Reading code

- 3 mins

As a Software Engineer, I’ve spent countless hours hunched over my keyboard, typing away lines of code like a mad scientist on a mission. From the excitement of crafting elegant solutions to the despair of battling bugs, writing code has been an integral part of my journey. But here’s the catch - while we’re often taught how to write code, we’re rarely taught how to read it.

Picture this: you finally land that dream software engineering job you’ve been working tirelessly for. You’re excited, you’re pumped, and then reality hits you like a ton of bricks – you’re not just going to write new code, you’re going to wade through an ocean of existing code, and boy, it can get murky! Reading code is like solving a puzzle that’s wrapped inside a riddle.

In school, we’re taught how to write code, but here’s a secret no one tells you: code is read far more often than it’s written, and reading code never gets nearly as much attention. At school, we submit our assignments and projects, and rarely do we go back to revisit our own code, let alone someone else’s. But once you step into the professional world, it’s a different ballgame altogether. You’ll be paid to work on systems that were probably not written by you. Software maintenance makes up a significant chunk of our work, and that means, brace yourselves, reading others’ code! Yes, that’s right – diving into the messy, chaotic world of other people’s code.

Now, you might wonder, if reading code is just a boring, necessary evil that we have to deal with to fix bugs or understand the logic behind someone else’s code? Well, yes and no. Reading code can be a treasure trove of learning experiences. The motivations can be diverse: It could be about fixing a pesky bug that’s been haunting your team for days. It could be about unraveling the architectural wonders of a well-designed system. It could even be about seeking inspiration for a more efficient way to write code or even locate a function that fits your needs like a glove. Project layouts, coding standards, and conventions – all of these can be unearthed when you dive deep into the lines of code. It’s like having a coding mentor you can rely on!

However, remember the reason you are reading code: Reading code for bug-fixing is not the same as reading code to understand project architecture. It’s very easy to get lost in “yak shaving” if you aren’t careful. Focus on your goals, set a clear path, and embrace the art of code reading.

Now, you might be wondering, “Where can I find good code to read?” First and foremost, the external libraries you use in your own projects are a goldmine. Explore them, study them, and marvel at the work of other talented developers. GitHub is another haven for aspiring code readers. Look for projects with active communities and diverse contributors. You’ll find abstraction patterns, algorithms, utility classes, test cases, and even starter projects that can teach you valuable lessons about project layout. And here’s a bold suggestion – why not explore the parts of your own team’s code that you haven’t worked on before? You’ll gain a deeper understanding of your product and, hey, you might even stumble upon some hidden gems. But don’t stop there, venture into other teams’ code as well. Learn from their successes and their mistakes. While you are at it, be a good boy scout and add some comments – there is nothing called too many comments! Remember, nothing says “welcome to the twilight zone” like a block of uncommented code.

Reading code may seem daunting at first, but it’s an indispensable skill that will propel you to new heights in your career. Embrace the messiness, find joy in the challenges, and seek inspiration in the work of others. Remember, the path to becoming a seasoned developer is paved with lines of code, read and written. Dive into the code, unravel its mysteries, and let it guide you towards becoming the best version of yourself as a software engineer. Happy coding, and may the bug-free forces be with you!

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Sandeep Raju Prabhakar

Sandeep Raju Prabhakar

Writes about technology, software engineering and other things that interests him.