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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Explain To a Coworker That He Writes Bad Code? 683

Posted by timothy
from the roofies-in-his-mountain-dew dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I have a coworker who, despite being very smart, and even very knowledgeable about software, writes the most horrible code imaginable. Entire programs are stuffed into single functions, artificially stretched thanks to relentless repetition; variable and class names so uninformative as to make grown men weep; basic language features ignored, when they could make everything shorter and more readable; and OOP abuse so sick and twisted that it may be considered a war crime. Of course, being a very smart person who has been programming since before I was born makes him fairly impervious to criticism, so even a simple 'Do you see how much better this function is when written this way?' is hopeless. How can I make him see the light, realize the truth, and be able to tell good code from bad?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Explain To a Coworker That He Writes Bad Code?

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  • You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crazyjj (2598719) * on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:39PM (#42466433)

    Unless he's making your own job a lot harder or you're his boss (or project manager), it's not your place. Your "help" will likely only piss him off more and more and cause problems in the office. Not only will it in *no way* benefit you, but it will very likely *hurt* you and your career--since your manager will come to view you as a source of headaches, your co-worker(s) will view you as a pretentious little prick, and (contrary to popular belief) the guy who helps produce better overall product is almost never rewarded for it anyway. About the fastest way for anyone to piss off their co-workers and bosses is to walk around with a "I'm the best coder here" attitude all day, whether it's true or not. Don't do it.

    So, STFU and let management deal with him (or not). That's what they're paid for, not you. Don't offer *any* unsolicited criticism, and even if solicited, offer only a few minor criticisms at a time.

    In short: Lighten up, Francis.

    • by broggyr (924379) <broggyr@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:41PM (#42466477)

      Lighten up, Francis.

      Nobody puts Baby in a corner....

    • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:45PM (#42466519)

      I disagree. You do this through code review by linking to your team/company coding standards (you do have those, right?).

      Also, are you sure that his code is that terrible? It's always possible you just don't understand his way of thinking. Maybe ask him why he wrote something a certain way and go from there.

      • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:09PM (#42467025)

        If other programmers can not understand it, then it's bad. Even very intelligently designed code can be awful if no one else can understand it. If you're working in a team then you absolutely must make sure your code is not a burden to your coworkers. Sometimes it's just a matter of putting in comments to explain what you're doing.

        • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:24PM (#42467301) Journal

          Sometimes, subtlety is overrated.

          "John, that piece of code smells worse than your uncle's codpiece (which I wish you would stop wearing to work), and in reviewing it I can deduce that your parents were never formally introduced."

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Garridan (597129) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:26PM (#42467333)

          If other programmers can not understand it, then it's bad.

          I can't understand most of the kernel source. My C skills are rusty, and I know nothing of kernel design. That means it's my fault, not the kernel hackers'. Is it possible that the submitter isn't seeing the whole picture, and failing to take his own ignorance into account?

          • by Canazza (1428553)

            The way the OP is going on about it, I imagine him writing C# code in the style of Javascript...

          • by Tmann72 (2473512)
            The very fact that this question was formed from the position of a co-worked makes it a safe assumption that they are using the same language and skills for the job. When you are on a team like this situations like you suggested don't happen often.
          • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

            by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:29PM (#42468207) Journal
            Ever been in the situation where a co-worker asks you what a bit of code does, you skim it for a few minutes and brush him off with "not sure", then he replies; "but you wrote it"? If you write enough code (especially maintenance code), it will happen to you eventually.

            So IMHO not really your "fault" that you can't pick up the kernel design in an afternoon by skimming the code, it's the coder's job to clearly explain the implementation, not the design.To paraphrase an old friend of mine, "Source code is like shit, you can't smell your own". Even if the code was written by Shakespeare, browsing code is still the hard way to pick up the design of a non-trivial application, but if your not surrounded by co-workers who wrote it then it's often the only way available.

            Trivia: I used to teach C to second year engineering and CS students in the early 90's. The engineers were the worst for writing the entire thing in main() because they already had leaned bad habits from elsewhere. Each year most of them would fail the first assignment and then complain about the harshness of the assessment, one they knew I was serious about my style sheet most of them would do much better on the second and subsequent assignments. I wonder how many of them now understand why their code's comments and style were worth a full 50% of their mark.
            • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

              by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:24PM (#42470147) Journal

              Great story. I've never had trouble understanding code I wrote. That's probably because I have one of the world's worst memories, so I always write code with lots of clues to help me decipher what's going on. Also, I got lucky when a programmer from industry taught a structured programming course. He was all about coding best practices. I learned the KISS rule from him, and have avoided clever obtuse code, when a straight forward solution will do. The analog designers I work with might disagree... I'm forcing us to use Python and classes, and you'd think I was murdering kittens from all the complaining. The reaction when I made us all use git... *shudder*

              As for the poster's question, feel free to make some noise about his code, and see if it has any impact. Older coders like me rarely change much, but you might get him to adhere to a few team-wide coding guidelines, at least if he's not an analog designer. In a perfect world, you could help him find a better job, one where his coding issues would not be such a liability, and where whatever his real strengths are can come into play.

