Category Archives: software design

Use the Source: how to numb your mind faster than a lobotomy

Perhaps it’s just naturally a trait of mine, a coincidence growing up, or perhaps I more broadly reflect societies supposedly shrinking attention span; regardless of the cause, I have very little patience for reading documentation. Instead, I often like to open a sample project, usually the placeholder created by default, and see what happens when changing things around, or how information is passed between files. As such, I oftentimes find roundabout ways of completing tasks in a new language or framework. This results in less than ideal code, even if functioning, that does not follow best practice or any convention the language/framework may have. So therefore, the “Use the Source” spoke to a weakness I have in software development.

It states that one should choose a complex, and necessarily open source, project in the language you are hoping to learn to fork and pore over. In doing so, one can internalize as many of the lessons this code may have to teach, the ways experts write in this language, the “tricks of the trade” if you will; and, as a result, be inspired to apply these concepts in ones own project. This unfortunately, sounds terribly boring. It’s hard enough for me, and many other students I know, to pick apart our own code only months after writing it. I can’t imagine trying to parse years of work by developers with an incredible knowledge of their chosen language. This seems like a recipe for frustration. I could easily see a student not unlike myself throwing themselves at a new language in this fashion and coming away discouraged and maybe even completely overwhelmed; to the point where they may shy away from learning that language at all.

Instead, I would propose a healthier middle ground. I find that in messing with the code you can find little victories where your exploration paid off – victories that, for myself at least, keep me motivated. However, as mentioned previously, learning completely on ones own may waste valuable time and internalize bad or inefficient habits. As such, I think one should push their abilities as far as they can manage, then seek guidance from communities online. There exist thousands of YouTube tutorials and stack overflow threads where more than one solution is reached to nearly every problem; so, unlike the open source project, you can pick a solution that has a logic you understand best and can implement. I may have no patience to dig through years of documentation, but I don’t lack the patience to instead experiment and ultimately learn the language/framework.

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

The Deep End: Taking off my floaters

The definition of many of the apprenticeship patterns in the book are all in their title, being fairly obvious or sharing language used in idioms or other expressions. However, despite this, our authors usually find a way to expand on them for at least a page or two – most often by sharing a relevant story. Which is why I was shocked at how brief this particular pattern was, just a handful of paragraphs and another for our story. The brevity of pattern however did not lessen its impact on me, and I have come away with a renewed confidence. As someone who needs structure in order to work effectively, I imagine the deep end would involve a great deal of work and specifically responsibility – which I respond to quite well also.

I had already determined to seek out an internship or entry level position outside of my home state. Further, I wanted to join a company where I, of course, could be actually hired but one that would truly test the limits of my skills. Ideally, I would want it to be an internship though, cause as much as I want to make this change in scenery, I’m still hesitant to get stuck someplace I’m miserable. I think the true test will not just be getting a position away from home but finding a place for myself in that new place and maybe even gaining the confidence to stay and accept a job at the company – in the case of an internship.

I did find one internship that states that they will make no “intern-work” and one should be expected to work as a peer with the rest of their fellow employees; and on a massively used and well-known mobile application no less. I jumped at the chance to apply for this position, and I am incredibly hopeful I get it, as it is the perfect storm of conditions I am hoping for. Enrique’s story is still a little too dramatic for me to imagine emulating, but I hope if the opportunity to work in another country even presents itself, I will have the confidence to take it.

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Kindred Spirits: Programming inspired by Anne of Green Gables

When reading the kindred spirits apprenticeship pattern, I was immediately reminded of my first real programming class, CS140, wherein I met some of the friendly faces I would spend the next two years becoming a programmer with. A few of these faces were a part of my group in that class’s lab and with them we challenged each other in the subject and helped fill each other’s blind spots. While this is hardly unique, I’m sure, it exemplifies what the pattern is all about: finding peers who you can learn and grow with. Now with those two years nearly behind us and the end (of our education) is in sight, those same friends have been amazing resources.

As new learners, we tend to go in all different directions, not favoring any set method because we have yet to find the path of least resistance or best practices. Subsequently, we create puzzles pieces with our bits of knowledge that we all can combine to get a clear picture of a language, framework, et cetera. I have found as well, that what was often very useful was the ability to politely disagree – read: bicker like an old couple – with your peer and push back and forth on each other to really challenge one’s knowledge or understanding of something. It was through this back and forth that many of the solutions we were so desperately searching for came about; which is something the pattern even addresses, stating that it is imperative to avoid group think and challenge each other.

I remember distinctly have an erratic mass of code segments and illustrations of a particular data structure, the exact one I cannot remember, all over the board in the Science and Technology center study rooms. Data Structures, our major’s trial by fire, has crushed fledgling programmers of far greater skill than me. I can say with no doubt, that had it not been for these brain-storming sessions I would not have passed that class or even completely the projects thoroughly in the way that I eventually did. As I look forward to internships and even jobs after graduation, I hope to keep those around me who I have learned so much from and find new kindred spirits to take on this next chapter of my programming career.

