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Becoming a Professional VB.NET Developer with Style

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How does a programmer work in a truly professional manner? Learn how to embody professionalism and quality in your VB.NET applications by observing standards, foundation, and structure.
This chapter is from the book

Walk into any dentist's office and you will probably find copies of Highlights for Children on various tables and magazine racks. As a child I would nervously bide my time behind the covers of this journal. As you may recall, every issue of Highlights has a cartoon series named "Goofus and Gallant." The panels of the strip present contrasting views of the lives of two young boys, Goofus, an incorrigible troublemaker, and Gallant, every mother's favorite child.

Goofus and Gallant are still the same ages they were decades ago, but what if they did grow up? Imagine that they are both in their early 30s and they both happen to be programmers (see Figures 1.1 and 1.2).

Figure 1.1Figure 1.1 Goofus starts writing code without putting much thought into the user's needs or his company's concerns.

Figure 1.2Figure 1.2 Gallant works with the user and his coworkers to design and implement the best software solution.

Goofus and Gallant truly represent the opposite ends of the selfishness continuum; most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Still, these two characters portray two paths that can be followed in many areas of life: the path of reckless selfishness and the path of thoughtful professionalism.

Although you purchased a book on programming style, you are really holding a book on professionalism. Without maintaining a professional demeanor in your programming endeavors, you will not create quality systems. Of course anyone can make something look good, but thoughtfulness and a concern for quality are requirements to make something, such as an application, good on its own. This volume begins the discussion of style with its most important focus: professionalism in programming.

What is professional programming? Is it holding down a job at a software company? Is it having "software engineer" or "programmer/analyst" printed on your business card? While professional programmers often have these things, they alone do not indicate who is truly professional. Professionalism is something that grows and lives inside the heart of the programmer. Good style flows from this wellspring of quality, affecting not only the programmer's applications, but his or her entire work ethic.

Programming in Visual Basic is fun because it is so simple to create a full-fledged Windows application. When you create, for instance, a new Visual Basic .NET Windows Application in the Visual Studio development environment, you are presented with a blank form that represents a fully functional Windows program (just press F5 to prove it). The programmer's job is to mold that core program into a useful and useable application. However, not all Visual Basic programs are created equal. Some applications exhibit the characteristics of a professional program. These characteristics include, but are not limited to, a consistent user interface, clearly defined usage, quality user documentation, and freedom from bugs. Other applications lack some or all of these features. There are many reasons for the existence of poor Visual Basic .NET programs.

  • Lack of planning. Active development of the application begins without careful consideration of the flow of the program, or the needs of the user.

  • Lack of skill or talent. One or more of the programmers or managers involved in the Visual Basic .NET project are not adequately prepared to meet the challenge of professional Visual Basic .NET application development.

  • Lack of training. Although those involved in the project are competent enough to complete the project, proper tools, training, and documentation are either unavailable or overlooked.

  • Lack of management. A disproportionate share of the burden of project management is placed on the shoulders of the programmer(s) instead of on management.

  • Lack of time. A predetermined implementation schedule fails to take into account the complexities of application development and deployment.

  • Lack of discipline. A clear set of rules, guidelines, and constraints, whether formal or informal, are placed neither on the management of the Visual Basic project nor on the activities of the programmers.

  • Lack of scope. New components of the project are added on a continual basis without proper analysis of needs or time requirements.

Any one of these symptoms can lead to the eventual downfall of a Visual Basic application. When several (or all) of these deficiencies are combined, failure is almost certain. However, these problems can all be prevented, and the chances of success substantially improved by applying the effective methods described in this book.

Goals of Professional Programming

Very few developers sit down before the keyboard simply to string random Visual Basic statements together. Rather, there is a purpose, a goal in writing a block of code. The primary goals of professional software development have to do with meeting the needs of various individuals and groups.

Meeting the Needs of the User

All applications are developed for one or more users. Sometimes you write a quick program simply for yourself, to fulfill an immediate processing requirement. At other times you are involved in large-scale, year-long development projects that will eventually be deployed to thousands of users. In both cases, your primary goal is to meet the needs of the user of the application. If you fail to provide the software that the user needs, you fail to deliver quality software, no matter how good it looks.

Computer users have a job to do, and your application automates that job process. The ultimate design goal of an application is to have the user forget that he or she is using a computer program, and instead, simply perform the desired problem-solving task. Your program should be a natural extension of the work flow that is already part of the user's business.

Meeting the Needs of Your Employer

Unless you are working for a nonprofit agency, there is a pretty good chance your company exists in order to make a profit. This holds true for both the self-employed and the multibillion-dollar corporation. Companies remain profitable by meeting the needs of their customers. You help fulfill both aspects of your company's mission by developing professional software applications.

Meeting your company's needs extends to your managers and coworkers as well. When you develop software in a professional manner, you help to advance the interests of all those around you.

Meeting the Needs of the Programmer

Looking after your own personal and professional needs will have a beneficial impact on your software development projects. If you are unhappy with your company or colleagues or dislike programming because you have to reinvent a methodology every time you start a new project, the quality of your work will likely suffer. However, if you receive satisfaction from your work and enjoy the process of programming high-quality Visual Basic .NET applications, that will shine through brightly in your finished products.

Software development allows for a wonderful mix of challenge and predictability. The challenge comes from stretching your skills into new, untried areas. The predictability comes from the standards that enable you to write consistent, high-quality applications. Some of these standards exist in the syntax of the Visual Basic language, and in the object model of the .NET Framework. Other standards are created from your own experience, or learned from external sources such as this book. When you expand your programming range by tackling technical challenges, and you learn and apply a rigorous programming methodology, the result will be top-notch programs and applications.

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