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Joe Eames for Thinkster

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The Hardest Thing in Programming

It's a common saying that the two most difficult tasks in development are naming and cache invalidation.

Inspired by this, I recently tweeted out the following question:


I got a crazy amount of response and thought it would be interesting to compile and categorize the responses. So, according to about forty developers, here are the hardest things in programming: (I tried to categorize and compile it intelligently)

First, I'll start with the purely technical items. Some of them are unsurprising. A few probably imply a current problem someone is working on…

  • change detection
  • dates and time-zones
  • folder structure
  • off by one errors
  • picking and sticking to a front end framework
  • regex
  • macbook keyboards
  • any problem involving linkage of two systems that expect certain things to
  • match up
  • data structures
  • reading and understanding someone else's code in order to fix it
  • for newer programmers, getting things working efficiently
  • thread management and synchronization
  • setup & config of a new language, library, or environment
  • ignoring unit test coverage
  • providing estimates
  • threading (2 votes)
  • logging
  • working with legacy databases that lack referential integrity

Next are the architectural and design items. This is what I thought most people would reply with. I personally identify very much with much of this list:

  • finding the balance between good architecture and over-engineering
  • keeping things simple (2 votes)
  • striking the balance between shipping code quickly and shipping quality code.
  • composition
  • choosing when to build/use abstractions. If you abstract too much you become an architectural astronaut if you abstract too little your codebase becomes
  • unmanageable with copy-paste pasta, lack of consistency and just hard to understand (I REALLY loved how elegantly this was phrased)
  • thinking before coding to avoid bad architectures
  • avoiding duplicated code but also not over-engineering everything

Then we have the personal items. Things people struggle with internally. Perhaps here are some items you may personally identify with.

  • choosing a side in the text editor, naming convention or tabs vs spaces holy wars
  • remembering it's time to sleep
  • taking the first step into the unknown
  • the ever-increasing concept count of all tech
  • remembering you don't have to learn everything
  • balancing learning with productivity
  • deciding what to ignore
  • knowing when to stop
  • motivation/consistency

Finally, the items that have to do with groups and organizations. Here I compiled all the similar items, and ended up with the most common issue people said they believe is the most difficult task in programming.

  • working as a team (6 votes)
  • convincing people to design and implement with a11y and mobile-first mentality

Here, I compiled many variations of working as a team, from getting agreement to just a simple reply of "people". How interesting that the most popular answer (although only 6 of about 40 votes) was not really anything to do specifically with programming.

What do you think is the most difficult task in programming (besides the 2 exclusions)? Do you agree with this summary? Are people the most difficult part of your job?

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Top comments (1)

patarapolw profile image
Pacharapol Withayasakpunt

I thought Off-by-one error is just a joke...