              The best programmer, by far, I ever worked with is Ken McElvain, founder of Synplicity. If you need a problem solved quickly, and better than what all your competitors can do, he's your man. However, his code when I joined the company had some of the issues the poster mentioned, and that made me laugh. He's a very fast typist, but his typing speed is his limiting factor in coding, so he used 1 and 2 letter variables mostly. Writing code inline is faster to type than factoring out a bunch of small functions. Comments just slow him down. The first day working for him, I opened one of his most ingenious pieces of code (responsible for better 2-level logic optimization than what Synopsis had at the time), and tried to understand the 2,000 line file, which is tiny given the job it does. It's core is a brilliant 1,000 line function, and it took me all day to figure it out. I thought there had to be documentation somewhere, so I grep-ed the whole code base, all 350,000 lines of it, for comments. There was one. It said, "This is a hack." Many programmers, including me, will hold that his code is difficult to understand against him in the "best programmer" contest. He wins anyway. He knew that the most important reader of his code was himself, and that being as productive as possible early on was key for Synplicity's success. We were profitable, and had over 20 employees when I joined, yet I was the first programmer he hired. As the coding team grew, he started adding comments and using descriptive names. I heard a lot of complaints about working with some of his code, but he owned nearly 50% of Synplicity at the IPO, and everyone involved made money. Go ask his investors what they think of his coding ability. Anyway, if this co-worker is so smart and experienced, I'm not convinced hes a "bad" programmer. Maybe he just needs a job where he's the right guy.

              • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @11:18PM (#42471163)

                If you need a problem solved quickly, and better than what all your competitors can do, he's your man.

                You have provided one criteria (quickly) but you still haven't defined what "better" is.

                Here's an analogy. If you need to perform an amputation, or other rapid operation to keep someone alive (like on a battlefield), is the doctor who can perform that amputation the fastest "the best"? What about if their operation to keep the person alive causes problems with follow-on surgeries or other body functionality? Are they still "the best"?

                What drives me insane is that people forget that the vast majority of source code ends up being a living thing. Features are added (or removed), bugs are fixed and it is used in ways not envisioned in the original development. That means someone has to go in and make changes. If it isn't easily understood then (a) it takes longer to make those changes, (b) it is more likely new bugs are introduced and (c) it may be used in a manner that is unexpected (large-scale instead of small scale, and the code is inefficient). What this means in the long run is your code is more expensive to modify and maintain, and it probably won't be as good. How is that a win for the customers, the company, the new developer who has to make changes and our profession in general?

                We need to stop glorifying the "gods" of programming, but the average guy who just gets shit done on a regular basis. More analogies: A fighter pilot gets the glory, but the poor guy changing the fluids is just as important - and works on a dozen planes. Same with a quarterback - if an offensive lineman doesn't keep up their end of the work, the entire offense will crumble. It's supposed to be about being a team, and accepting that you have to provide support for the average guy - it is extremely unlikely you will always have a team that is 100% superstar material, so don't act like you do.

              • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

                by rtb61 (674572) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @11:25PM (#42471219) Homepage

                Sounds like the problem can more readily be resolved by two levels of coders. The creators who produce the original lot and make sure it runs and then editors who tidy and pretty it all up and make in more informative. In fact lots of people who are not very successful at creating new code, can be quite good editors. Cleaning up code, resolving the last few bugs, better variable and class names, more comments, breaking up functions etc. They do it for writers in order to speed publication. The same might be considered suitable for coding and with ready access to the original coder to provide explanation over any more convoluted high quality easy to maintain code could be more readily and quickly produced.

                • Re:You don't (Score:4, Insightful)

                  by Immerman (2627577) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:17AM (#42471611)

                  Code editors... what a fine idea. Most people seem to agree that "code gods" are both a blessing and a curse to the industry. Couple them with an acolyte or two to do the tedious job of making the code maintainable and the gods could shine again. An excellent way as well to make low- or mid-level coders far more valuable. Once you learn to understand and document brilliant code you'll be in a far better place to write good code yourself. I shudder to think of all the "programmers" I've met who couldn't trace their way out of a paper bag.

              • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

                by starfishsystems (834319) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @11:33PM (#42471285) Homepage
                Late in my career, I find myself surrounded by genius developers. That's rare. Mostly the better developers I have met are fast and smart, but somewhat conceited and not particularly careful. I run across someone with real talent maybe once every five years, if I'm lucky. And by talent I mean that they write consistently beautiful, correct, modular, extensible, exemplary code. Okay, maybe once every ten years would be more accurate.

                The people I'm working with now, well, I'm still making up my mind. They really are geniuses, by which I mean that they're exceedingly smart, blindingly fast, and exceptionally careful in their work. It's hard to fault them, though it's not easy to understand them. And, apart from feeling totally outclassed, mostly I'm in heaven.

                There's just one missing piece, and you touch on it in your comment. The best possible code is the most maintainable code. If it takes a genius to maintain it, then you need a reliable supply of geniuses. These, by definition, are in short supply. If the code is unpleasant as well as difficult to maintain, you will have difficulty motivating and retaining those geniuses. All of this serves only to magnify business risk. You would be far better off with genius code that anyone could maintain. But that takes real talent.
      • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Altus (1034) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:30PM (#42467393) Homepage

        I'm going to assume that the poster is not an idiot and that this guy really is writing horrible code as described.

        What I am mostly hearing here is that the company lacks things like basic code reviews or any kind standards. I cannot imagine how this guys boss is ok with checkins like what the poster is describing. This sort of thing would be caught at any half way decent company.

        Sure, this guy sounds bad but it has to be symptomatic of the company having serious issues. Its probably time to find a better job while you still have this one and perhaps at the exit interview you can clue some people into some of these problems.

        Or just suck it up and deal, but this likely wont be the last problem.

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

          by dubbreak (623656) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:14PM (#42468001)

          What I am mostly hearing here is that the company lacks things like basic code reviews or any kind standards. I cannot imagine how this guys boss is ok with checkins like what the poster is describing. This sort of thing would be caught at any half way decent company.