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Craft Over Art: or how I learned to stop worrying and love my ugly UI

As I mentioned last week, I have a tendency to try to make products out of projects; meaning I can’t just have something to tinker with for fun, it needs to essentially be a rough draft for the actual project I have to work on. In the same vein, I have another hang-up on wanting things to be clean and pretty to start. Now, of course, one should strive for well formatted code following best practices, but specifically for those projects with a user interface I try to go straight to a finished product from the start. As a result, the Craft Over Art Pattern was illuminating, bringing into focus where my priorities should lie especially in contrast to where they are currently.

In sum, this pattern emphasizes that you have been charged with creating a functioning product, not necessarily a pretty one. The line, “the things we build for customers can be beautiful, but must be useful” says it all. I realize in constantly polishing a project before its feature complete, I end up throwing away a lot of work spent on “dolling up” features or elements of the user interface that may change or not even be used. I even caught myself making the same mistake even on a personal project using a different web application language, where I did not even attempt to make any forms or methods that communicated to the backend, instead spending time adding libraries for user interface elements that look nice and animate well. While there is certainly a place for those things, this pattern helps one understand that is when you have all of the parts of your application finalized.

I should have learned this lesson last semester with my final project. I spent so much time fiddling with the color palette and page animations, that the content on those pages was barren, or poorly formatted. It is nice, I think, that my webpage looks and animates nicely, but when pages break upon reloading then it hardly matters. If there is constantly some expectation of failure with a project, then the font you choose is hardly relevant. I think that is what this pattern helped me realize most about this weakness of mine; utility is the most important aspect of software, everything else is so much fluff.

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Putting the ‘O’ in SOLID


We
covered the Open/Close principle in a recent lab, and it prompted a desire to
cover some of the SOLID principles. I have determined however, that the length
of this blog is short enough that I should dedicate it to a single principle at
a time, beginning with the aforementioned Open/Close principle.

              This particular object-oriented
principle was outlined by Bertrand Meyer and states:


“…entities should be open for extension, but closed for modification.”


              This of course, is a complex way
of expressing a simple guideline for software development; which is that new
functionality should be able to added without having to radically change existing
code. The operative word, extension, is illustrative. If your code was a home,
and you wanted to add more square-footage (read: functionality), you shouldn’t
need to knock all the walls, or the whole thing, down to add a bathroom.

              In the blog chosen, the author summarizes
a talk he gave about the very subject. In it, he provides an example of a program
he is developing for a company that calculates the total area of a set of rectangles.
As the customer requests more and more shapes be added to the calculator, the original
code changes drastically and gets longer and longer. This modification is opposed
to this principle. In opposition, creating a Shape class that contains many children
of different specific shapes – each with their own area function – with the
ability to add more, eliminates constant modification of the main class, and
allows for constant extensionability in the form of new shapes.

              To say simply that code should be
modular is unhelpful, as it is broad and the general definition of so many more
good coding practices. Our class and homework provide another perfect example.
Why should we have to constantly Override and rewrite portions of a superclass’
methods in each of its child classes to achieve proper functionality. Instead, in
making a Quack/Fly Behavior interface we have established a broad mold that
many new behaviors can be built off of; access to all of which is then granted
by the relationship to the single respective behavior interface.

              Therefore, the ability of code to be
extended with new functionalities, using a single reference – in this case the behaviors,
or shapes – instead of needing to rewrite or overwrite code is what is meant by
extension; while keeping the existing code from needing constant revisions, is being
closed for modification. Like the house example earlier, you should constantly be
building out, not renovating what exists already.


Sources:

A
simple example of the Open/Closed Principle

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Refactoring: Spring Cleaning for Code

Depending upon the subject, some of us are lucky to finish a functioning project so the thought of improving code after the fact – especially if there’s a new project due soon – is a distant one. However, they may be tricked into refactoring their code if asked when you say the magic words: “Refactoring is not rewriting code”. The definition, as defined by its creator is:


“a change [or changes] made to the
internal structure of software to make it easier to understand and cheaper to
modify without changing observable behavior.”


In
reality, the process may involve:

  • new
    code, but it must not change the behavior of the original code;
  • ensuring
    the system works before and after each refactor, including original unit tests;
  • creating
    unit tests to verify our refactoring has not changed system behavior;
  • changes
    that individually are minute, but combined lead to a healthier program;
  • eliminating
    duplicate code, potentially changing variable names, and more.

It is not
simply cleaning up code, but rather reorganizing it in order to make it easier
to trace and understand, as well as add functionality to in the future.

