Signing your code.

by keif on June 5, 2008

  • A novice still has room to learn
  • An intermediate knows his stuff, but can still grow.
  • An expert can teach others.
  • A professional gets paid to do it.
  • Don’t fall in th e”professional” trap.

I bring this up because, as you may or may not realize, I code for Resource Interactive.

Now I’ve coded “professionally”
for a few years – meaning I’ve been paid to code. Now, in terms of technology, I don’t believe you ever leave the “intermediate” stage, as you can always have room for improvement. There’s always a “better way” or a “new way” or even “a new style.”
Coding standards change and adapt – one day, you think you know exactly how to lay out your CSS file. Then you realize – hey, it’d be a lot easier if I alphabetized my css attributes.

Then, a few weeks later, you stumble on someone’s tips about better architecture in your CSS. Now, you start commenting your code before you minimize it.
You add in indents to give it more rhyme and reason, making it easier to figure out if you should hand it off to a new developer.

Now, in all this “cool stuff” you learn and do and integrate into your coding habits – do you sign your work?

A lot of famous artists sign their work. Michelangelo had hidden meaning in the Sistine Chapel. Hell, the real reason I came to this is after I heard alltop.com gave a tip of the hat to popurls in regards to their idea, I started poking around popurls’ source code (they use mootools!) and stumbled on this in their source code:

<!–
__   __
(  \,/  )
\_ | _/  IN THE FUTURE EVERY URL WILL BE POPULAR FOR 1.5 SECONDS
(_/ \_)                          – thomas and the wise butterfly

–>

I dug this – the only people that really delve into the source code are those that are interested in it. I.E. other developers. Web devs. Code monkes. CSS ninjas. Etc. People who would see these things and think one of two things – that’s cool, I think I want to start signing my code – or perhaps – I wonder how many milliseconds they could shave off my leaving that out…

To be 100% honest, transparent, and true, I usually fall into the latter half. I’m trying to squeeze EVERY IOTA of performance in my pages. Optimize that PNG. Minimize that HTML/CSS/JS. Squeeze it! Shave a few seconds, if that!

And then I stumbled on that little quote from popurls. I stumbled on code from a few other people, and very often I see people signing their JS more often than their HTML. I can kind of understand – companies like to think that they have total control on the code they use.
I understand that the code I write – the designs I’ve worked with – may have been inspired by something else
. I understand that it’s very easy to reuse something multiple times. Theme based on theme X by Y. But ultimately, when does it become no longer theirs? When does it become a separate entity?
Is it when the original creator looks at it and can’t recognize his work? Or should you just accept that
maybe code isn’t copyrightable. HTML code can be written man different ways for the same effect (have you seen how many reset CSS files are floating around?)
There’s a point when you can’t just say “person X did this first” because often times you find out that the person who did it first, or so you thought, wasn’t first. Or was it?
Does it matter? I don’t think so. If I pour time and effort into it, it’s just as much mine. I may make a little money for my effort, but I also fix issues, fix problems, address the things that come up.
I contribute BACK to the community!

And here-in lies the problem. What if I stumble across professional site Z and I dig the code. I like what they’ve done. I want to learn more. How’d they do that AJAX effect, how did it work cross browser so smoothly. This is the professional problem. Why not put in your contact info? Are you afraid a bunch of “newbs” will inundate you? That’s just it. Developers like to be paid for the work they do, and not tell other people how they did it. Too often the
answer is “look at the code.” “Figure it out yourself.”
Or maybe no response at all.
Why not? Why not say “I did this – it may not be perfect, but my hand was in it.” Be proud. Stand up for your work in all its shapes or forms.

  • http://www.afhill.com/blog Andrea Hill

    Great post, Keith.
    I like the idea of contributing back to the community. Do you remember for the longest time there were all these hacks to prevent someone from looking at your source code? I consider it similar to some of the recent discussions about intellectual property and “who owns what you blog about”.
    However, it seems to me the idea of “Drawing inspiration” (or downright copying) work when you’re a professional can be tricky business. At LexisNexis, we had to go through a formal process to eve consider using third party code libraries (even if they were freely offered on the web). The notion is that if you’re a professional, you should be paid for your unique work, not being a good googler.
    On the flip side, however, is the notion of best practices, standards, leveraging group intelligence and just working smarter. I think it’s a sign of maturity to look at how others have solved a problem before just diving in to reinvent the wheel.

    Again, thanks for the thoughts…

    • http://ikeif.net keif

      I think that’s just it – leveraging group intelligence. I’m glad that businesses (and people) are realizing that constantly reinventing the wheel is a foolish, redundant process.

  • Matt Sidesinger

    Vimeo has a little something at the top of all of their pages.

    Meebo has this little gem:

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