          Not necessarily. I worked with someone that directly fit this description. I've never seen OOP abused so badly in my life (inheritance and polymorphism that was either the product of a genius obfuscating their code.. or an idiot that knows of such ideas, insists on using them, but has no clue as to the right time and place to use them). He was able to sneak by most code reviews because he was often working solo on products that were borderline legacy. With few bugs apparent at the user level his slow progress was put up with for the mostly "reliable" code. Then once some other people got pulled (such as myself) he got put under a microscope by his manager. This actually resulted in yelling matches. The code was truly horrible. At one point he had read that a function/method shouldn't have more than a few lines code. I found a method 9 calls deep, each method adding another argument that resulted in a call to a native API that could have been done at the top level (well excepting side effects along the way that did god knows what). We also coined the term "lilypadding" for some of his solutions. It was obvious he's jump directly into a problem without any real vision of the end goal or result. He'd eventually get to the end, but only after making many many jumps, often in the wrong direction (open file, read all of file, find line you need, read part of the file based on that line again despite having just read the entire file, do select * on a table in a loop while filtering in code, etc). It almost seemed he came upon a working solution by happenstance. I think part of it was the false ideal: if you aren't coding you aren't working. A 5 day solution for him would be 2 days planning and 1 coding for anyone else.

          In the end his code was not maintainable or extensible. He refused to listen to the suggestions of his manager and change his code, insisting it was golden and the correct way to program (despite being provided plenty of evidence to the contrary). The guy would even get pompous when you request he fix his own check-ins (he would often leave his hacked up "testing" library in references, though his special proprietary library was not in the codebase, resulting in a project that would not build).

          How'd management fix the issue in the end? They got rid of him. He got decent severance, and help seeking a new position. Part of me feels for the guy (and his family that relied on his wage), but part of me also wonders who's problem he is now.

          How was it solved? They got rid of him.

          Could he have been trained to be better? Maybe, but he didn't act willing to change and wasn't a good fit to the team or company attitude-wise. He'd do things like hang up on a customer because "it was his lunch time" even after being reprimanded for doing that previously. He claimed in "his culture" that's how they do things. When a bug is escalated directly to the responsible programmer from a customer, you put your lunch off for 15 minutes, you don't say, "Oh it's lunch.. bye." And we're not talking a slave driving culture, he was free to take his lunch whenever and any overtime would be balanced by time off. It was simply a matter of treating the customer well in a sensitive situation which he couldn't wrap his thick skull around.

          If a company isn't willing to take care of time wasting employees, that don't fit the company culture.. I'd leave. It's not your problem to take care. It's your job to make sure the issues are clear to management, and it's fair for them to request you help guide him/her to being more productive in the company, but it's not your job nor place to try to fix it.

          • by dubbreak (623656) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @07:38PM (#42469051)
            On a side note, I really wanted to vent about that guy because I had a nightmare about him last night (which I confided to someone who used to work with him as well). We had a good laugh about it.

            In the dream I was sitting at a table with some other devs making a sarcastic rant about some anti-pattern, "Here's a really good system design.. < insert some silly anti-pattern or short sighted design >"

            The guy across from me proudly states, "I just designed a system like that an am using it now!" Then goes into detail about his entirely stupid short-sighted design**.

            I look across the table and just then notice it's HIM. The lilypadding complicator I thought I had left behind.. "Noooooooooooo!"

            **Being a dream it didn't really make sense, but I remember something about a POS system for a bowling alley.
      • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bengie (1121981) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:46PM (#42467637)
        Require proper Unit Tests. That will force someone to reduce the amount of code-paths in a method.
      • Also, are you sure that his code is that terrible? It's always possible you just don't understand his way of thinking. Maybe ask him why he wrote something a certain way and go from there.

        First off, the poster is wrong, his coworker doesn't write the most horrible code ever. Because I work with the guy who does that. He is the worst fucking coder I have ever seen. He learned hobby level coding skills sometime around 1992 in visual basic, and he is still coding the same way. The sad thing is, his boss knows he sucks and won't fire him, so every year the code base gets more and more fucked up.

        I have worked with a lot of coders over the years, and there is such thing as stylistic choices w

    • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by coma_bug (830669) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:46PM (#42466549)

      "I'm the best coder here"

      no, but "you're the best coder here but it would help if you wrote code the rest of us can understand" might work.

      • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by idontgno (624372) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:02PM (#42466901) Journal

        Or not. More than once, the reponse I've seen was the icy equivalent of "Your understanding is not my problem."

        Seriously. If there's no violation of actual standards, browbeating someone about coding style is both futile and counterproductive. Even if it's horrible coding style. Without the firm ground of enforceable standards, it's just an unwinnable piss-fest.

        As glurgy and trite as it comes across, sometimes the Serenity Prayer [wikipedia.org] is the best answer. Especially the part about wisdom.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Or not. More than once, the reponse I've seen was the icy equivalent of "Your understanding is not my problem."

          Which makes him 'not the best coder here' by all intelligent meanings.

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:15PM (#42467123)

          The solution is to make the person do all maintenance on the code. Give them a feature that's big with too short a deadline (and no one volunteering to help), force them to get all the boring bugs fixed before the new sexy feature, etc. Sometimes I see such programmers essentially get pushed out of one group and into some minor side group where they work by themselves.

          Yes it's true that sometimes it's just not your problem. But it does become everyone's problem if you have to work with that person's code and it is slowing down the entire team.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Or not. More than once, the reponse I've seen was the icy equivalent of "Your understanding is not my problem."

          Under most management, it's worst than that. "Your misunderstanding is my asset." When you have a large chunk of code that only you understand, you become the genius/hero/cowboy to most managers.

          Where the management class can't code, and the inability to code is increasingly a prerequisite to a management position, writing code that is maintainable by others is a career liability.

      • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:13PM (#42467085)

        if his attitude is like some of my coworkers, he's no doubt asking his management why the junior engineers aren't rewriting his code to make it efficient while he tackles the big problems more suitable to his seniority.

    • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AwesomeMcgee (2437070) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:46PM (#42466555)
      I basically agree here though I still fail to keep my mouth shut. One trick I've learned to not make this problematic is A) hold myself to the same standard; which means publically defame my own work so nobody thinks I'm giving them guff because I know better, and B) hold *all* people equally to that standard, and when they meet it give high praise, do whats in your power to help them (I have actively requested the people be brought into projects they wanted to be on, or generally backed them with my reputation wherever possible when they meet those standards). Result: People know I'm opinionated and in a couple offices this was problematic no lie, in others this was beneficial because managers and other engineers would actively seek me out for my opinions and advice on technical issues, plus engineers liked working with me because they knew if they put the effort in and did well people would hear about it. Basically I'm a loud mouth and that can be good and bad, but if you don't have your mouth indeterminably and unfilteredly attached to your brain, go with what the poster above me suggests. Some of us just aren't so capable.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's a really cynical view. You must work at a really crummy place if that's how concern for long-term code quality is treated.

      Where I work, this kind of behavior (helping others with their code quality, even those more senior than you) would be more likely to get you recognized/promoted.

      • by jeffmeden (135043)

        That's a really cynical view. You must work at a really crummy place if that's how concern for long-term code quality is treated.

        Where I work, this kind of behavior (helping others with their code quality, even those more senior than you) would be more likely to get you recognized/promoted.

        Says the man so proud of his employer that he is posting anon...

    • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lorenlal (164133) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:50PM (#42466655)

      I completely agree with this. Hyperbole aside, if the coding practices in your organization allow for this, you should discuss them (and not the practices of others) with your management. If the coding practices discourage (or even forbid) this behavior, and your coworker continues to violate them... That's not your problem.

      Iff his code does affect what you are working on in a negative way AND it violates coding practices that your organization is enforcing, you could bring it up to immediate superiors.

    • Re:You don't (Score:4, Informative)

      by Lisias (447563) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:50PM (#42466659) Homepage Journal

      Parent is pretty right. Been there, done that.

      I *WAS* my job to try to introduce better practices, but since I was given no authority (i.e.: I can not fire anyone), I just got burnt.

      People that was willing to learn better ways didn't need my criticizing, they just looked at my code and adopted the ideas they liked. Eventually almost all of that ideas come to production (and the few that didn't, oh hell, it appears that being a freaking paranoid doesn't necessary makes your code always better, uh? =P)

      People that was not willing to learn nothing new just ignored me and, even worst, started to undermine me on the company. Things escalate to a level that I decided that the money wasn't paying the headache.

      So, *DON'T DO IT* unless you have the power to lay off bad coders.

    • Re:You don't (Score:5, Informative)

      by icebike (68054) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:51PM (#42466689)

      I disagree.

      Give the guy a book on the subject, explain in detail the difficulty in maintaining or interacting with his code.
      Do it in a helpful and non confrontational way in a private setting.

      I'm sure he can be convinced that making everyone else's job harder isn't beneficial to the company.

      Maybe something like
      Hey Bob, I wonder if we could break this monolithic program into four parts for easier maintenance....
      Can we break this function out to a stand alone routine, because I call this function it loads in this ton of code that I don't need, and puts the database at risk...
      Bob, I can't follow this code, what would you say to this re-write I sketched out...

      Old dogs can be taught new tricks, but don't dismiss the possibility that the young pup doesn't quite know everything he thinks he does.

      I've often seen kid programmers using some high level function without a clue about the mountain of code it drags into the
      application, or use a language "feature" that generates a ton of code that is slow and imprecise, when discrete operations would
      be much faster in execution and more accurate even at the expense of more source lines.

      People working on the same project have to act as a team. Approached properly, the old geezer might actually appreciate it.

      • Re:You don't (Score:4, Insightful)

        by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:00PM (#42466877) Journal

        Did you miss the part where the submitter said his coworker has been programming longer than he's been alive? If some little snot-nosed brat gave me a book on how to be a better programmer, I'd toss it in the trash and use my years at the company to make his life very unpleasant until he finally quit.

        crazyjj hit the nail on the head: STFU and GBTW.

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

          by BitZtream (692029) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:10PM (#42467045)

          And that shows that you're a shitty programmer.

          If you're gut reaction to criticism, constructive or otherwise, is to behave like a 12 year old, you are a shitty programmer.

          I can say this because my biggest flaw as a developer is responding poorly to critical input from others. I've at least over the years got to the point where my initial reaction may be shitty but I do sit back later and analyze the input to look for truth in it that I may not realize.

          I've learned more from CS graduates who have been out of school for less than a year than old foggies like myself. Not because they are über programmers, but because they had a perspective that I could not consider myself, even if their perspective was one of ignorance it almost always helps me be a better developer when I learn how to adapt to their complaints.

          This is a process that never ends imho. Writing code to get from point A to point B is brain dead simple. The path you take to get there is what matters.

          • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

            by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:27PM (#42467343) Homepage Journal

            And that shows that you're a shitty programmer.

            If you're gut reaction to criticism, constructive or otherwise, is to behave like a 12 year old, you are a shitty programmer.

            While that's likely true, it does not change the fact that the shitty programmer in this situation is in a position to make the other guy's life a living hell, were he so inclined.

            Sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches while searching for an exit.

          • And that shows that you're a shitty programmer.

            If you're gut reaction to criticism, constructive or otherwise, is to behave like a 12 year old, you are a shitty programmer.

            I totally agree. But we already know the guy in question is a shitty programmer. So then it would be PRETTY DAMN STUPID to give a book to someone to prove what we already know, an alienate a powerful person in the company to boot.

            If someone is not reading books already on how to be a better coder there is nothing you can give them that

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:22PM (#42467265) Homepage

          Bingo.

