then I ran that script in the database. A couple of minutes to run the generation program, and another couple of minutes to run the script, and bingo, mass random data records.

Testbed applications
I have 3 testbed projects, one for console output, one for Windows programs and one for web applications. They are used to test out theories, like what would the output of DateTime.Now.ToString(“dd/MM/yyyy”) look like.

By having these testbeds, I can test my code in a tightly controlled environment, because that testbed application can do only one thing, the code I want to test. Sometimes, testing the code in the actual program is hard, because there can be a lot of other stuff around. Testbeds allow me to just test that chunk of code without all the other distracting fluff. Which helps me write better code.

Custom tool programs
Sometimes, a fully working program is written just so its output can be used in another program. The demoscene and game production are examples of this need.

Demos are computer programs generating stunning visuals and music in real time. Some demo groups, like Conspiracy, have created full-blown applications to help create content such as 3D models and sound files.

Game production teams have tool programs, such as a preview program of texture mapping on a 3D model for artists, or dungeon creation programs to produce the 3D dungeon model used in the game.

These tool programs are not packaged in the final product, yet are essential to the success of the product, because they help make creating the product easier.

Conclusion
Writing code can be easier. Using a professional code generation software might be overkill for a tiny bit of code. Copying and pasting can be tedious. With a little imagination, you can make your programming life easier, by writing code to help you write code.

  1. Will Dwinnell

    More power to you! In my professional travels, I have encountered any number of coders who don’t like coding and who refuse to learn anything that they don’t absolutely have to. Ugh! I guess it’s tough to be them, because “helper programs” make the work so much easier.

    For my part, I enjoy coding, and long ago resolved to write code which is structured, commented and designed to be as future-proof as possible.

    I would note that there are other programmers who also turn out a high-quality product: I think of them as “the pragmatists”. They don’t love coding, but they are willing to invest in themselves by learning new tricks.

  2. vincent

    Oh yeah, the hate-coding coders… On the surface, they appear professional about their work. But underneath, they abhor coding and coding is just a means to feed themselves.

    People are stunned when I tell them I love programming. It’s not so much the coding, but the problem solving using my code.

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