Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

Debugging as Editing

I've been hearing people around me talk about the books they're writing, and it's been making me think about how writing code is and is not like writing prose.

There are a lot of similarities, but debugging shows up as a big difference. Debugging is a lot like editing--it's a process of taking a work that is mostly "there", understanding what's wrong, and adjusting the work to be right.

But the flaws I fix in debugging are often much more strongly evident flaws than in editing prose--when a program crashes, it's a very clear flaw, and the fix is a very clear improvement. I don't edit my prose with such rigor, with such a sense of the severity of errors. I can't easily imagine what it would be like to do so.

This is part of what appeals to me about programming and debugging--there is the chance to see every flaw writ large, and that means the chance to reach perfection. It never actually happens, of course--every program that actually ships does so with a host of bugs. But even so, it's a deeply neat effect to realize that I can imagine ways for a program to be better--much more easily than I can imagine ways to improve prose or other crafts.
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