Programmers Should Trust Their Instincts

People are either cut out to be programmers or they’re not. How to know, what to do if you’re not, and where to go from there is a huge issue and not the subject of discussion. But one of the signs of a good programmer is good programming instincts. The right instincts can save hours of work and provide creative solutions to even the most difficult problems; and “gut feelings” in programming are not something you should ignore lightly.

One of the first thing Computer Science teachers drill into the heads of their students is that it’s important to map everything out beforehand. Design the algorithm. Draw the UML diagrams. Decide the entire flow of data and the relationships between everything before you even touch the IDE. While this is integral advice for anything above a small-complexity project, there is an exception: if you have a gut feeling, follow it.

For instance, the other day I sat down to write a simulator for a MIPS datacache, with different replacement policies. “Ideally,” the planning procedure would have involved designing the sequence diagram, a flowchart detailing the method used by the cache to determine expired entries, and generally-speaking a lot of time down the hole just visualizing what happens beforehand.

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