Build a culture of coding excellence that will pay dividends long into the future
In our previous blog post, we delved into the world of code quality – how you can spot poor-quality code and the impacts it can have in your organisation. Now that you know how to identify problems, we’ll explore the steps you can take to improve your code quality.
Improving code quality is more than just mandating coding standards or introducing new tools. It means implementing strategic processes that encourage quality at every stage of the development lifecycle, utilising the power of automation, and establishing a culture of high-quality coding that will promote long-term excellence.
#1 Establish your coding standards and guidelines
Coding standards are a set of guidelines used to determine how code should be written and organised. They provide a uniform structure that makes your code easier to read, understand, and debug. Without standards, each developer may have their own way of writing code, leading to inconsistencies, confusion, and potential errors.
Here are our steps to establish coding standards in your organisation:
- Choose a coding convention: There are numerous coding conventions available, such as Google’s Style Guides, Mozilla’s Developer Network (MDN) guidelines, or the PEP 8 style guide for Python. Choose a convention that suits your team’s preferences and the language you’re working with.
- Define naming conventions: Consistent naming conventions make your code much more intuitive. Establish rules for variable names, function names, classes, and modules. For example, you might decide to use camelCase for variables and functions, while using PascalCase for classes.
- Set indentation and formatting rules: Consistent indentation and formatting greatly enhance code readability. Decide on the number of spaces or tab width for indentation. Also, determine where to put braces, how to align elements, and when to use spaces or tabs.
- Create commenting guidelines: Comments can be a lifesaver, especially when debugging or revisiting old code. Establish rules on where and how to comment. This might include commenting on all functions, complex code blocks, and tricky algorithms. For Java, consider the use of JavaDoc – this allows your code to become self-documenting if done properly.
- Establish a code review process: This is where team members review each other’s code for adherence to the standards, logic errors, and potential improvements. Code reviews not only help maintain standards but also foster knowledge sharing and learning.
#2 Implement automation to improve code quality
As automation experts, we always want our partners to reap the benefits of implementing automation into their software development lifecycles. When prioritising speed and efficiency, automation has emerged as a powerful tool in the quest for improved code quality.
By reducing manual effort and minimising human error, automation can significantly enhance the reliability, readability, and maintainability of your code. Let’s explore some of the ways you can harness the power of automation to bolster your code quality.
Static code analysis tools
Static code analysis is crucial for ensuring a base level of code quality, these tools can scan all the code in the project to seek out vulnerabilities, validate against best practice and in some cases also validate against project specific specifications. Static analysis can analyse source code without the need to run it, allowing for near-immediate feedback.
Lint tools fall into the static analysis category, and typically considered the most basic form of static analysis. Linters examine code and provide feedback on issues such as syntax errors, variable misuse, unused code, code formatting inconsistencies, and adherence to coding standards. Linting helps developers identify and address common mistakes early in the development process, leading to cleaner and more maintainable code.
Linters such as SonarLint are typically seen on the developer’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE) to check their code before it is committed and pushed. Once the code has been committed and pushed to the central repository, another round of static analysis is typically initiated as part of the project’s CI/CD pipelines. This allows projects to ensure a base level of quality before code review is initiated, reducing time wastage and generally improving code quality.
Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)
CI/CD is the combined practice of continuous integration and delivery, involving automated builds, tests and deployment of code every time a team member makes changes. This means problems are caught and addressed immediately, resulting in cleaner, more stable code.
These CI/CD pipelines can include additional tools outside of typical build/deploy/test jobs, such as integrating a tool like Google Lighthouse. This would typically be initiated towards the end of the pipeline, following deployment of the application into an environment. Lighthouse allows for automated performance testing, as well as basic accessibility and SEO checks. These checks can be observed over a time period using Lighthouse-CI (LHCI) to observe how issues are being resolved over time or regressed. Integrating additional tools such as Lighthouse as part of continuous integration, teams can deliver high-quality web applications with improved performance and user experience.
Automated code formatting and refactoring
Automated code formatters can format your code according to predefined rules, ensuring consistency across your codebase. Consistent formatting makes your code easier to read and understand, reducing the likelihood of errors and making your code easier to maintain.
Some aspects of refactoring, like renaming variables or reorganising code structure, can be automated. This helps keep your code clean and easy to understand, reducing the risk of bugs and making your code easier to modify in the future.
Automated testing is one of the most effective ways to improve code quality. By writing tests that automatically check your code for errors or bugs, you can be confident that any changes or additions to your code do not break existing functionality. Automated tests are fast, reliable, and repeatable, allowing you to catch issues early and fix them quickly. By reducing the likelihood of shipping code with undetected bugs, automated testing enhances the reliability of your software.
Automated vulnerability scanners inspect code for potential vulnerabilities, enabling developers to address these issues prior to deployment. This proactive approach not only strengthens the code’s resilience against cyber-attacks but also boosts its overall quality by ensuring adherence to security best practices. GitLab SAST can be used in CI/CD pipelines to check for any vulnerabilities in dependent libraries. Repository scanners such as those within Sonatype Nexus and JFrog are also useful, and the AWS Inspector service is also a good final line of defence as it works on EC2 instances and ECR images
#3 Build a culture of high-quality code
Creating high-quality code is not merely a technical challenge. It’s also a cultural one. It’s about cultivating an environment where quality is valued over quantity, where best practices are second nature, and where continuous improvement is part of the daily routine. It’s about developing a shared understanding among all team members—regardless of their role—that everyone has a part to play in producing high-quality code.
But how do you create such a culture? How do you ensure that it’s not just a transient phase but a lasting ethos that permeates every aspect of your organisation’s software development lifecycle?
Here are our top tips:
Communicate the importance of code quality
The first step towards building a culture of high code quality is to reinforce its importance in your organisation. Regularly communicate the benefits of high-quality code, such as easier maintenance, fewer bugs, and improved performance. Explain how this can lead to happier customers, more efficient development cycles, more rewarding work and ultimately, a more successful product.
Adopt test-driven development (TDD)
TDD is a software development methodology where tests are written before the actual code. Developers write a test for a specific function, which initially fails as the function doesn’t exist yet. They then write the minimum necessary code to pass the test. Once the test passes, the code is refined for optimisation. This not only ensures that the code functions as intended, but it also encourages simple designs and inspires confidence. TDD results in cleaner code, reduces bug occurrence, and facilitates easier maintenance and future changes.
Lead by example
Leadership plays a crucial role in shaping culture. As a leader, it’s important to demonstrate a commitment to code quality in your own work and decision-making. Prioritise quality, encourage best coding practices, and show appreciation for team members who produce high-quality code.
Provide ongoing training
Invest in regular training sessions to keep your team updated on the latest coding standards, tools, and best practices. Encourage team members to share knowledge with each other. A well-informed team is better equipped to produce high-quality code.
Encourage open feedback
Create an environment where people feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback. Regular feedback can help identify areas for improvement and encourage continuous learning.
By fostering a culture of high code quality, you’re investing in the long-term success of your projects and your organisation. It’s a journey that requires commitment, patience, and consistency, but the rewards—reliable software, satisfied customers, and a motivated team—are well worth the effort.