Recently we participated in a local effort (site in German) to help making our environment cleaner by removing waste which was left by other people. When you take a look at your environment you may come to the conclusion that many people are irresponsible. Waste on the streets and in the parks, prohibition signs everywhere which name things and actions you wouldn’t even think of and when did people forget to flush the toilet?. And it doesn’t stop in the material world, you even find waste in your code. Allowing waste and not removing or preventing it leads to two effects:
- even more waste (according to the broken window theory)
- over time the waste becomes more and more intertwined with the environment
Imagine a plastic cup in a forest: When first thrown there it is clearly distinguishable from the mud, the leaves and its surroundings. Easy to see and easy to remove. But over time it is trampled over, crushed, hidden under leaves, wash over with mud, … in the end you may not even spot it when you look at the place where it was left.
The same happens to your code: You start with a small clearly defined part of bad smelly code and leave it alone. Now the first additional features come in, you add code, there and elsewhere. The surroundings change. You refactor. You move code. And in the end the once good known waste is littered all over your code and hard to remove.
So be responsible now! And don’t wait until the waste is hard or impossible to remove. Collective ownership (of code or of your environment) does not mean nobody is repsonsible, it means you are responsible.