Coding tips for grad students, by grad students

Kyle writes from Sri Lanka with his stats programming tips for the new PBFs. It’s all things that old PBFs and even old young professors can benefit from:

• It’s taken me 2 years to jump on the version control bandwagon (~18 months after your PToW on git….), so I certainly can’t claim to be an exemplar myself. But I think the main themes would be:

• Location, location, location! Can you find your code? Can others find your code? Do both the directory and the filename make sense?

• Replicability – even of the mistakes. If you do something right, you want to be able to do it again.
o But often, even if it’s wrong, you want to do it again. Chris will say, let’s go back to the broken version from 2 months ago, I liked that better. So if you change your code, keep a record of the old parts (and maybe even why you ditched them).

• If others can’t look at your code and figure out quickly what each “chunk” of code does, it’s not well documented enough. If you can’t even tell within 30 seconds what a particular piece does (and you wrote it!), that’s a problem.

• On the other hand: Yes, a few PBFs were lit majors, but that doesn’t mean your code should be in novella format. Concise, readable code is often more understandable than a few sentences of explanation.

• Whitespace! Headers! Tab and Enter are your close and personal friends: “Without negative space how would we appreciate the positive in our art and in our lives?” – Dyan Law (some artist I’ve never heard of)

• Good exercises: Take someone else’s raw code, figure out what it does, and comment it. Read through a program you wrote and haven’t used in months – how long does it take you to figure out? Have someone else comment your own raw code; did they explicate things you left implied? did they misinterpret anything?

All good advice, and I often regret it when I don’t follow it. Anything else that should be on this list?

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