Monday, June 18, 2012

7 stages of exploratory programming

  1. One has an idea on natural language understanding, starts implementing it. Cool, it works!
  2. One encounters some sentences not easy to deal with. It's not clear how to do it the right way, beautifully, so one does it somehow  by dirty hacking. Hopefully, later it'll become more clear when new data arrives.
  3. As more and more sentences sentences are encountered, some hacks are corrected but others are added. Hacks proliferate and get tightly intertwined.
  4. It becomes harder to parse new sentences. Hacks start getting in the way. Fortunately, one starts seeing how to avoid them.
  5. Correcting the design appears to be non-trivial because hacks depend on each other. So to fix one you should first correct another one, which requires third one, and so on. There's a whole dependency graph of hacks!
  6. The test suite doesn't seem a friend anymore. It keeps failing, revealing more and more ways hacks depend on each other. No new sentences get parsed anymore.
  7. After half a year of pure refactoring, the morale is low and still no light at the end of the tunnel. Yet another cyclic hack dependency is found. Tired, one decides to apply all the desired design changes at once and fix the tests one by one, almost as if writing the parser afresh. Goto 1.

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