Generic topics in programming are nearly useless

Programming has become a field so wide that most discussions about general topics or principles becomes void

Profile pictureToni Petrina
Published on 2023-01-164 min read
  • #opinion

Reading blog posts and opinions is an essential way to learn new ideas in our ever growing tech world. Discussions that take place around them are an excellent way to learn about certain situations that you haven't been part of. The context matters so much that certain high-level comments about broad tools and topics is uselss without providing the said context.

For example, these are the two articles that spawned this observation:

As you can see, topics like ORM and testing are almost immediately leading to non-productive discussions. The back and forth should be interesting as it should cover a broad range of experiences across time, languages and tools, but unfortunately nowadays it rarely does so.

Why the context matters?

Languages are different and so are ecosystems around them. What problem you are solving and with which tools matters a lot. Someone building a CLI tool in Rust can and should learn from someone building their app in C# or Ruby - but there is a limit of transferring experiences.

Both topics, data access with ORMs and testing with mocks, are so wide in their scope that each participant only thinks of their own worldview when they discuss the topic. And when such a loaded term is used by multiple participants, each participant defends their idea in their head and is basing arguments from their experience which, given the breadth of the languages, frameworks, tools and sheer history behind them, almost makes their comment useless to others.

In short - if you had an experience on one project and are basing your comments on that without giving context, you are in fact making things worse as the other participant has their own context which almost certainly doesn't match yours! You are talking past each other only because the word you use is the same - the word that depends heavily on the context and one participant doesn't think of anything but their own experience during the discussion.

So C# developer using AutoMoq talking about mocks with a developer from Ruby that is actually talking about fakes when they say mock doesn't help either side. And readers will be frustrated as generic comments vaguely alluding to their issues or benefits cannot be reconciled with their current experience. Teaching without context is not possible.

I used to love reading and learning from people's experiences, but without providing context for the particular experience, chances are that vague comments cannot actually help someone learning. We can and we must do better by providing context - which language, which framework, and, most importantly, which problem!

Not all projects are the same in scope, lifecycle and style. Read heavy app can be developed differently from rich domain one. Some apps can be data driven, some others are throwaway procedural code. Your choices influence and constrain the way the code is written. One size doesn't fit all and neither does one philosophy.

For example, if the app is data driven, heavy mocks are not nearly as effective as stubs or just plain data in data out approach. On the other side, if the code requires a lot of coordination and the code doesn't contain a lot of state transformation, but merely orchestrates different external resources using interaction based tests helps way more than state based tests. One is not better than the other - one is merely better suited for the domain than the other.

If we are supposed to use the best tool for the job, then when discussing the tool, also discuss the job at hand. Otherwise you are arguing whether or not the hammers are good or bad without discussing why are you even planning on using one.

Don't get personal

Lastly, other people's choices don't mean that you have to adapt them. Just because someone chose to write SQL or to use ORM is not a golden rule and that we all have to start doing the same.

Comments feel very defensive and passive aggressive. As if everyone is a preacher or a recruiter. That alone makes discussion seem more like flame wars rather than exchanging knowledge and experiences.


Just provide context when discussing general topics - others might appreciate the missing bit.

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