Today’s businesses, operating in a hyper-competitive environment, seek competitive differentiation. Side-by-side, customers demand hyper-customization. Coding is the backbone to enable such strategies.
Salesforce allows lay users, without programming knowledge, to build native apps and manage the platform. The web interface and declarative application framework enable building applications from scratch or maintain existing applications without writing code. But such out-of-the-box features get only the basic things done. It is rarely enough for high-level business applications. Salesforce developers write code for advanced business functionality and for deep customization.
A key USP of Salesforce is the flexibility in coding. Most Salesforce developers use APEX. But developers could also use APIs and write code is any imaginable language, including C#, Java, Node.js and more. Developers may use the Visualforce framework to build custom user interfaces and host it natively on the Lightning platform. Like everywhere else, successful Salesforce developers have mastery of software design and good logical skills. They also ensure they write clean code.
Any code written logically and passes QA/UA tests can get the job done. But developers may fall into the trap of dirty code or bad code. Such dirty code maybe because of sloppiness, but is most often due to a crazy deadline. Making the code clean may take some extra effort and time. But the marginal delay or extra investment is worth it and pays for itself within a short while.
Clean code is pretty to look at. But the benefits go much beyond the “feel good” factor. Here is why clean code matters in Salesforce.
Clean code makes the business agile, flexible, and responsive to customer needs.
Customer needs changes frequently. Business needs also change constantly in today’s fluid environment. Clean code is easier to change. Businesses that can change their code fast remain nimble. They can respond to the changing trends faster and easier.
Likewise, the development environment is never static. Employees leave, often taking away with them the knowledge and nuances of the project. At times, team members who developed the code may be busy with other projects. Even developers who first wrote the code may forget about the things they coded six months later.
Clean code makes it easy to change the software fast, by co-opting the following characteristics.
- Agility: Clean code more or less follows the principles of agile software development. Modular code is flexible and extensible. The more segregated the code, the more architecturally sound the entire system. Master programmers approach coding as “stories to be told rather than a program to be written.”
- Simplicity: Clean code leverages the power of simplicity. Clean code is code any developer, even those with no previous connection with the code, can read, understand, and add to easily. In the words of Bjarne Stroustrup, the inventor of C++, clean code is elegant and efficient. The logic is straightforward and it is hard for bugs to hide.
- Easy to collaborate: Years back, management guru Peter Senge advocated the virtues of systems thinking. Systems thinking focuses on how the individual interacts with the other constituents of the system. Clean code co-opts standards that make collaboration easy. A consistent method that looks at the complete picture rather than the individual problem makes the code future-proof for changes.
- Clarity: Clean code is more transparent. It reduces the learning curve of the new team members considerably. They can hit the ground running and make changes fast. It becomes easy for them to work around the complexity that shrouds the project, and meet the changing business situations in double-quick time. Changes do not have to become a complex, gut-wrenching and disruptive exercise. Any team member may make changes easily, as part of their routine.
2. Ensure Coding Standards
Clean code allows co-opting best practices to code, in a structured way.
Bad code accumulates. Often, business exigencies force developers to conjure up workarounds. Ideally, developers refactor such workarounds later, to fit with the code standards. But often, developers may forget about the workarounds, and the dirty code gets entrenched in the code base.
Consider a developer who changes a trigger in the Org. He continues to make such changes whenever the need arises. Such changes add up, and the trigger gets longer and cluttered. It soon reaches a point where the developer cannot deliver additional requests at the same pace as earlier. It becomes difficult to predict how the code will react to adding new lines. The system becomes fragile and breaks easily.
Developers overcome such issues by enforcing coding standards and adopting coding best practices. The following clean code practices are integral to such efforts.
- Modularity: Clean code makes the code base modular. Developers, even those who didn’t write it, can understand it easily. They can make changes with the confidence they won’t break anything. One fix does not create a side effect or another bug.
