The New Razer Gold & Silver

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You may have heard of the term “Code Golf” used before in programming competitions or programming challenge sites lượt thích Code Signal (formally known as Code Fights). But what does this term mean? and what’s wrong with it?

So what is it?

Code Golf refers to attempting to solve a problem using the least amount of characters possible i.e. Khổng lồ have the smallest source code. The term is derived from the thể thao golf where the player’s goal is to lớn hit their ball in the hole using the least number of shots possible. In Code Golf the developer that solves the problem (usually writing a function) using the fewest number characters possible wins. Usually Spaces và line breaks don’t count as characters, just so that judges can actually read the solution properly. As for everything else, the goal is khổng lồ use as few characters as possible khổng lồ solve the problem provided.

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Code Golf is not limited to just one specific programming language. You can play Code Golf using any programming language you want as long as it gets the job done. However, you cannot compare a solution in one language khổng lồ the same solution in another language in Code Golf. That’s just unfair, code golf competitions should always only compare solutions written in the same language.

An Extremely Simple Example:

Imagine you are given the task khổng lồ write a function that will return the sum of two numbers. Since I’m a JavaScript guy, I am going khổng lồ provide the logical solution that I would provide in a job interview here below:

function sumOfTwoNumbers(number1, number2) return number1 + number2;As you can see I’ve written a function that solves the problem which is clear and concise. Any developer can understand it very quickly without having to lớn question their decisions in life that led them to becoming a developer. This solution consists of 64 characters – remember that spaces & line breaks vị not count!

Now, we vị live in a modern day where modern JavaScript is a thing. This gives us some fabulous ES2015 (AKA ES6) features that we can use khổng lồ simplify this function which will help us win the ultimate Code Golfing challenge. So let’s give that a shot below:

const sum = (num1, num2) => num1 + num2;Only 32 characters in this solution, literally half of the amount of characters use for the previous solution. Great! So we’ve simplified our function to lớn all fit on one line và our fellow JS developers still understand what’s going on without questioning their sanity – provided they’re fluent in ES2015.

But we’re playing Code Golf and that filthy overachiever developer friend of yours has gone & removed even more characters – thus coming up with this even shorter solution below:

const x = (a, b) => a + bThe bastard even left out a closing semicolon because it still gets the job done and that semicolon was a waste of a character. Và there we go, your filthy friend wins the code golf competition with 17 characters! Congrats you monster…

What good does Code Golf serve?

Before I go on my rant about why Code Golf is a terrible concept to lớn celebrate. Let me point out that it does have it’s perks.

The first argument that anyone would tell you is that smaller source code is good for performance. Less code means a smaller file size which means downloading the file will be quicker. But these days we have code minifier tools & transpilers which makes this argument redundant.

A better argument for Code Golf is that it often encourages developers to lớn think out of the box & make use of language features that are less commonly used, thus making them showroom tools lớn their developer toolbox. Forcing developers khổng lồ learn and expand on their skills is definitely a positive outcome.

So there we go, there’s some good that comes out of it. But is it good enough?

Why does it suck?

Here’s a real world scenario that actually happened in my working career a few years ago.

Solutions Architect lớn Me:“Hey Barry, Good Job on implementing that complicated feature with ‘Other Developer’. Just one thing though. I was reviewing the code you guys wrote & I came across your complicatedFunction function. I don’t really understand what’s going on there with its arguments since they’re labeled p, v and w (the function was written lượt thích this: complicatedFunction(p, v, w) ... ). Could you please provide understandable variable names to lớn complicatedFunction so that we don’t get confused when we come across this later?”

Me lớn Solutions Architect:“Oh yeah you’re right! That’s a weird one. Let me ask ‘Other Developer’ what his thought process was since he wrote it yesterday. I’ll update it with more readable variable names as soon as I can identify what their purposes are.”

Me khổng lồ “Other Developer”:“Hey dude, the big boss and I don’t understand how complicatedFunction works since the arguments you passed to lớn it are just random characters. Could you let me know what the variables p, v and w are meant to represent?”

“Other Developer” khổng lồ Me:“Hey dude, the big boss và I don’t understand how complicatedFunction works since the arguments you passed khổng lồ it are just random characters. Could you let me know what the variables p, v and w are meant lớn represent?”

This was an absolutely frustrating situation khổng lồ be in because I had my solutions architect expecting this to lớn be a quick and simple 5 minute fix. But no, “Other Developer” literally could not remember what the variables were meant to represent. And when you’ve got a big complicated function with randomly named variables used all over the show while struggling to lớn keep track of everything. You get a group of sad developers that don’t understand why their code works.

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This isn’t a good thing…

Code Golf in the Workplace

The scenario above is a clear example why certain aspects of Code Golf are not cool! “Other Developer” thought he was being a legend by making his complicated function look small và compact without caring about it’s readability.

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Regardless of whether or not you are working with others. It just makes sense to write code in a way that it can be understood quickly rather than trying khổng lồ figure it out every time you come back khổng lồ it later. People spend 10 times more time reading code than actually writing code. So from a productivity point of view, writing clean, maintainable & understandable code is a huge advantage in the workplace & on personal projects.

Ironically, writing cryptic code it will bite you in the butt later. The amount time it takes khổng lồ decipher code golf formatted code adds up. And we all know that time in the development world is a big deal. If you can save time accomplishing business goals, you could justify raising your hourly rate or pursuing that promotion you’ve had your eye on for a while.

Code Golf in Interviews

In a job interview, the interviewer wants lớn see your ability khổng lồ come up with solutions that are actually understandable. Your interviewer is probably going to lớn be working with you if you get the job. They want khổng lồ be sure that you’re going to make their life easier by being around, not more complicated!

The goal of a whiteboard interview test is to test if you can come up with a high performance solution. Cutting characters off your source code isn’t the what they meant when they asked you khổng lồ implement the most efficient solution.

If they tell you that your variable names should be simplified to lớn single characters then it’s probably a chạy thử to see if you care about writing clean code. Now if that wasn’t a kiểm tra then you probably don’t want lớn work there anyway. You certainly wouldn’t enjoy your life there if that was the case.

In Practice

Remember my simple example at the đứng đầu of this post where we wrote a function to take two arguments và return the sum of them? In the real world. These functions need to be called somewhere right? Let’s see what that looks like in each of those examples mentioned above. We’ll demonstrate it in order from filthy code golf winner khổng lồ respectable code gold loser.

Filthy Code Golf Winner

x(1, 2); // returns 3What is this? I pretty much have no idea. I need lớn run the function to see what it does. Và even then, I don’t know how many arugments lớn provide lớn the function without checking out the actual function.

Code Golf Second Place

sum(1, 2); // returns 3This is good. I can clearly read the function & see that it has two arguments in it. Given the function’s name sum, I can naturally assume that it will return the result of the two arguments added together. However, if the function was given khổng lồ me with no context. I might still be confused, since I’m not really sure how many arguments the function is expecting.

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Respectable Code Golf Loser

sumOfTwoNumbers(1, 2); // returns 3This is excellent! Even if I didn’t know how many arguments to enter into the function, the name sumOfTwoNumbers would certainly help clarify that. It’s obvious that this is a function that takes two numbers as an input & adds them together.