              For our purposes, this may be a very
important concept to learn but it may be some time before we get to implement
it, unless we’re coding or maintaining an entire program for our capstone; however,
it is important to understand when to do so. According to my sources, the best
time to do so is before you add new features to an existing program, or right
after you’ve already shipped it. For the former, it makes these new features much
easier to add when the program is much more readable and makes the program better
for having made the changes. As for the latter, it makes a lot of sense to
snoop around for ways to reorganize code after you’ve spent so much time on it,
and in a mad dash to finish it towards the end no doubt. Years’ worth of work
is no doubt going to have some inconsistencies that fell through the cracks in
the course of development.

              As for implementing these changes, there are several methods, including Red-Green-Refactor, Abstraction, Simplifying Methods, as well as many others we won’t cover. In R-G-R, red means stop and determine what to develop – usually with a new test that fails, getting this new development to pass tests (green), and finally refactoring to optimize. Abstraction is used to address duplicate code and can be done by restructuring hierarchies using the Pull-Up [pulling up code into a superclass to be shared more effectively] or Push-Down [pushing down code to more subclasses from a superclass] method. Finally, Simplifying Methods is an effort to simplify older code by consolidation and reducing interclass complexity. Hopefully this helps develop an understand of refactoring, in fact, I had to do quite a lot of refactoring to this blog to get it down to size!


Sources:

Refactoring – Martin Fowler
Refactoring – Agile Alliance
Code Refactoring Best Practices: When (and When Not) to Do It

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Thinkin ‘bout KISS‘n you


KISS
(Keep it Simple, Stupid) is potentially one of the most culturally pervasive concepts
used in Computer Science, the other being maybe blockchain – the difference of
course is that people actually understand what KISS is, everyone who says they
understand blockchain is lying. Of course, KISS did not originate in Computer
Science, and instead was popularized at Lockheed Skunk Works by noted
tangential war criminal and engineer Kelly Johnson. While it may be difficult and
seemingly sacrilegious to try to explain something so self-explanatory that is
what I hope to do, flying in the face of the concept of simplicity to stretch
four words into four hundred.

Credit: csiaexchange

              It begins with, put kindly, making
distinctions about the semantics of the scant few words in this phrase; put
more bluntly, being pedantic. This examination is important, and the linked
article does a great job of highlighting first the distinctions between ‘simple’
and ‘easy’, which could be mistaken as synonyms, and contrasts it with ‘complex’.
His conclusion is this, a simple system is defined by what it is not, which is one
with too many parts which are interconnected – with the latter being worse in
software development.

              This all sounds wonderful on paper,
and about the same on a computer screen, but sometimes complexity is
inevitable. So, it is advised that you make things as simple as possible, until
you can’t, at which point you are vigilant in handling that necessary
complexity. For instance, I could try all sorts of methods to navigate a 2D
array in some mock-up code, but I don’t need to introduce recursion or anything
outrageous to shorten a method body if a simple nested loop will do.

              This idea of simplifying through pruning
code is expressed in the next sections of this post, stressing the importance
of cleaning up dead or underutilized code so that no resources are wasted maintaining
or reintegrating useless code. Additionally, YAGNI (yay more acronyms) states
more or less the same thing, encouraging programmers to implement the essentials,
that will actually be presently utilized, and skip the bells, whistles, and
maybes. Code with bunches of maybe methods require time and resources to
maintain and if they aren’t actively being utilized, then they’re a waste of
both.

              From here on, the blog introduces
many more concepts that are possible to cover in just this blog post – although
I do hope to mention Lasagna Architecture in another post sometime later. Instead,
I think it is time to bring this post to a close. What is the take-away then?
Well its exactly what you thought it was from the first line. In conclusion, it
may be appealing to get a jump on features you may want to implement in the future,
but it is best to keep things as simple as possible and/or only as complex as
needed but no more.


Sources

KISS Principle Explained
KISS, A Design Principle

From the blog CS@Worcester – Press Here for Worms by wurmpress and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

WSU x AMPATH || Sprint 5 Retrospective

Sams Ships (14)Over the past two weeks, my team continued to discuss what we are working on as usual. We have come to the conclusion that we will add our Search Bar component once there are updates and more of a base to work off of. This was concluded after we realized that the process would be much more efficient. The parameters and details on the search bar would be harder to figure out without making up a base anyways.

Some advice for others who may be working on the same thing would be to try and collaborate or discuss potential orders between groups if one thing may depend on another. That would make it much simpler from the start if possible so there aren’t any clashes or time wasted on doing extra work that could have just been done by one group or team.

