Home > Articles > Programming

"The Best Programming Advice I Ever Got" with Andrew Binstock

Andrew Binstock's programming advice has saved him—and may save you—an incalculable amount of debugging time.

See more advice from other programmers here.

Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend


Andrew Binstock

Job Experience:

I founded the C Gazette in the 80s, was editor-in-chief of UNIX Review in the 90s, and a columnist for Software Development Times (SD Times) in the 00s.  I co-authored the book Practical Algorithms for Programmers, for Addison-Wesley and  wrote several other books on programming for Intel Press.  I have coded all my adult life and been a longtime contributor to open source projects.  I am currently the editor-in-chief of Dr. Dobb’s. He is @platpypusguy on Twitter.

Most Notable Achievement:

To the extent that my career has been successful, it’s been the result of accumulating small achievements. None of those achievements, however, whether taken individually or in their sum, can compare to the singular success of having married my wife.  Of that I am most proud—and grateful.

Most Frequently Used Languages:

Java. Previously C. Increasingly, JavaScript.  I tinker with many other languages.


In terms of the programming experience, the single most transformative piece of advice came from Jeff Fredrick (then at Agitar, and later co-founder of the CitCon conference) who, years ago, pushed me to make unit tests a standard development practice. The amount of debugging time I’ve saved by writing unit tests is to me incalculable. (And that is without doing TDD.)

However, in terms of making my code better, the best advice I ever got was from an essay by Jeff Bay in a little-noted book called The ThoughtWorks Anthology, published in 2008—so it is advice that I received comparatively late in my career. Bay listed a series of tight strictures to impose on developers who programmed in OO languages as if they were writing procedural code. One stricture he advised, which is my topic here, is to keep classes to no more than 50-60 lines of code.

When you look at the innumerable techniques taught in all the various books and seminars on code, none of them mentions such a limit. But it’s a profoundly useful constraint. Because most developers have never heard it suggested, they can’t envision how it might be important or even worth struggling to adopt. These are the principal benefits I’ve found:

  • Adherence to the Single Responsibility Principle (SRP). Every class does no more than one thing. The limit essentially guarantees only a single responsibility is undertaken in any class, and so it materially enhances maintainability and reusability.
  • Testability. It’s much easier to write tests for a class with 60 LOCs than one with 200 or more. Because each class does only one thing, that one thing can be tested thoroughly. Since adopting this technique, my test code coverage has risen from roughly 55% to nearly 80%. Moreover, I have higher confidence in my code because within the covered code, it’s tested much more thoroughly.
  • Readability. When you can see all that a class does on a single screen, it’s much easier to grok what is happening and so locate a defect. This aspect is even more evident in the debugger, where the window for displaying code is generally smaller.

An insistence on small classes also changes the way you think about code, in ways similar to how TDD enthusiasts talk about its way of rewiring synapses. As I break elements down into atomic-level components, I uncover small ways of optimizing the design. I see new ways in which I can reassemble the parts, and so the quality of the code improves. This is very hard to do if you regularly write 200+ line classes, because you’re never examining the code at a low level, but rather in big chunks that are like aggregate—the building material—in which sand, stones, and cement are all intermixed in one slurry that eventually hardens into stone.

Writing small classes also changes the structure of projects. Packages, which previously were somewhat arbitrary confederations of tangentially related classes, now become tight groupings of functionality. (For example, one package might contain a dozen or so classes used in command-line processing.) So, the tree of packages in a project gets considerably bushier. As a result, though, it becomes easier to navigate the codebase and find classes.

There are some challenges to writing code in this style. The biggest one initially is insisting on the limit when you just want to get ahead with the project and bang out the code. Invariably, though, the discipline pays off. You get really good at the refactoring techniques that can remove code (extract method, extract class, etc.).

The second major challenge is finding names for the larger number of classes. Sometimes it can be challenging to find the words to describe just one activity. I have many classes that end with Extractor, Converter, Renamer, Truncator, Extender, etc. The larger skill is to make the names meaningful enough that when you descend the package tree later on, the name remain meaningful. As a result, class names are longer than in standard coding approaches.

Finally, you need a good IDE. Because the classes are smaller, I have more of them open at one time. The IDE should be able to handle having many classes open and allow for easy navigation back and forth  between them. It should have good refactoring capabilities to keep classes small as you cross the size threshold. I use JetBrains’ excellent IntelliJ IDEA in Java, although I’m sure other IDEs would work well too.

As a rule, programmers don’t cotton to artificial limits. However, those who are willing to try out this technique will find, as I did, that it’s one of the very few practices that delivers maintainability, testability, readability, and reusability. For me, at least, that’s been a worthwhile trade.  (I discuss some of the techniques for keeping classes small here: http://www.drdobbs.com/230600127.)

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020