According to an Evans Data Corporation report, there are approximately 4.4 million coding engineers in the US as of 2019. However, only a fraction of this sea of coders makes it to FAANG companies and other tier-1 tech firms. The acceptance rate of Google, for instance, is only 0.2%! Although it’s hard to crack the code at these companies, it’s a different ball game once you do.
From lucrative compensation packages to staggering career prospects and employee benefits, like paid holidays and paternity leaves, the struggle is certainly worth it. You, too, can be a part of this elite workforce with the right preparation and by inculcating the best practices to become a software engineer that has no match.
In this article, we will elaborate on some of the best practices in software development that software engineers must adopt; they are:
- Develop Your Own Coding Style
- Always Use Version Control
- Leverage Test-Driven Development (TDD)
- Be Agile
- Conduct Code Analysis
- Choose the Right Development Methodologies
- Make Sure Your Code Works Efficiently
- Refactor Your Code
- Test Your Code
- Apply the Key Principles — KISS, YAGNI, DRY
- Use Repositories
What Is the Definition of “Best Practices” in Software Development?
Best practices in software development are a comprehensive, non-definitive list of methods that do both - simplify the process of writing code and result in better codes. For instance, when applied to the testing process, these techniques ensure a minimum quality standard and guide and shape development itself. Good software development practices prioritize simplicity and clarity of codes over highly optimized numerical routines or fancy libraries.
Further, sticking to a few hundred lines of concise and manageable code is a learned skill. Several brilliant data scientists hail from areas like math and physics but lack this skill. Therefore, they often write a few dozen lines of code, which becomes incomprehensible to other software developers.
As a result, if a circumstance arises wherein the code requires fixing or an update, it cannot be worked upon. And, there is nothing worse than seeing a project go up in flames because its 200-line script was illegible and, therefore, could not be debugged.
This is where best practices can save the day!
Standardized coding conventions ensure that a code is relevant and useful for future developers, clients, and the coders themselves. In fact, most professional programmers will tell you that they spend most of their time reading codes instead of writing them.
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Therefore, as a professional in this industry, it is highly likely that you will not write a code from scratch but work on an existing code. And, this is where the best practices in software development come into play. These tricks ensure that your code is easy to understand by other engineers, making your work modifiable.
We’ll cover these best practices in the following sections.
1. Develop Your Own Coding Style
Coding style, in simple words, refers to the readability and comprehensibility of your code. Yes, it is not about how quickly you write a code or about its correctness (though best practices in software development eventually enable both of these).
Every software developer has a preferred coding style, something that is extremely personal to them. For instance, people who use an integrated development environment (IDE) like Visual Studio to learn to code usually develop a coding style that matches the one enforced by this editor. Similarly, when one learns to code using a plain text editor, their coding style will likely evolve based on what they think is more readable.
A coding style hovers around numerous minute decisions premised on the language, such as:
- When and how to use comments
- Enough use of white space
- Proper naming of functions and variables
- Patterns to be used and avoided
- Spaces or tabs for indentation
- The number of spaces
- Code grouping of an organization
Irrespective of what your decisions on these pointers are, there is a fundamental objective of code layout that you must always keep in mind – it should be pleasing to the eye. So, you must use a format that clearly shows the intent and structure of your program.
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When it comes to developing your coding styles, here is a condensed version of some basic principles that you can follow:
- Use descriptive names for functions and variables.
- Use comments when necessary but do not overuse them.
- Consider breaking a program into self-contained parts with clear functions.
- Separate boilerplate information from the core processing logic of your program.
- Refactor several blocks of codes that do similar things into a single routine.
- Avoid including excessive indentation.
2. Always Use Version Control
A version control system is a central feature of writing production software. A software framework tracks changes that a software engineer makes to a code base and then syncs them with a master copy. Here are the benefits of a version control system:
- It backs up all of the code, which can be of immense value if your computer ever experiences a crash.
