When people think about software engineering, they imagine complex commands, algorithms, and data structures. The code can seem like an alien language at times, written with strange symbols and characters.
The truth is, working with computer code doesn’t necessarily have to be like using Egyptian hieroglyphs. In fact, leading software engineers recommend writing code that is easy to read and understand. In this article, we'll share some best practices for all software engineers to adopt.
Coding The Right Way
In this blog, we bring you some tips, tricks, and recommendations to help you adopt best practices from the software engineering industry. The purpose of this article is to create awareness among coders that writing clear, concise code is the way to go.
But before we begin listing out these software engineering best practices, let’s get down to basics.
First of All, What Are Best Practices?
Best practices can be defined as an industry-accepted set of guidelines or methodologies, which represent the most efficient course of action. These practices standardize the most effective way to achieve a desired target or outcome. They are either laid down by external, regulatory authorities or established internally by an organization’s management.
Best practices consist of a particular set of methods or processes. The idea behind best practices is to ensure the end product is delivered as smoothly as possible with minimal complication. The concept is used in a range of fields such as Software Engineering, Project Management, and even Human Resource Management.In the case of software engineering, that end product is a user-friendly website or app.
How Are Best Practices Relevant in Software Engineering?
In the software engineering community, standardized coding conventions help keep the code relevant and useful for clients, future developers, and the coders themselves. Any professional programmer will tell you that the majority of their time is spent reading code, rather than writing it. You are more likely to work on existing code than to write something from scratch. So it’s important that your code is easy to understand for other engineers.
Now that we know what best practices are, let’s delve into 10 techniques that will help you write production-level code and ultimately make you a better developer.
- Enhance Code Readability
We can’t emphasize it enough: try to always write code that can be easily understood by others. Writing highly optimized mathematical routines, or creating complex libraries, is relatively easy. Writing 200 lines of code that can be instantly understood by another software engineer is more of a challenge.
It may seem like extra effort at the time, but this additional work will pay dividends in the future. It will make your life so much easier when returning to update your code. In addition, the debugging process should be much smoother for yourself, or for other engineers who need to edit your work.
Professionally written code is clean and modular. It is easily readable, as well as logically structured into modules and functions. Using modules makes your code more efficient, reusable, and organized.
Always remember, future-proofing your code in this way should always be prioritized over finishing quickly. You may think you are saving time by hacking away, but in fact, you are creating hours of extra work down the line.
2. Ensure Your Code Works Efficiently
In order to optimize your code, you need to make sure it executes the function quickly. In the world of software engineering, writing code quickly and correctly is pointless if the end product is slow and unstable. This is especially true in large, complex programs. Even the smallest amount of lag can add up considerably, rendering your application - and all of your engineering work - useless.
Equally important is minimizing the memory footprint of your code. In terms of performance, working with many functions on a large amount of data can drastically reduce the efficiency of your code.
3. Refactor Your Code
Refactoring is basically improving the structure of your code, without making modifications to its actual functionality. If you have multiple blocks of code that do similar things, it’s useful to refactor them into a single function. This will allow you to simplify your code. And if you want to change how that function works, you (or any other engineer) only need to update one function rather than several.
In order to create a high-quality program, devoting time to refactor your code is essential. In the long run, refactoring will speed up your development time, and make the software engineering process much smoother.
4. Develop A Professional Coding Style
A professional coding approach is not an exact science. It’s a mindset that can only be developed over time, by reading and writing a lot of code, and developing your software engineering knowledge. You’ll realize that expert coders don’t turn out unstructured blocks of code just so they can get it done quickly. Instead, their code is almost universally understandable by other engineers, no matter how much time it takes to write it.
There are a number of principles that will help you develop an effective coding style. Some of them are:
- Using descriptive names for functions and variables
- Implementing modularity in your code
- Avoiding excessive indentation
Therefore, whether your code is general (for all programming and markup languages) or production quality (specific to a particular language), it should always follow good coding convention.
5. Use Version Control
Version control refers to a software engineering framework that tracks all changes and synchronizes them with a master file stored on a remote server. An effective version control system is a key aspect of writing production code. Using version control in a professional project will give you the following benefits:
- In case your system crashes, the entire code is backed up on the server.
- All members of the software engineering team can sync their changes regularly by downloading them from the server.
- Numerous developers can work independently to add/remove features or make changes to a single project, without impacting other member’s work.
- If serious bugs are created, you can always return to a previous, stable version of the codebase that was known to work.
6. Test Your Code
Good testing practices not only ensure quality standards in software engineering, but also guide and shape the development process itself. Testing ensures the code gives the desired result and meets all necessary user requirements.
- Unit tests are used to test small, self-contained parts of the code logic. These engineering tests are designed to cover all possible conditions.
- The process of writing the test is beneficial in itself. It requires you to figure out the behavior of your code and how you’re going to test it.
- Small and regular tests are better than one large test after completion. This approach helps maintain a modular structure and will result in a higher quality end product.
7. The KISS Principle
The popular acronym KISS, noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960, is extremely relevant in the software engineering community. It stands for “Keep It Simple, Silly” (some variations replace “Silly” with “Stupid,” but you get the idea). Whatever the variations, the underlying idea remains the same.
The keyword here is “Simple,” and the idea is to keep your code as concise as possible. In the context of coding, this means making your code meaningful, to-the-point, and avoiding unnecessary engineering work.
The KISS Principle ensures that your code has high maintainability. You should be able to go back and debug it easily, without wasting time and effort.
8. The YAGNI Principle
Another acronym that’s popular among software engineers, YAGNI means “You Aren’t Gonna Need It”. This principle focuses on eliminating any unnecessary coding and works in tandem with the KISS principle.
Instinctively, meticulous engineers start by planning and listing everything that ‘might be used’ during the project. However, sometimes they end up with components that are never used.
So it’s always a good idea to avoid coding something that you don’t need “right now.” You can always add it later if circumstances change.
9. The DRY Principle
Like the previous two points, the DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) Principle aims at reducing repetition and redundancies within the software engineering process. This is achieved by replacing repetitions with abstractions or by grouping code into functions.
If your code is performing the same instruction in 6 different places, it can be a real struggle to manage, even for experienced engineers. Let’s say you decide to change how that instruction works. You need to update your code 6 times for just 1 change! It’s therefore much better practice to create a single function that performs the instruction once, and reference this function each time it’s needed.If you want to change how it works, you only need to update the code once.
Some tips and techniques can be applied to any coding language and are useful in improving the overall quality of your code:
- Allocate appropriate names to all functions, variables, and methods. This will make your code easier to read, understand, and debug.
- Always use the common or native language of the developer for names and descriptive texts. Avoid abbreviations as much as possible to reduce ambiguity.
- Use consistent indentation and alignment while formatting your code for better readability.
So there you have it: our non-exhaustive list of best practices for software engineering. These techniques will not only help you code more efficiently, but also raise awareness in the software engineering community about responsible coding.
If you’re a technical person with an interest in coding, it could be time to consider a career in software engineering. Take an online course today, and get access to a full curriculum, mentorship, and multiple, flexible payment plans to choose from. Let us help you make a fresh start.
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