Code Simplicity

Complexity and the Wrong Solution

Often, if something is getting very complex, that means that there is an error somewhere far below the level that things are getting complex on.

For example, it’s very difficult to make a car move if it has square wheels. You’re going to be spending lots and lots of time figuring out how to make the car work, when really it should just have round wheels.

Any time there’s an “unsolvable complexity” in your program, it’s because there’s something fundamentally wrong with it. If the problem is “unsolvable” at one level, maybe you should back up and look at what’s underlying the problem. Maybe you put square wheels on the car, and now you’re trying to figure out how to make it go fast.

Programmers actually do this quite often. For example, “I have this terribly messy code, now it’s really complex to add a new feature!” Well, your fundamental problem there is the that code is messy. Clean it up, make the already-existing code simple, and suddenly adding the new feature will be simple.

What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?

If somebody comes up to you and says something like, “How do I make this pony fly to the moon?”, the question you need to ask is, “What problem are you trying to solve?” You’ll find out that they really need to collect gray rocks. Why they thought they had to fly to the moon, and use a pony to do it, only they know. People do get confused like this.

So when things get complex, back up and you look at the problem that you’re trying to solve. Take a really big step back. You are allowed to question everything. Maybe you thought that adding 2 and 2 was the only way to get 4, and you didn’t think about adding 1 and 3 instead, or just skipping the addition entirely and just putting “4” there. The “problem” is “How do I get 4?” Any method of solving that problem is acceptable, so figure out what the best method would be, for the situation that you’re in.

Discard your assumptions. Really look at the problem that you’re trying to solve, and think about the simplest way to solve that problem. Not “How do I solve this problem using my current code?” Not “How did Professor Bob solve this problem in his program?” No, just how, in general, in a perfect world, should that problem be solved? From there, you might see how your code needs to be re-worked. Then you can re-work your code. Then you can solve the problem.

-Max

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