          I will not code to Boutique standard #47 that snot nosed brat thinks is great. Follow the standard that we have set here in the office. If I'm senior coder, than that means I set the standard.

          I'll use a goto once in a while just to make a newbie convulse on the floor.

          • Re:You don't (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Bogtha (906264) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:40PM (#42468361)

            If I'm senior coder, than that means I set the standard.

            Older doesn't necessarily mean more senior developer. I've had to fire somebody who has been programming a couple of decades longer than I have because they weren't up to scratch. I was the one writing the standard too. Call me a snot-nosed brat if you like, but that doesn't change the fact he couldn't get the job done.

            There are developers who have 20 years experience, and there are developers that have 1 year of experience that they've repeated 20 times. The two are not equivalent, and just because they've been doing it a long time, it doesn't necessarily mean they are any good at it.

          • by dcollins (135727) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @06:41PM (#42468365) Homepage

            "If I'm senior coder, than that means I set the standard."

            Your standard for if/then statements must be delightful.

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Darinbob (1142669) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:23PM (#42467275)

          It also depends upon if the code is very bad, or just slightly bad. I do see some younger programmers who have a high standard of idealism that collides badly with the real world. A lot of times people work under tight deadlines and they have to cut corners or churn stuff out faster than is good. Sometimes some code does not need to be high quality as well.

          It would be highly annoying to have someone fresh out of school blathering on about agile or naming conventions while everyone else is under a high amount of stress. On the other hand, sometimes some veteran programmers really abysmal at what they do, probably having spent most of their career programming alone and then ending up in a very different environment.

          In one of my first jobs I was fixing up all sorts of bugs from a programmer who had left. I pointed to some really awful code to someone else who had been there for ages who told me "Dave really loved Pascal. It's a shame that he didn't actually know Pascal."

          • Re:You don't (Score:4, Interesting)

            by bbulkow (954499) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:16PM (#42470069) Homepage
            Let me tell you a story. On the founding week of a company, where 80 programmers were hired (some of the best I've ever met, it was a strange situation), I was told to write a filesystem in 3 days. In order to succeed at this, I didn't do full POSIX, figured out why we were doing a filesystem, what the special twists were, and built the thing. The code had to be extremely reliable (multimonth uptime delivered in days of coding, so the code has to be "provable" and "inspectable". I did this thing. Three times in the next 4 years different people walked into my office and said, effectively, "I found this POS in the bottom layer of our product and it's creating all these problems". I said "is the interface and layering right?" "Yes", they always said. I would say "I wrote it in three days and it's exactly hit the design goal I was aiming for. The code's never crashed, never lost data, has a great interface, and it's slow as dead dog meat. If the requirements have changed, rewrite the code. Spend a whole week on it this time. But don't say I wrote POS code - it was code exactly to spec." Every time, the person wandered out of my office, and the project manager said "we've put off changing that module", and no one ever touched the code. Apparently it was a POS, and it was a simple well defined module, but when push came to shove they wouldn't do anything better. I have other stories like this, an expert programmer will often do something a beginner won't - like cut a corner and write known-ugly code to win business, ship a product, keep a company alive, and are more than capable of writing beautiful code, too.
        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Informative)

          by Beetjebrak (545819) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:27PM (#42467345) Homepage
          I used to be 29 when working with a colleague who was 64 at the time. He learned programming in ALGOL on Burroughs mainframes. Very tight, very sparse, very unreadable when he did Perl. Perl in fact lets you do this, as does C, but it's not needed anymore. It was downright impossible to get him to rename functions and variables to something descriptive or to use comments. That stuff used to cost back when the bits of RAM were visible with the naked eye. Today the balance tips another way. Doesn't mean the old dogs see any merit in that though and they will wield their seniority when pushed too hard. Personally I can really enjoy tweaking 6502 or 68K assembly by hand, but that's a hobby. At work I deal with business applications that, when slow, usually are just fed more iron because it's cheaper. The inner geek cringes at the thought, but it's the reality of business.
    • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by White Flame (1074973) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:04PM (#42466929)

      The conclusion is to bring it up with your boss (or the team lead) and let them deal with it, deferring to their authority. Show how it's affecting productivity.

      Shutting up is a dumb option. Odds are, those with authority over the problem worker are unaware of the issue. If they are aware of it, then by talking to them at least everybody knows where everybody else stands, which defuses a lot of tensions.

      • Re:You don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:21PM (#42467247)

        The conclusion is to bring it up with your boss (or the team lead) and let them deal with it, deferring to their authority. Show how it's affecting productivity.

        Shutting up is a dumb option. Odds are, those with authority over the problem worker are unaware of the issue. If they are aware of it, then by talking to them at least everybody knows where everybody else stands, which defuses a lot of tensions.

        When you find a big kettle of shit, it's best not to stir it. If management wants your opinion of your coworkers, they'll ask for it. Otherwise you're the smart-ass who's always making someone's life difficult by bringing up problems that now they've got to deal with.

        I'm cynical, of course, but consider this: If management doesn't know who's doing a good job and who's dragging down the team, the problem isn't with unmaintainable-code-guy, the problem is management. Lay low till "unmaintainable" quits or is fired, or a new boss comes in and does "360-degree" reviews or some other comprehensive performance evaluations, or you get transferred, promoted or demoted, or you find a better job and quit, or retire, or die.

        • Re:You don't (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Mephistophocles (930357) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:31PM (#42467411) Homepage

          If management wants your opinion of your coworkers, they'll ask for it.

          Not necessarily; having managed a few dev teams I actually appreciated it when someone would come to me with issues like this (privately, non-confrontationally, without a lot of arrogance, etc - any of those things would probably just make me ignore you). Management isn't telepathic; they can't see every single problem like magic.

