If you’re going to build a new house, you want the satisfaction of knowing that it will be done safely and effectively. You don’t want to worry that the foundation is uneven, or the beams are in the wrong places, or the electrical isn’t installed properly. You want to enjoy every minute in your new home and rest assured that it will last a long time without needing major repairs.
In order to have that confidence in the craftsmanship, you need to hire builders that adhere to standards – tried-and-true conventions for every minute detail. You want to hire licensed builders that know how to pull the right permits, perform up to building codes, and anticipate challenges before they become issues.
Standards give us a way to know whether something is built correctly, and the same goes for software engineering.
Coding standards for software are similar to what builders use during a homebuilding project. And while the end users might not be aware of all of the details, they still need a way to know that they’re getting the quality that they expect.
According to BrowserStack, coding standards are a set of guidelines and best practices that offer a uniform format for developing sophisticated, highly functional applications. Developers consider them to be rules, techniques, and best practices to develop cleaner, more readable, and more efficient code with minimal errors.
Benefits of Standards
- Superior output Back to the house analogy: you would never start building without having the right people in place. As mentioned above, licensed builders who know to adhere to building codes will create stronger structures and maintain a safer construction environment, leading to fewer delays.
When developers use coding standards, they’re applying proven best practices to ensure that the application has been built correctly. This almost always results in superior output with fewer bugs.
- Saving time Coding standards provide additional security. The better structured the code is, the easier it is to understand and validate that it’s secure. When code is messy, it takes more time to review it and identify vulnerabilities. Even when you aren’t onboarding new team members, it can be difficult to remember the intricacies of the code when you’re looking at it weeks or months later. If it isn’t easy to pick back up, it can take time to inspect.
- Interchangeability This is one of the most important reasons to insist on coding standards. There is a high likelihood that your team will change during the course of development and maintenance. Any complex application will have many different developers working on it at various times. With proper coding standards, your dev team becomes more interchangeable, so it’s less painful to bring a new team member up to speed. That can be an important factor when people come on or off the project team.
To that end, when you bring somebody new onto a project, you want them to be able to hit the ground running. But if they don’t know what to expect because the code is difficult to understand, you can quickly lose time as they dig through the application line by line.
- Easier maintenance Coding standards can also make maintenance easier, starting with keeping your files organized. Many standards focus on readability so that you can scan it and conduct maintenance with less effort.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel It’s rare that a developer needs to create standards from scratch. Between programming languages and development communities, many standards already exist. Most programming languages come with formatting standards that can be found online. Examples include Pep 8 for Python, and the Ruby Style Guide that’s available on GitHub.
- Lean on development communities Some coding standards come from developer communities where members recommend best practices based on their collective successes and failures. This increases the probability that their standards will work. It’s also another way to make it easier to bring on a new team member. When they are familiar with a community’s guidelines and expectations, it’s much easier to plug them into your project.
- Use frameworks across languages Coding standards also include frameworks that can apply across programming languages. An example is the MVC (Model-View-Controller) pattern, which is a common way to implement user interfaces, data, and controlling logic. Frameworks typically have existing conventions and documentation, which allows you to spend less time building from scratch. New developers will likely be familiar with the code structure, which can save even more time.
- Don’t repeat yourself The principle of “Don’t repeat yourself,” or DRY, is a universal standard that refers to reducing repetition of software patterns. It aims to reduce redundancy using abstractions, data normalization, and other techniques that make it possible to modify an element in one place and have the change applied everywhere. Coding standards make it easier to fix an error in one place and have it propagated throughout the system. It’s yet another benefit of keeping code clean and easy to understand.
How to Develop Coding Standards For Your Applications
Dev teams can become masters of coding standards regardless of their size or experience level.
Following are a few recommendations:
- Ask about the code review process Code review is an essential part of a robust development process. It allows you to validate your standards. Any developer should be able to describe their code review process to any stakeholder in the organization and the subsequent value that this process brings to the project. You don’t want code review to be a process of just checking the box. Be vigilant and make sure that you’re getting the desired outcome with each part of the app.
- Look for maturity A mature developer is open to sharing their coding standards and any other methods that they have used during the development process. They are willing to impart their standards to other team members and work together to ensure consistency. Seek out and require this level of maturity on your dev team.
- Train your team to write similar code Wherever a team is in its use of coding standards, they can improve by learning to write similar code. Dedicate time to training where the whole team collaborates on writing or refactoring code. If leaders don’t take standards seriously, there’s a good chance that the rest of the team will ignore them as well. Make as many people accountable for consistency as possible.
- Make it easy for stakeholders to understand As with many other aspects of the development process, it’s up to you to communicate the value to stakeholders. Learn how to convey the utility of coding standards to leaders in marketing, R&D, or whoever commissions the project. The more that you keep them in the loop, the more they’ll trust your work.
Coding standards offer proven methods for success. They lead to more robust programming and higher quality apps. The more your team leans into using them and communicates their value, the more successful your project is likely to be.
Justin Bantuelle balances the responsibilities of both the Chief Operating Officer and the Web Technology Director after having worked with Health Connective for more than a dozen years. Justin regularly leads the cross-disciplinary teams in building out and updating applications for Fortune 500 companies.
Justin keeps his technical abilities sharp by contributing to an eclectic mix of open-source and personal projects on Github.
Jared builds innovative healthcare brands through digital strategy and engaging content that turns heads. He is a keynote speaker, prolific content creator, host of the Healthcare Rap podcast and author of Connect the Docs: Put Digital Health Into Practice.