Does code quality matter?

What role does code quality play in the outcome of a business?

I know it when I see it—said a judge on pornography. Quality code is the same—you know it when you see it. It is challenging to define what quality code is. It is tough to come up with quantifiable metrics on quality code. But, the instant you see quality code, you know it.

Another reason for the difficulty in verbalizing quality code is that it lies in the beholder’s eyes. One person’s high quality is another person’s low quality.

Whenever you talk of quality code, a question pops up—how important is code quality to the success of a business(startup)?

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I have wrestled with this question for ages. After spending years meditating on this question under a Bodhi tree in the Silicon Valley of India—Bangalore, I have arrived at an enlightened(also flippant) answer—you cannot quantify this, it matters for sure.

Whenever you talk of quality code and business success, someone usually points out at a business that succeeded despite horrible code.

Businesses are messy. Code is only a part of the story. There are other things that matter to a business’s success. It would be specious to claim a business succeeded despite bad code.

Many businesses that succeed with lousy code are in markets so good and have their timing right that they would have hit the home run anyhow. With quality code under their belt, the journey to the podium would have been pleasant.

A parallel I can think of is the importance of good health and habits. Conventional wisdom says that healthy habits keep you disease-free and lead to a long life. I can always point to a person who smoked and drank her way to a ripe old age. Conventional wisdom says that good habits lead to success. I can always point to a successful person with terrible habits.

Does it mean that good health and habits are immaterial?

Another problem with code quality is that you see its benefits gradually. It is a compounding effect.

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The human brain finds it difficult to grasp compound interest. Albert Einstein said—compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it; he who doesn’t pays it.

Compounding is tail heavy. During the initial days, it does not make your eyes pop. As time goes on, compounding gains momentum, reaching a crescendo at the end—the same with quality code.

Good code compounds positively. Bad code compounds negatively. Bad code gradually drags your business down, making it slow and sluggish.


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Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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