29th Apr 2008

Nothing Left To Take Away

Recently I have bee reading this book
Beautiful Code : Leading Programmers Explain How They Think by Greg Wilson (Editor) , Andy Oram (Editor)

and I just got through a chapter entitled “The Most Beautiful Code I Never Wrote”. The main idea expressed in this chapter is that a project is not finished when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing left to take away.

This immediately struck me as true based on my own experience, but perhaps a bit counter intuitive.  It is easy to conceptualize a task in terms of what needs to be accomplished (added), but we may often forget that it is equally important to review what has already been done to see what can be improved or refined. Many times the first attempt at a project is just an attempt to get it done (normally under the constraints of an unrealistic deadline). Looking back now, most of my best projects (and most satisfying) are the ones I went back and reviewed and found simpler ways to accomplish what I had done.

In the world of tight deadlines, we do not always get the luxury of doing this, however, the sentiment of nothing left to take away is an important one and should at least be remembered if not always implemented.

Some notable quotes from the chapter:

  • Simplicity does not precede complexity, it follows it. (Perlis)
  • Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. (Einstein)
  • A designer knows he has achieved perfections not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away (Saint-Exupery)

And to sign off,

If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter. (Pascal)

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