"A client has asked me to build and install a custom shelving system. I'm at the point where I need to nail it, but I'm not sure what to use to pound the nails in. Should I use an old shoe or a glass bottle?
How would you answer the question?
a) It depends. If you are looking to pound a small (20lb) nail in something like drywall, you'll find it much easier to use the bottle, especially if the shoe is dirty. However, if you are trying to drive a heavy nail into some wood, go with the shoe: the bottle with shatter in your hand.
b) There is something fundamentally wrong with the way you are building; you need to use real tools. Yes, it may involve a trip to the toolbox (or even to the hardware store), but doing it the right way is going to save a lot of time, money, and aggravation through the lifecycle of your product. You need to stop building things for money until you understand the basics of construction.
I would hope that just about any sane person would choose something close to (b). Sure, it may seem a bit harsh, but think about it from the customer prospective: how would you feel if your carpenter asked such a question?
I find it a bit disturbing, however, that this attitude is not prevalent in software development. In fact, from what I can tell, it seems to be discouraged.
I've been participating in Usenet/forums/lists for a decade now, asking programming questions and helping out others who have questions of their own. If some one asks a question that demonstrates the complete absurdity of their design, I'll generally reply with my (quite candid) opinion on their design. To give you an idea what I'm talking about, here's something I remember seeing a while back (from memory).
Subject: Aggregates Help
I have a table that stores test results for milling machines. Each test consists of N-runs conducted by a measurer going M-trials each. I have this information represented in a varchar column in the following format: "44:1,5,4;23:2,4,9;14:1,4,3". When the column is read into the class, it is converted into a jagged array: ( (44,(1,5,4)), (23,(2,4,9)), (14,(1,4,3)) ) of runs (3 of them) and measurers(Ids of 44,23,14) and trials (1,5,4 and 2,4,9 and 1,4,3).
One of the reports I have is a deficiency report, which predicts which machines may fail. To run this, I have a report class that loads up the appropriate tests and processes the information. However, this is taking longer and longer to run. I'm thinking that running it in a stored procedure will be quicker.
I can figure out how to get an "array" in SQL with a table variable, but how do I make a jagged array? Any ideas?
Some of the folks on in the list took it as a fun challenge, going back and forth with how deficiencies are calculated, and providing some incredibly brilliant ways of solving this problem.
Not I, though. My response was something to the effect of …
This is quite possibly the worst way you could store this data in a database. No, seriously. They had better ways of doing this over thirty years ago. You have created a horrible problem that is only starting to rear its ugly head. It will only continue to get horribly worse, costing your company more and more money to maintain.
You need to drop everything your doing right now and take a trip to your bookstore to get a database book. I recommend INTRODUCTION TO DATABASE SYSTEMS by DATE, but at this point anything should do. For the sake of everyone who will maintain your future code, don't touch a database until you understand how big of a mess you've created.
How do you think you would have responded to that post? Would you have taken the challenge to think about how to solve the problem or just take the opportunity to school the poster?
If you say the former, then you probably think I'm a grumpy curmudgeon (more likely, less family-friendly words though). My appeal to you is to think back to the carpenter. How is this any different? How fair is this to person paying him to develop software, or, more importantly, the poor sap that will have to come in and not only understand the mess, but maintain it. That poor sap could be you one day!
If you say you'd go with the latter, harsher reply, then I ask, why aren't you out there participating in the newsgroups/forums/lists? We need more people like you out there: there are too many of the people who tell people exactly how to apply the duct tape without giving the poster a firm scolding.
But I think the problem is worse than not having enough grumpy curmudgeons: in my experience, forum moderators actively delete critical posts that don't solve the problem, keeping only the hacks that solve the hacks. When new users come to read the posts in the future, they may actually think, "hey, I could use this to solve my problem."
Am I on the wrong side in this? Should we actively be encouraging new programmers to use their horrific techniques? Or am I just looking at this the totally wrong way?