- Break up long methods: In clean code, methods and functions fulfill only one task at a time. It is better to take parts that belong together, and create separate methods that do only one thing. Break up long methods by refactoring. Consider breaking up long methods into separate classes. As a rule of thumb, don’t make methods over five lines long. Adopt a modular approach. Structure the code that a method may call on a smaller method, and so on.
- Name appropriately: Not naming a variable correctly causes further mistakes down the line. Write meaningful names for variables, functions, and classes. The best practice is to name the method or function with a descriptive one-word self-explanatory noun, verb, or verb/noun phrase. Be consistent in naming. Pronounceable names make collaborating with peers easy. Update the name if there is a change in the function or method.
- Avoid magic numbers. Replace magic numbers with named consonants. When unavoidable, place declarations of the magic numbers at the top of a function or in a separate file.
3. Easy Maintenance
Easy code makes maintenance easy. It becomes possible to correct a problem quickly before it escalates. Dirty code takes more time to maintain, fix or modify. An early resolution requires less labor and a lesser involvement of external teams.
Software code is never static. Bugs are inherent to any code. All software requires regular updates to patch vulnerabilities. User preferences and business realities change often, requiring both major and minor tweaks. Developers invariably roll out new versions to co-opt the latest tech developments.
Bad code accumulates over time. The tech industry has a turnover rate is 13.2%, which is higher compared to most other industries. The odds of the developer who created the program being available to maintain or correct the code is low.
A new developer who has to update or change existing code has to study the code first. Bad code increases the time to make sense of the code. The time taken to make sense of the code, before fixing it, makes error-handling a disaster. Clean coding standards make sure the code is easily readable and understandable by any developer. The following key standards contribute to easy maintenance:
- Keep it Short: Avoid code duplication. The lesser the code length, the better. Never repeat. When things are only in one place, it is easy to make changes. Delete functions, methods, and data structures not in use. Use version control systems to detect changes and delete redundant code.
- Comments: When the code performs some specific task, or if the name of the method does not reveal its intention, it is a good practice to leave a comment. But the best comments are one-liners. Comment to clarify, not to explain. Clear and comprehensive code with minimum or no comments is far superior to messy code with tons of extra text.
- Follow consistent style and formatting: The bedrock of clean code is a consistent style. Intentions, white space, everything matters. Good standards settle even contentious issues such as whether curly braces start on the same line of the code. Formatting improves readability.
4. Improved Customer Experience
Failing to ensure clean code upfront creates customer resentment.
One of the biggest fallacies is that clean code matters only to programmers, and that only the functionality matter to customers. As long the functionality works fine, small bugs are insignificant. The reality is that good coding standards matter most to customers. Programmers and developers eventually master dirty code, even if they have to spend considerable time on it. But a customer who spends money to buy a product embedded with dirty code gets struck with it. Dirty code could make a website slow or unwieldy. Delays in updating a payment system or order tracking system harm the customer. Clean code improves the customer experience in the following ways:
- Speedy resolution: Today’s fast-paced business environment prompt may people to expect immediate solutions to their issues. Thus, when they want a bug fixed, or functionality improved, they prefer fast resolution. And bad code stands in the way of fast resolution. For example, when the code is not segregated, scaling up may cause performance issues. Customers will have to wait longer for responses to their service tickets, causing frustration.
- Lesser demands on the customer: clean code allows the business function to run on auto-pilot. It doesn’t require any manual help or push from users. Users especially resent the implications of dirty code. For instance, they do not fancy digging up backups because the latest build broke all save files, or when they find out the recent versions run progressively slower than the older version.
- Efficient use of resources: Customers prefer robust programs that make efficient use of resources. They dislike having to download huge updates for no perceptible benefit, just because the developer was sloppy.
5. Lower Costs
Clean code results in a lower total cost of ownership, and ultimately, lower prices for customers.
Dirty code may cause project failures and malfunctions. Convoluted code force the DevOps team to review each line of code post any update. This wrecks team productivity, project efficiency and retards ROI. Technical debt, or time to cleanup the code, racks up hundreds of hours of tedious work. The opportunity cost for technical debt can make all the difference between profit and loss.