- Everyone can keep their respective changes synced up periodically by downloading them from the server when working in a team.
- In the case of an error or a bug, you can switch back to a previous, more stable version of the codebase that was known to work.
- Several software developers can work independently and add or remove features as well as make changes to a single project, with no impact on another member’s work.
Needless to say, the larger and more complex a codebase is, the more these become incredibly indispensable. Any software product is developed through the collaboration of a team of developers who might be stationed at varying locations; a version control system essentially makes their job a lot easier.
3. Leverage Test-Driven Development (TDD)
One of the best practices in software development, Test-driven development, or TDD, is an approach to software engineering which allows you to test the developed cases to specify and validate what this particular code will do. In simpler terms, it creates test cases for every function and writes a new code in case the test fails. As a result, it simplifies a code and makes it bug-free. Additionally, as TDD instructs software developers to write new code only when an automated test has failed, it avoids code duplication.
As a software engineer, it offers you these advantages:
- It induces you to think through a module’s desired functionality right off the bat. Therefore, it helps you analyze the preliminary API, ensuring that it is not clunky.
- When writing the code itself, you can easily laser-focus on a single test instead of holding the entire system in your head at the same time.
4. Be Agile
While TDD is ideal for individual programmers to get their work done, Agile is a way to organize teams of software developers. It was brought to the table by a group of programmers in 2001, who wished to do away with the top-down, long-term plans, which typically led to project failures. This concept, in later years, caught on like wildfire, and a variant of agile eventually became ubiquitous in software and data science.
Agile shortens a project’s development cycle and tightens feedback loops, enabling you to make projects more flexible. Highlighted below are some of its key principles:
- Seamless and frequent collaboration by team members, which optimizes decision-making.
- Easy communication between stakeholders and clients.
- Ensures that there is always a functioning end-to-end product, even when it does not include all the desired features.
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5. Conduct Code Analysis
“Static analysis” is another buzzword in the community of software engineers that you have probably heard of before. It analyzes and debugs a source code by examining it before running a program. It does this by analyzing a specific set of codes against a set or multiple coding rules. After all, delivering code faster has dubious value if its quality degrades as the development cycle shrinks.
There are a number of static analysis tools available that you can leverage to optimize the security, performance, style, and stability of your code.
6. Choose the Right Development Methodologies
A successful project calls for exceptional management. In order to manage a project efficiently, a development team must choose a software development methodology that suits it best. Today, there exists an array of methodologies, where each has its strengths and weaknesses. However, we shall cast a light on some of the most commonly used development methodologies:
- DevOps deployment methodology: It focuses on enhancing collaboration between the various segments of the development life cycle, like development, operations, and quality assurance.
- Agile development methodology: It minimizes risks, such as cost overruns, changing requirements, or bugs, when a new functionality is added.
- Rapid application development (RAD): This condensed development process offers a high-quality system at low investment costs.
- Waterfall development method: It is a rigid linear software development model that comprises sequential phrases, namely requirements, design, implementation, verification, and maintenance.
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7. Make Sure Your Code Works Efficiently
The efficient working of a code always boils down to how well it is written. Therefore, make sure that you write your code by breaking it into small enough classes and functions, which are easy to understand. Furthermore, you must write good unit tests for a code and ensure that it does what is expected of it so that its functionality is unhindered in the future. Finally, test your code rigorously. This not checks whether your code is working or not; it also teaches you to write simple, concise, and bug-resistant code in the long run.
8. Refactor Your Code
Refactoring, one of the best practices in software development, refers to improving the structure of a code without modifying its actual functionality. As discussed earlier in this article, it is immensely useful to refactor multiple blocks of code that do similar things into a single function. As a result, it simplifies your code to a considerable degree. Further, if you wish to change how a function works, you (or another software engineer) need to update just one function instead of several.
So, if you aim to create a high-quality program by harnessing the best practices in software development, you must devote your time to refactoring codes. Over time, this will amp up your development time and expedite the software engineering process.