New: Book Report: Beautiful Code Ch 1

Beautiful Code is a book about programming well. There are 33 chapters. In each chapter, one or two big-name programmers write about "the most beautiful piece of code they knew." As you'd expect with so many authors, the result is a mixed bag. The good parts are very, very good. I'm splitting up my book report into multiple parts, as with that Cyber China book.

A Regular Expression Matcher / Brian Kernighan

In this essay, Kernighan discusses the regular expression matching program that Rob Pike wrote for their book The Practice of Programming. There's plenty to like in this essay.

He's talking about code that he did not write. Most of the better essays in this book were by programmers talking about other people's code. Programmers writing about their own code bog down in minutiae. But maybe there's a deeper reason I liked these essays in which someone looked at someone else's code. I'm trying to learn something new about programming by looking at someone else's code. Kernighan has looked at this code and been impressed, and he thinks that code will impress me. That's a good sign. When someone's writing about their own code, you don't know that you're going to learn from it.

This code was meant to be sample code. I'm a technical writer. If you're not a technical writer, then you think I write English all day. I do write English, but I also work on sample code, and that's darned hard. It should be simple, so that a newbie can understand it; correct because many people will copy-paste that code without understanding it very well. Oh, and make sure you get it correct on the very first try, because people who copy-paste that code into their programs today won't check your errata page next month.

That's why I liked the code. To find out what Kernighan likes, get the book + read the essay. I was hoping to review a few essays from the book in each book report, and I've already meandered for a few paragraphs on just one. Sigh. Hopefully I'll calm down soon, get my concision back.

Oh, and if you're a kid fresh out of school with a newly-minted Computer Science degree, go read the Practice of Programming. I swear if I'd read that book before I entered The Industry, the first ~four years would have made much more sense.

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Posted 2008-01-14