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Frank Thoughts
Jeff Atwood on Quality versus Quantity
by Frank Sommers
August 7, 2008
In his popular blog, Jeff Atwood suggests that becoming a great developer has more to do with the quantity of code you produce than with an explicit desire to produce high-quality code from the start.


In a recent installment of his popular blog, Jeff Atwood writes that when desiring high quality output, focusing on quality can be counter-productive. Instead, Atwood says that a focus on quantity, rather than quality, can lead to better results:

Quantity always trumps quality. That's why the one bit of advice I always give aspiring bloggers is to pick a schedule and stick with it. It's the only advice that matters, because until you've mentally committed to doing it over and over, you will not improve. You can't.

When it comes to software, the same rule applies. If you aren't building, you aren't learning. Rather than agonizing over whether you're building the right thing, just build it. And if that one doesn't work, keep building until you get one that does.

While I do think that some amount of agonizing—thinking through and doing some up-front design—is absolutely necessary for high-quality results, such results seldom come about purely because of the initial design. Rather, as most recently Scott Bain writes in his wonderfully written Emergent Design: The Evolutionary Nature of Professional Software Development, the best design emerges from the codebase itself, over some period of time—perhaps as a result of refactoring, re-architecting, or even a re-write (the latter, however, is a dangerous proposition, and may not lead to improved quality). That suggests that for quality to emerge, some codebase needs to exist in the first place, and that one way to achieve high quality code is to keep tending to that codebase.

What do you think of Atwood's suggestion that when desiring great quality, a focus on quantity is more important than a focus on quality itself?

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About the Blogger

Frank Sommers is a Senior Editor with Artima Developer. Prior to joining Artima, Frank wrote the Jiniology and Web services columns for JavaWorld. Frank also serves as chief editor of the Web zine, the IEEE Technical Committee on Scalable Computing's newsletter. Prior to that, he edited the Newsletter of the IEEE Task Force on Cluster Computing. Frank is also founder and president of Autospaces, a company dedicated to bringing service-oriented computing to the automotive software market.

Prior to Autospaces, Frank was vice president of technology and chief software architect at a Los Angeles system integration firm. In that capacity, he designed and developed that company's two main products: A financial underwriting system, and an insurance claims management expert system. Before assuming that position, he was a research fellow at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies at the University of Southern California, where he participated in a geographic information systems (GIS) project mapping the ethnic populations of the world and the diverse demography of southern California. Frank's interests include parallel and distributed computing, data management, programming languages, cluster and grid computing, and the theoretic foundations of computation. He is a member of the ACM and IEEE, and the American Musicological Society.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2008 Frank Sommers. All rights reserved.

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