Look at your Old Code.

The internet is filled with questions regarding how to become a better coder. And the answers are pretty much the same: read books, do peer reviews, participate in open-source projects, etc. All those are excellent answers, but one issue that remains unanswered is how to measure your improvements as a coder throughout time.

One thing that I always encourage peer coders to do is to archive all the personal code that they write, no matter the language or subject. Put it somewhere safe (ie. git/svn) and keep it as long as you can. Then once a couple of years have passed, take some time to look at it. There is nothing more gratifying than looking at some old code and thinking: “OMG my code was so stinking awful!!”, nothing more satisfying than executing old handmade programs and games.

For example this past week-end I was looking through my archives from 7 years ago and found an old fizzbuzz.rb file laying around with some other ruby source files! I was pretty excited to look at it since I’ve never been a huge fan of it:

# I am part of the chosen 1/200th!!!! :)
# http://blog.codinghorror.com/fizzbuzz-the-programmers-stairwa
    if i % 3 == 0 && i % 5 == 0
        print 'FizzBuzz'
    elsif i % 3 == 0
        print 'Fizz'
    elsif i % 5 == 0
        print 'Buzz'
        print i

It still executes fine:

$ ruby fizzbuzz.rb


No major WTF moment. I looked at my code and actually had a couple of positive thoughts:

– I’m glad I put a small comment in there, it helped me remember that I wrote this code after having read Jeff Atwood’s article back in February 2007. This was the first time I had read about it and my reflex was to put it to the test.
– The code gives out correct results.
– The code is pretty readable.

And now I was also glad that 7 years later, a couple of things jumped out at me:

– The if conditionals can be rewritten so they are more readable
– The modulo math operations are performed twice
– The code has a bunch of magical numbers 1, 100, 3, and 5, preventing any easy change in the problem text.
– Nothing is tested

In a couple of minutes, I knew which parts of the code I could improve. Some of the stuff that I didn’t know about 7 years ago had now become reflexes. I then proceeded to write my new perfected version of FizzBuzz and hope to look at it in 7 years.

You never realize how much improvement you’ve made as a coder until you’ve looked at yourself as a coder a few years back. It lets you become the user of your own creations, and it usually brings back some fond memories. A month ago I fell upon this game I created back in college 10 years ago and had a blast finishing it even though it has many bugs (don’t try to skip the intro!!):

You can try it here: ICWars Java Web Start
(self-signed, might trigger some security warnings)

(In game: arrows to move, space to shoot. In starport: arrows to move, enter to select)

Your old code shows your creativity, your weaknesses, your strengths, your evolution and your improvements. It helps you stay humble and patient towards others coders. It’s your history in the byte world. It is precious. I urge you to keep it safe.


4 thoughts on “Look at your Old Code.

  1. After reading this article I went to visit an old code of Android (1 year old) and the experience of reading it and seeing the terrible mistakes that me and only me did is an amazing experience and lightening, really nice post.

  2. Just did the same thing a few months back, booted my ubuntu partition and realized i had an unfinished puzzle game on there.

    Looked through the mess of code and polished it up, fixed the bug that i belive made me put it away 4 years ago and started porting it to android 🙂
    Havent booted in windows since 😛

    • Haha that’s amazing! Good luck on finishing it up, and in case you don’t have time to finish it, put it somewhere where you can find it in another 4 years 🙂

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