          That said, if your manager a) doesn't have at least enough understanding of coding best practice to know why the stuff you're bringing him is bad, b) is an arrogant asshole himself, or c) is one of those types that believes the ladder to success is built from the heads of underlings, then yeah - STFU. And start job-hunting.

    • by funwithBSD (245349) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:17PM (#42467163)

      Help him get promoted to "Software Architect" and get him out of the coding business.

    • Re:You don't (Score:4, Insightful)

      by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:24PM (#42467303)

      I partially disagree. Part of the problem of why we have so much shitty software is the "It compiles! Ship it!" mentality where no-one gives a damn about writing good, small, beautiful code - which is what happens when you let Finance run the ship. (Conversely letting the Engineers run the company and you will never ship!) This problem is alluding to the holy trinity: Engineering, Finance, Marketing.

      Now getting this back on topic: The smart programmer knows when and were to pick his battles. i.e. You could win the battle but still lose the war (i.e. job)

      There are a few options the OP has:

      * Ignore it
      * Embrace it
      * Involve management. i.e. "The rest of the team is having a hard time interfacing with Bill's code due to it not being compliant with our coding standards"
      * Be very, very, respectful when commenting on criticism so as not to offend / sound like going on a witch hunt. i.e. "Could you help me understand why you wrote your code this way? What advantages/disadvantages does your way have?"

  • short answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alphatel (1450715) * on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:40PM (#42466451)
    Fire him
    • Re:short answer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meta-monkey (321000) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:24PM (#42467299) Journal

      Pretty much. I had a similar situation with a business partner who had done well for himself (off and on) in business for 20 years, but when we started trying to work together I realized he had no concept of basic managerial accounting. The idea that you need to record your expenses, and use a simple spreadsheet that uses your costs in order to price services, and that when someone will not pay more than it costs to do a job, you don't do the job.

      And he would say things that sounded right-ish, like his wife would "do the books in QuickBooks" but it turns out all she was doing was reconciling the checkbook, and not entering any of the credit card expenses. And when after four months I said, "hey look this isn't making any money" he'd say I needed to "learn to read a P&L sheet!" because the P&L said we were making money. But you can't read a P&L that doesn't have the Ls on it. If you didn't have to record the expenses, and could just record the profits, we wouldn't call it a "P&L," we'd just call it a "P." Or that he "ran the numbers," but to me that means "used a spreadsheet to calculate prices based on costs," but to him it meant "thought about some numbers and wrote one down."

      You would think this would be obvious to anyone, even with no business experience. But trying to explain that what he was doing doesn't work was like talking to an angry brick wall, because he'd been doing this for 20 years, and had basically lucked into some success. Thankfully I was able to extricate myself without losing anything, but it was still just incredible that someone could be that wrong, and that belligerently wrong.

      He's about broke now. Says it's the economy. Gotta be, right? Things are tough all over.

      So, OP, there is that saying about old dogs learning tricks. Expect a world of defensive stupidity, and your best bet is to stay out of the way.

    • by westlake (615356) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:25PM (#42467313)

      Fire him.

      Did you miss the descriptive word "coworker" in the parent post ---

      or the even more telling phrase "a very smart person who has been programming since before I was born?

      This is the new kid on the block.

      He is not the boss.

  • Ok ok (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:44PM (#42466505)

    I GET IT!!! My code sucks. You have made this clear. You don't have to start posting on forums you know I read. Sheesh....

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex AT ... trograde DOT com> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:44PM (#42466507)

    There's a reason why he's a seasoned programmer and still has a job. Think about it. Who else can maintain that cluster fsck? No one, that's who.

    If Bad Code did not exist it would be necessary for Good Coders to create it.
    TL;DR: job security

    • by Sheetrock (152993) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:55PM (#42466763) Homepage Journal
      For example, nothing was said about GOTOs being liberally sprinkled throughout the code. If he's working in a non-optimal language that doesn't support GOTO, he should try hacking in the functionality with preprocessor defines. Maybe even hack in a preprocessor if the language designer forgot one, or add another preprocessor if not. With a few stacked preprocessors one can even write his own (better) computer language, and what seasoned programmer doesn't aspire to have one or two of those under his belt?
  • by Tei (520358) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:44PM (#42466517) Journal

    Since programmers must maintain code, read it, understand it, and write more than work with the existing code, the top priority of code is to be well written, and easy to understand for humans. You maybe can help him take ideas how to make his code better for other programmers.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:59PM (#42466849) Homepage

      Since programmers must maintain code, read it, understand it, and write more than work with the existing code, the top priority of code is to be well written, and easy to understand for humans.

      That's nice in theory, but in practice, the "top priority" of code is to meet the deadline and get shipped. Everything after that is secondary.

      I've worked in a few places which had some star coder who cranked out endless volumes of shitty, un-maintainable code. And as long as they kept churning out new features and the like, it was fine.

      But god forbid that code should need to be maintained or updated -- the original author has moved onto other shiny things, can't remember whatever bit of genius led to the creation, and is often no help in debugging.

      This is the kind of thing which is a long-term liability, but overlooked by people with short-term focus.

      You can't fix him or his code. You can either cover your ass, or move on somewhere else. And somewhere else is just as likely to have someone of the same ilk.

      If management can't/won't rein him in, he'll keep doing it. If he's really been coding longer than you've been alive, you stand no chance -- because either his code is brilliant and you just don't get it, or it's really crap but nobody cares because he can ship a new version on time.

      It goes the other way too, I've known coders who were so focused on building something elegant, theoretically good, and built on the latest best practices their code was unusable. Those guys will never actually deliver anything which works, but they'll be able to give you a lengthy discourse on why this code convention is vastly superior to the one you've been using for the last 10 years. And, sometimes, those guys are also horrible at maintaining their code since they can't figure out how it does something any more.

