Skip to main content

Fixing Nits Quickly

How many times have you gotten the following comment on your PR? nit: checkProgram -> typeCheckProgram Putting aside the validity of the rename, it’s an annoying change. You have to go to your computer, open the IDE, rename the variable, commit, and push. If you’re already at work, it’s not a huge deal, but sometimes I get a review back when I’m afk1. Something that should be a 5 second change is now a pain because I can’t open my IDE.

Art School for Programmers

What if we made art schools but for programming? Let’s back up. I would like to remake the way we teach programmers. I just don’t think a CS degree with lectures, homework and tests works well for teaching people how to program. I don’t think I’m alone here. Many programmers chafe under this traditional structure. They skip class; they get poor grades; they drop out. This is where the pedantic peanut gallery points out that CS is not programming.

How to Judge CS Programs

You’re a high school student who is interested in computer science. Maybe you’ve done some programming already. Maybe you’ve taken a couple classes at your high school. Maybe you’re a total beginner1. How do you judge CS programs? Why Are You Qualified? In short, I’m not. This is equally a rumination on CS program quality as much as a prescriptive guide. The long answer is that I’ve spent a lot of time2 thinking about undergraduate CS program quality because I recently graduated from a program that appears prestigious on paper but was, in my opinion, worse than schools with a tenth of the reputation.

I’m N and I Did XYZ

We’ve seen these posts before: “I’m 13 and I’m learning Rust”, “I’m 15 and I built a website”, “I’m 20 and I’m the king of Macedon”. They’re kind of nice! It’s great seeing someone so young doing such interesting work. I certainly didn’t have the knowledge or ambition to accomplish what some of these developers have done. And I should really leave this on that positive note, but every time I see one of those posts, I get this…itch, this…discomfort.

Surface Area

There’s been a lot of ink spilled about how packages are evil and npm will bring about the end of days. I’ve responded to these critiques before, but I realized there’s more to say. While I don’t disagree that large dependencies cause issues ranging from security holes to serious single points of failure, I think it’s important that we recognize why packages are so popular and helpful. Any purported solution will need to satisfy these constraints and not just condescendingly claim that these benefits don’t matter.

Tips for Reading Code

I’ve been trying to get better at reading code. It’s an important skill. Too often people neglect this skill, struggle to read other people’s code, and then accuse the code of being poorly written. Sometimes the code is poorly written, but, as Joel Spolsky points out, sometimes the problem is just inherently messy. Not to mention, the source code is the most up to date documentation. If you’re having trouble using a library, reading the source code can clear up a lot of issues.

Let Interns Apply Late

Why do companies punish applying late? If a student dares to start their intern application process in January or February, they’re met with a wall of “Sorry, we’ve finished our intern hiring process for the year”. Why is that? It’s not like earliness beyond all reasonableness is an inherently good quality. Plenty of great applicants apply late, whether due to exigent circumstances (cough COVID cough), ignorance of timescales, or laziness.

Engineering Math

I felt like I wasn’t living up to this blog’s name, so here’s a manifesto about mathematics, something about which I know very little. We should engineer mathematics. We must treat mathematics as an engineering discipline. The process of doing math should be the process of writing code. Mathematics is reaching fundamental limitations with its current techniques and tools. Proofs are exceeding the capacity of a single mind. Verifying arguments is becoming nigh impossible.

A Mere Mortal’s Guide to Webassembly

Let’s learn some WebAssembly. This guide is intended if you plan on getting nice and intimate with WebAssembly, whether that means writing a back-end for a compiler, hand writing WASM or inspecting the output of an existing compiler. It’s not really that useful if you’re just using Rust/C/whatever compiled to WebAssembly. I wrote this guide because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the WebAssembly specification for my own projects.

git commit -m Considered Harmful

Stop using -m in git. It encourages short, lazy commit messages. It makes it harder to figure out when changes occur. And yes, at some point you will need to track down when someone refactored the parser and introduced a buffer overflow bug. If I had to guess why people use -m, it’s because git commit by default dumps you into vim. If you don’t use vim, this is a very unpleasant experience (cue the five million memes on quitting vim).