- Dirty code wastes resources. Clean code, which requires lesser maintenance and attention, saves valuable operational revenue. This could result in lower operating costs, and by extension lower costs for the customer.
- Opportunity costs: The time taken to fix dirty code also comes with an opportunity cost. Developers could spend time fixing dirty code to improve UX or add new functionality. The delays also cost the business valuable opportunities.
- Re-writing code: At times, cleaning a poor code takes longer than writing clean code upfront. Cases of businesses abandoning convoluted code and starting afresh are not rare. It often makes better sense financially to reinvent the wheel than fix a dirty code wheel.
- Reduce operating costs: Clean Code resembles paying upfront to get a discount. Getting the task done is more hassle. It costs more than the bare minimum to get the system running. But once the clean code is in place, it is cheap to keep running.
6. Improved Competitiveness
Clean code increases the competitiveness of the business. Contrary to the common impression, taking extra time to ensure clean code does not slow down the project.
Any delay in closing a deal or engaging with the customer results in a smarter competition stepping in and taking away the business. Many developers rush the code to the market, due to business pressures. Subcontractors, working on fixed time frames rush through the changes. They do not refractor it, creating further problems. They disregard sloppiness in the code, as long as the functionality works fine. Such issues cause dirty code to snowball. But such a short-term approach does more harm than good. Any loss owing to a marginal upfront delay is well worth it.
A spin-off benefit of clean code is job satisfaction and lower employee turnover. With clean code, developers do not come under extra stress. This reduces the turnover rate and increases the competitiveness of the business. Conversely, when developers have to spend time to understand the code, it adds to their stress levels.
This increases the turnover rate, creating a downward spiral, and an overall air of negativity.
Pay heed to the following clean code considerations to enhance competitiveness:
- Allocate time: Most software development takes place under immense time pressure. Yet, factoring in time to clean code in the estimates pays rich dividends. Well begun is half done. Writing clean code from scratch saves a lot of time and hassles down the lane.
- Understand the customer: Always undertake a requirement gathering exercise before writing code. Also, involve the customer and take their feedback. These steps avoid scope creep, reduce the need to make adjustments to written code, and make sure the developer does not code in unnecessary lines because of a lack of clarity in requirements.
Clean code is indispensable for code quality and security. Dirty code leaves open the door for vulnerabilities, which cyber attackers exploit.
When developers add or change complex code, they may inadvertently leave a bug open. Today’s sophisticated cyber rovers use advanced Artificial Intelligence-based techniques to seek out vulnerabilities and take advantage of even the smallest of loopholes. The following clean code practices pre-empt such vulnerabilities.
Clear and simple: Clean code is direct. It reads like well-written prose.
It is very difficult for bugs to hide inside such clean code. With dirty code, vulnerabilities remain hidden, and is expensive to fix.
Unit tests: It is easy to run unit tests with clean code. Weak spots are where distortions and code breaks exist. Cover the code with unit tests to detect weak spots.
Reviews: As the adage goes, “two heads are better than one.” Do regular peer code reviews, analyse the code from different angles, and hold each developer accountable. Each member of the team analyze the code done by others. They play the Devil’s advocate to find out logical flaws, structural mistakes, or other errors in the code.
Adopt an Iterative approach: Writing and revising the code iteratively makes it more secure. Smart developers come back to the source code after writing code for functionality, and look for the scope to improve the code.
Refactor the code: Getting the code to work might result in long messy code. Refactoring after major changes cleans the code and improve readability and security. Invest time to go through every line of code, step by step, and look out for bugs or loose ends. But resist the temptation to break existing code and rewrite everything from scratch. Refactor in small chunks to avoid messing up one part while trying to fix another part.
Clean code also makes a powerful statement. It communicates the enterprise’s attention to detail. Clean code is coding smart instead of coding more. Good code is an art. Writing clean code requires disciplined use of resources, combined with an agile code sense. Contrary to the perception, clean code does not slow down the organization, but makes it better and more amenable to the customer. Clean code is the foundation for a reliable cost-effective product, which is extensible or upgradeable.