In the meantime, I did a little more research on the AMPATH system out of curiosity since we are going to be building onto their work. I found out that there are 500+ care sites in Kenya! It is interesting to think about the potential impact our work may make on how AMPATH carries out their process. Their initiative reminds me of what Enactus at Worcester State strives for when they work on projects to help people or organizations in the community “sustain their own success, connect them with universal health insurance, train next generation medical professionals, and research new breakthroughs and best practices.” Being able to help a healthcare organization is pretty meaningful, especially as a project through my capstone.

A way to tie our 348 course (Software Process Management) with our 448 (Capstone) course would be through now being able to use Travis CI and Heroku. It was interesting being able to experience using these in class and help our peers use it and now be able to use them in our capstone. I think the practice we got was nice because I found that my peers and I were more comfortable with following steps that were written out and explained to us instead of just “going for it.” I have also noticed that our 348 course helped us pay more attention to how we interact with others, which is very useful for the future when we will be working in teams of developers to create or update new technologies. One more thing which I found useful was seeing Travis CI load, and the race against time when it came to classmates pushing code at the same time; it made me push myself to be a little faster while at the same time not be sloppy about what I was putting into my code.

Overall, we discussed what we will do in these coming weeks as the semester comes to a close. The project we are planning on presenting will feature a search bar which we plan to implement by then. I am excited to see what we end up with in terms of helping AMPATH and their healthcare system!

 

 

From the blog CS@Worcester by samanthatran and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Craft Over Art || S.S. 8

Sams Ships (10)As we have a few weeks left in the semester, I wanted to discuss the more creative apprenticeship patterns. This time I’m going to describe Craft Over Art, which is basically when a solution to a client’s problem can be solved with something that could work…or we could take it and go above and beyond. It’s being more innovative than just settling for a solution just to have something.

I found that the pattern is interesting because it emphasized the importance of how the things built for customers can still be beautiful but must always be useful. If it strays away from being useful, then it no longer counts as the craft.

I also found it to be thought-provoking because it brought up how people are truly in charge of how a problem gets solved. No one can force you to code something a certain way if they do not know a way to solve it on their own, which is why your role exists in the first place.

The pattern has caused me to change the way I think about my intended profession because your work can still reflect you in terms of creativity. As a person, I think I am more on the creative side and incorporating more ideas into creating something for people sounds pretty cool. If I had to follow a super rigorous structure, I may feel limited in what I can do to produce work that makes me happier.

The one thing I have to disagree with in the pattern is the part where it mentions that someone is suddenly no longer “part of the craft” if they deviate a little further. Who sets these boundaries? I do not want people to feel like they are not “enough” to be considered a real craftsman or whichever term it is referred it as just because they were being extra.

Overall, I appreciated the action section which encouraged people to reflect on what projects they worked on or situations they may have found themselves in where they chose creativity over usefulness. At the moments where I have personally done so, I had felt more proud of my work, because I knew it was uniquely mine.

From the blog CS@Worcester by samanthatran and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.

Do You Hate Your Computer Too?

Sams Ships (3)Apparently doctors hate their computers, according to an article titled Why Doctors Hate Their Computers by Atul Gawande. Gawande started out the article by mentioning Epic, a company a lot of people know of because it is a leading provider of software for the healthcare industry. It’s funny because just the other day, a classmate who will not be named groaned when he heard Epic being mentioned by someone, as he works in a healthcare center.

I found the reading was interesting because I have no intentions of becoming a medical doctor one day but was able to hear about how it is being one while interacting with technology that exists today.

It seems like the tension of logging everything caused the system to make doctors’ lives harder instead of easier; this was noticeable when Sadoughi was talking about how she had to look over all notes from different doctors including herself per patient. Instead of being able to just see what is going on right away; it would take up time to gather all information and even then it was not always helpful because some notes were different than others and became dated. And then work-life balance had to be thrown off a little because people had to spend extra time, up to hours after-hours to catch up with the system and review things from the day.

The real customer for the system seemed to be patients because they have some benefits from using the system like logging when to take medications or see how they are doing. Doctors are also able to monitor how they are doing and communicate with them by being pinged.

The lessons from this system do not only apply to Electronic Medical Record systems; they also apply to working in life because burnout can happen to anyone in the workforce. I thought it was interesting how one of the ways doctors were trying to save time and prevent burnout from technology was by hiring in-hospital scribes or even virtual scribes when necessary.

The reading has caused me to changing the way I think I will work based on if I ever end up creating software that affects people’s healthcare by considering how much time it takes to interact with it, no matter how “cool” or “innovative” it may be. In terms of the topic itself, the reading has caused me to think more about software that has altered people’s professions as a whole; which I thought of before but never this deeply.

I do not disagree with anything in the reading for now as I do not personally know what it is like to work in a profession that is not traditionally non-technical and then gets transformed into something that relies on it.

 

From the blog CS@Worcester by samanthatran and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.