      And, since as a group developers tend to be high-strung, self-centered individuals who think they know everything (no slight intended, I used to be the same way) -- there's a reason why it's been compared to herding cats. It takes work to steer coders around, and it sounds like nobody is taking ownership of that where you work.

      • by Mephistophocles (930357) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:59PM (#42467791) Homepage

        That's nice in theory, but in practice, the "top priority" of code is to meet the deadline and get shipped. Everything after that is secondary.

        This. This is exactly why 99% of code written under corporate auspices sucks major ass. Try getting a Director/VP/C-suite to understand why unmaintainable, shitty code sucks and hurts the business. Believe me, I've tried. Maybe 1 in 100 understands. The rest have the same response: "we met the ship date, it works. So what? And by the way, since you can't understand that, you're not an asset to the business. So don't bring me this crap again."

        I don't know the answer to that particular debacle, myself - such that I usually just shut up about it and tell the devs working for me that, "yes, you can write shitty code. It will get you a pat on the back from management and a slap in the face by the guys you have to work with every day. Your choice."

  • Not easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:45PM (#42466531)
    People are very proud of their work, and do not take criticism well. One way is to ask for his advice on your work. In reviewing it, he may pick up some of your ideas and implement them. Be tactful.
    • People are very proud of their work, and do not take criticism well.

      Ammendment: insecure people do not take criticism well. I find the best play in this situation is to appeal to their ego and do a little misdirection like, "Man your code is really good, but I'm finding it a bit hard to follow, like in this example..." The trick is to insinuate that the flaw is with you, and he would be your hero if he could write functional code AND make it easier for the peons to work with. Everyone likes feeling the hero, even if they're really the ass...

    • Re:Not easy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by avandesande (143899) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:16PM (#42467133) Journal
      You won't be teaching the guy anything. If he has been coding more than a couple years and isn't sick of making the same mistakes over and over there is no hope for this person.
    • by tool462 (677306)

      In general I've found asking "why" to be an effective way of pointing out flaws in others' work.

      Bad idea: "Hey, dingleberry, stop using global loop variables in all your functions! F#$&!"
      Good idea: "Hey, friend/coworker/secret lover, I've run into a weird bug and wondered if you could explain to me how this works..."

      First, it immediately defuses the accusatory tone that puts people on the defensive. Anybody who gets their dander up will no longer listen to reason.
      Second, while this example was a pretty

    • by luder (923306) *

      One way is to ask for his advice on your work. In reviewing it, he may pick up some of your ideas and implement them.

      Or maybe he will say something like this:

      "Why do you create so many objects and methods! Object instantiation and method calls are costly. It's not easy to allocate memory for new objects and the more you do it the more memory fragmentation becomes an issue. Method calls can disrupt the processor pipeline and prevent the best use of the cache. All this can really slow down our application and increase its memory footprint. Please don't do that, instead put everything in a single static method, which will only be called once and suffer no performance penalties. Hey, since I'm ahead of schedule, I'll be glad to give you a hand on improving your code. All of that overhead will be history in no time :wink:."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:45PM (#42466535)

    Leave him an anonymous poem:

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue;
    The C obfuscation contest produces bad code,
    And so do you.

  • code reviews (Score:5, Informative)

    by k0ldsh4d0wz (1608239) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:47PM (#42466585)
    conduct code reviews here is a good tool http://www.atlassian.com/software/crucible/overview [atlassian.com] , although it is not necessary to use a tool.
  • Automate! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:47PM (#42466595) Journal

    Require that code be run through code analysis and compliance tools that look for the basic things, like function naming, function decomposition, pointer use and other pitfalls.

    Then when code reviews come around, you have data instead of arguments and suggestion. "You've got 500 warnings from the code compliance tool. Clean them up before bringing the code to code review."

  • Code reviews (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Java Pimp (98454) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <pmip_avaj>> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:48PM (#42466603) Homepage

    That's what code reviews are for. They aren't to berate someone for writing bad code but identifying as a team areas for improvement (of the code, not the developer).

    If you notice a lot of repetition, suggest refactoring common code into a function. Suggest renaming poorly named constructs. Code reviews should be a team effort with backing and consensus of the team with a focus on code quality and not any one developer's ability (or lack thereof).

  • by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte@drunksnipe r s .com> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:48PM (#42466607) Homepage

    Run his code through a static analysis tool with default, or best practice, settings, and then have him explain why the detected problems are false positives.
    The best way for people to learn that their code sucks is to have a 3rd, impartial, party tell them. Static code analysis tools are the best, because they have no ears.
    Telling them directly their code sucks is the worst way.

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:49PM (#42466623)
    A good manager should provide and solicit feedback.

    For example, you tell him his code code not functional or elegant, and then, you ask him what he thinks about that.

    And then you write the goddamn login page yourself.

  • by Karganeth (1017580) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:49PM (#42466625)
    Instead of criticizing him, say "I'm really struggling to read your code, could you do x y z to make it easier for me to understand? Thanks".
    • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:07PM (#42466985)
      This is exactly how to approach people who think much of themselves and are causing problems thereby. I would add, if you've not yet built the rapport with him necessary to ask him actually to make changes, one step can come before this: ask him for advice on a project. When people give advice, they feel important and good about themselves (see, e.g. everyone who's posting comments here). Sometimes they can associate that good feeling with the one to whom they gave advice. This might open them up for suggestions later on. The important thing is to be patient and play the long game if you want to win.
  • RTFM (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HideyoshiJP (1392619) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:49PM (#42466629)
    You'll find way to the explain it to him right next to the section with answers to questions from the wife, such as "does this make me look fat?"
  • by alx (7083) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:49PM (#42466635)

    Make code reviews mandatory for everyone. If he can't deal with that, he knows where the door is. On my team we use git, and contributors are not allowed to push their own code to the main branch. They must submit a pull request which gets reviewed and pulled by another member of the team.

