You've Got the Rails Basics. So Why Do You Feel So Slow?

You’re confident about the core ideas behind Rails. You can write working code, no problem. And you’re learning more about code quality, refactoring, writing great tests, and object-oriented design.

By this point, you’re starting to feel like you’re getting it, that you’re on the path to becoming an expert. When you look backwards, you see just how far you’ve come, and you’re pretty happy with your progress.

So why do you feel so slow? Now that you care about testing, maintainability, and design, it feels like it takes you way more time to ship anything!

Is it even possible to ship high quality code quickly?

It’s all part of the process

This feeling is incredibly common, no matter what you’re learning.

Now that you’re no longer a beginner, you’re starting to see all the different shapes that your code could have. You have more alternatives to think through whenever you put down a line of code. You have to test edge cases you never recognized before.

You’ve learned lots of helpful skills. But right now, they still take a lot of thought. You have to weigh every decision you make, so you feel comfortable that you’re making the right decision based on the things you’ve learned.

It will get faster, though. The skills you’ve learned will become more automatic. You’ll build intuition. And you’ll be able to make better decisions more quickly.

Which is nice to know, but it doesn’t help you right now. So what can you do now, to finish things faster?

Take it in stages

If you’re obsessed with writing perfect, high-quality, highly-maintainable code every time you put your fingers on the keyboard, you’ll never get anything done.

When I get stuck, I write code the same way I write articles. You’d start with a rough draft. Maybe sketch out some tests, code, or comments. Or even write some ideas out on paper. At this point, you wouldn’t worry about structure, you’re just using code to clear up the vague ideas you have in your head.

Then, I turn those ideas into a straightforward implementation. What you might call “The simplest thing that could possibly work.” It’s not perfect, and not even close. But don’t worry about it. Because once the code works, you’ll do a tidying pass. TDD edge cases, refactor obviously bad code, or make names clearer.

These “refined drafts” are usually good enough to ship. But I’ll usually do a few more passes. Not too many, though – you’ll soon start to see diminishing returns. You’ll spend more time cleaning up the code than it’s worth.

Then, if you really want to end up with the cleanest possible code, let it settle for a while. Come back to it in a few weeks or months, and do another pass at it. By that time, you’ll know more about your system, and you’ll have learned more about how to write great, highly-maintainable code. So you’ll do an even better job.

Just like writing, that process is:

  1. Sketch out a rough outline, draft, or prototype.
  2. Write a simple, unedited, straightforward implementation (often guided by TDD, or written along with tests).
  3. Refine, refactor, and clean up that implementation a little bit.
  4. Let it settle.
  5. Come back to it, and do one more pass.

It sounds like a lot more work. But when you go in stages like this, you’ll move faster, without always second-guessing yourself. And you won’t end up overthinking decisions between a few just-as-good options.

This article was inspired by a question from Topher on my advice page. If you’re stuck on questions about Ruby and Rails, and need some help or advice, ask me there!

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