How much code should you write?

Software is not like books: you don’t sell them based on number of words. A book requires you to write a few thousand lines to make it valuable. After all, the buyer will check the number of pages in the book, and consider the size as an indicator of how much content is in there.

This is not true for software. Users don’t care about how many thousand lines you had to write and test for the software to be built. They just care about their needs, and if the product solve the problem they have.

This is not to say that you should not write the lines of software if that is necessary for the functionality you want to provide. But putting emphasis on software writing is frequently the wrong thing. It is much more important to understand if the software you’re creating will solve the issues faced by your customers

Spending Time on Wrong Priorities

A basic mistake of technology startups, for example, is thinking that writing the software is the most important part of the process.

It is clearly important to create a software product in the first place, but the time you take for this to happen doesn’t correlate linearly with the value of the resulting system.

The best thing is to understand clearly what your users need, and supply an initial solution to that problem that can be coded as quickly as you can.

Sometimes this will involve less software writing than communicating with customers and listening to their feedback. Sometimes this will even involve removing existing features of the software that you currently have.

Buying or Building?

Another issue with code writing is that it is frequently better to look for existing solutions than to write these solutions yourself.

Our world has a large number of software waiting for good use. Open source projects, for example, have a huge amount of software that can be employed in the behalf of your clients. If you spend less time writing that software, you could probably get more out of the existing libraries, and provide even better products as a result.

On the other hand, if a new company fails to use existing libraries, specially open source ones, competitors will certainly use this opportunity. Nowadays, correct use of open source is a strategic choice that can impact the quality of your products. Even large companies such as Apple, which has the budget to create as much software as they need, are using Open Source libraries whenever it makes sense.

In other words, current developers have a lot more to do than just writing more code. For example, correct understanding of user needs is one of the main facets or the work that is frequently overlooked.


The main aspect of defining how much code to write as compared to reusing existing libraries is the proper use of effective solutions, without reinventing the wheel. Many developers think that they have the responsibility of writing all the major pieces of a software solution themselves. This is a disservice to customers, since they want a new solution, not a rewriting of what already exists.

These are ideas that can make your software writing take a fundamental leap. The alternative is having you spend your whole time with activities that, at the end, may not be in the best interest of your clients.

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About the Author

Carlos Oliveira holds a PhD in Systems Engineering and Optimization from University of Florida. He works as a software engineer, with more than 10 years of experience in developing high performance, commercial and scientific applications in C++, Java, and Objective-C. His most Recent Book is Practical C++ Financial Programming.

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