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The Business Benefits of Well-Maintained Code

Do you live in a home made of straw, wood or brick? Unless you’re the one who built it or are familiar with home construction, you may not know. Worse yet, you may not care. That is, until the big bad wolf comes to pay you a visit. If your infrastructure isn’t solid, you may be left asking, “Why didn’t someone tell us about this?” “Why now, just when we need it the most?”

In my years of consulting, I have met many business people who share this view of their program’s source code. Those of us in the know understand the importance of well-written source code, and the differences between straw, wood and brick are enormous. Like the foundation and pillars of a home, source code can be so fragile that it buckles with light rain or sturdy enough to withstand the fiercest hurricanes, tornadoes, and a wolf that wants to huff and puff and blow it down.

How Did We Get Here?

In the “early” days, we would discuss various techniques to write the most efficient (i.e., small, concise) code to reduce the MIPS or system processor cycles. Computer languages, with their limited vocabulary forced us to become creative with a minimal instruction set. The capability to call external routines didn’t exist. This fostered the development of large and unwieldy monolithic programs. When modularization finally began to emerge, the techniques to use it were primitive and clunky.

Keeping Up With Technology

While today’s modern systems can handle workloads with great efficiency, badly written code is badly written code, no matter what language is used or what processor it executes on, and poorly designed programs will consume more system resources during execution. Indeed, these are the bane of those tasked with performance tuning.

One solution is to simply throw more money into faster processors, masking the flaws of poor code design. Throw some SSDs into the mix and we have magically and completely eradicated any performance issues. Given this, why improve on the quality of any code?

A valid starting point is to simply ask, why must programs change at all? Once one is written, implemented and stable, why continue to improve it? That’s tantamount to asking why new car models are produced each year when the current designs are perfectly adequate. The answer is obvious—with the passage of time, a car becomes more expensive to maintain.

Charles Guarino is the founder and president of Central Park Data Systems, a New York-based IBM midrange consulting company.

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