  • by JeanCroix (99825) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:52PM (#42466711) Journal
    Why don't you convince him to start using deodorant, shave his neckbeard, and start dating a supermodel?
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:53PM (#42466733)

    To worker: "You write bad code."

    See, by choosing the right language for the problem, the solution was very simple. And I did it with just four keywords plus one terminator!

  • DailyWTF (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:55PM (#42466761)

    Post his code to the DailyWTF then send him the URL

  • Old code (Score:5, Insightful)

    by holophrastic (221104) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:55PM (#42466765)

    You double-down. You take two-year old code that he's writted, and you ask him to walk you through it today. If he can, at reasonable speed with reasonable prep, you lose and you'd better start learning to read his code which conclusively isn't bad it's just different.

  • by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:59PM (#42466839) Homepage
    Seriously that is how I started writing good code. If it was code he hasn't looked at in years it works best as then he has to suffer through his own problems and wondering what the hell is going oin. I learned this very early on when I was still in school and was trying to create my own game on the side that I would work on periodically. After dealing with some of my own early garbage code (piss poor names, no documentation, shit structure) I learned real quick to make my own life easier and write better code. I know I write better code now than I did then and am always trying to be better.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:59PM (#42466845) Journal

    With his lack of skills, he'll either be out the door or in management before too long.

  • by rastos1 (601318) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:00PM (#42466875) Homepage
    Didn't Linus set an example just a few days back?
    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      Linus's example works when you're the Big Boss. My guess is that OP is (unfortunately) not.

      Yelling at peers is a good way to get fired yourself.

  • Coding is thinking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:01PM (#42466887) Homepage

    To me, writing code is about expressing and organizing thought processes. Actually, so is the spoken and written language. To improve one's ability to think, improving the use of all language, written, spoken or even programming will invariably improve the process of analyzing and understanding things which fit within those frameworks.

    But also, the way people speak, write and code also reflects their current thought processes. A person may or may not be open to such new ideas. Telling a person who speaks "ebonics" about this notion will not likely result in their improved use of English and will not likely result in thought or behavioral improvements. (I know, I have tried... I once attempted to correct someone saying "aks" instead of "ask" and they just hated me for it.) It would also be true of improving coding styles. A person who would be open to such improvements would already be aware of his weaknesses and address them through observation of other peoples' code examples. They wouldn't have to be told. And even if they did, they wouldn't require more than a slight nudge.

    Some people want to improve themselves and others believe they are good enough or are simply already the best. There is no hope for the others.

  • by Megahard (1053072) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:04PM (#42466927)
    And send him the link.
  • by realsilly (186931) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:13PM (#42467095)

    I perform lots of testing on my team and the ones that code well can usually find the reported bugs and fix them fairly quickly unless the logic of the code is extremely complex. But, by having another team member debug your code, the sheer amount of vocal bitching at shitty coding standards will begin to give the bad coder a clue. It will probably float up to management which will either push the employee to training, start following standards, or show the bad coder the door.

  • by asmkm22 (1902712) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:13PM (#42467099)

    If you can't explain to him why your code is so much better than his, and your argument boils down to something like "it just is" or "it's common sense" or something, then your method may not be nearly as great as you think. Your example of "Do you see how much better this function is when written this way" means nothing if you can't actually elaborate on why it's much better. Is it simply easier for you to read? Is it more efficient? Is it more secure?

    A better approach would be to simply ask him why he codes the way he does. Bring up a particularly "bad" example of his work and just ask him about it. Maybe there's actually a reason you hadn't considered before. Or maybe he'll tell you why, and you can constructively offer an alternative method to see what he thinks. It's very possible he's just stuck in his old ways of coding, which is a situation you'll probably find yourself in sooner or later, but it's also possible there's a reason. Simply accusing him of bad coding practices means you'll never know.

  • Buy him a present (Score:5, Informative)

    by rabenja (919226) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:19PM (#42467203) Journal
    ...the book Code Complete
  • by raymorris (2726007) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @05:23PM (#42467279)
    Since I'm arrogant like that guy and sometimes write less than beautiful code, I bet what works on me would work on him. He won't change radically overnight, but you can affect change without drama.
    Work with, not against, his personality. He thinks he's the smartest guy around. So go with that. He's your new mentor. A few times a week, ask him about YOUR code. Say something like:
    Can you look at this function I'm writing, please? Linus Torvalds says that "Functions should be short and sweet, and do just one thing, and they should have more than 5-7 local variables." The Microsoft guidelines say .... . D you think I should break this function into two, maybe buildSpreadsheet() and saveSpreadSheet()? Would that be better, it terms of "Functions should be short and sweet, and do just one thing", do you think? Two days later you ask him to look at your variable names and tell you if he can tell what each is for, or if he thinks you should rename any of them to make it more clear. He's helping you to make sure your code is readable and clear.
    Ask him if you should make the thingRetriever a separate object from the stuffDisplay in your code. He'll likely eat it right up and never realize that he's actually getting a two minute lecture on a different aspect of code quality each day. If he starts out the day thinking about these things, he'll soon notice when he's writing garbage and his ego won't let him keep putting out garbage for long once he's aware of it.

    If, after a month, you see zero improvement in his new code, then ask polite, direct questions about his code as needed. "I'm working on Foo(), what is the "bob" variable?" "Hey John, what does is this function called tp() supposed to do?" (My predecessor actually used "bob" as the name of at least one variable in each project.) Those questions make it explicitly clear that his code is unreadable, so do this only after you've kissed his butt in step #1 for best results.

Passwords are implemented as a result of insecurity.

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