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Jonathan Brizio
Jonathan Brizio

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Avoiding Code Chaos: The Broken Windows Principle in Software Development

In the world of software development, one principle that resonates deeply with programmers is the Broken Windows Theory. This theory was originally proposed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the realm of urban sociology and suggests that visible signs of disorder in a community can lead to anti-social behavior. But how does this theory apply to software engineering?

The Broken Windows Theory has a compelling parallel in the world of code. Neglected code elements within a software project such as outdated comments, unused variables, or inconsistent formatting can be considered as "broken windows" of code. If left unaddressed, they can lead to larger issues down the line.

Just as a single broken window in a building can signal to vandals that no one cares about the property, a neglected codebase can communicate to developers that maintenance and cleanliness are not priorities. This can result in decreased developer morale, increased technical debt, and reduced overall productivity, which is a scenario all too familiar to software teams.

To avoid the Broken Windows Theory in their codebase, software engineers need to be proactive in maintaining a culture of cleanliness. Regular code reviews, refactoring sessions, and the use of automated tools for code quality assurance are essential strategies for keeping "digital streets" clean and orderly. Moreover, fostering a team culture that values accountability and takes pride in the quality of its code can go a long way in preventing the accumulation of "broken windows."

By recognizing the importance of maintaining order and cleanliness in code, developers can mitigate the risk of larger issues arising and ensure the long-term health and sustainability of their projects.

Do you have any tips or best practices to share on how to maintain a clean software environment in your projects? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Top comments (2)

efpage profile image

OOP once was a way to solve this problem. Building clean code and removing errors takes a lot of time we usually do not have, so building reusable units is a solution to that. If your project contains 80% of code using well tested and strictly encapsulated units, you can spend your effort on the 20% newly written code.

manchicken profile image
Mike Stemle

Broken Windows Theory is a highly problematic and toxic idea which holds that those in poor neighborhoods are deserving of gentrification and excessive policing. It was used to justify policies such as stop-and-frisk, and is generally considered to be particularly racist as racial profiling was a major component in its application.

In addition to being highly problematic, it was an utter failure in every locale in which it was used.

I’m kind of surprised to see someone making positive references, or even offering the suggestion that it was accurate or helpful. It was neither.

Broken window policing not only cost many people their lives and livelihoods, it is still used today to push poor people out of their homes so that land developers can build offices, shops, and housing for those who can afford it.