Clean coding is vital to start-up success; here’s how to achieve it

Developing programming and coding technologies. Website design. Programmer working in a software develop company office.

Information technology has never been as important as it is today. We’re spending more time on IT than ever before, and everything from agriculture, food, transport and education is reliant on it. With this comes a demand for coding skills, and more specifically, in developing software that is delivering value.

For start-ups and small businesses, getting the code right from day one can be a challenge. In my career, I’ve worked on 45 different projects including 18 early-stage start-ups and have learned two key lessons the value of culture and why your code should be a love letter to your next developer.

As Martin Fowler once famously said, “Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand.” Here, I delve into how this is possible to achieve for start-ups and small businesses, and why clean coding is vital.

Establishing the right development culture

For early-stage start-ups, establishing the right development culture is one of the most important things technology leaders must do to set themselves up for success. It’s a thousand times harder trying to change the culture once it’s established than to get it right early on.

As an example, in my current role at AgriWebb, we’ve created a culture in which coding must be clean and working in sync across the business. This ensures unit tests are in place with adequate documentation and code is well-structured way before new products or features go live to market or are promoted.

On top of this, it’s a culture that rewards and gives people time to do additional things beyond their day-to-day priorities which is vital for employee engagement and growth. A good example is investing in automation which has helped us boost what the team is capable of doing, translating to efficiency and success across the business.

A love letter to the next developer

For most early-stage start-ups, particularly before growing a full development team, a major challenge is proving the product or service idea and establishing how this fits into the market. The key lesson is it’s very unlikely that version one of the product is going to be spot on. Instead, think of it as the product you and the team will learn from. It’ll give you the opportunity to learn what your customers really want and will help you discover what you should build next, and quickly.

Consider Boyd’s Law of Iteration. Emerging from the world of fighter pilots, winning dogfights and the UX of cockpits, this law applies equally well to the start-up ecosystem. To put it simply, the speed of iteration ultimately trumps the quality.

For an early-stage start-up, it’s vastly more important to get a product or new feature into market as quickly as possible, rather than investing deeply in the technology. Developers should optimise for the ability to restructure existing computer code and ship it quickly. Thinking of code as a love letter to the next developer, even if you’re the only one, helps to maintain a coding standard across the board and enables you to iterate quickly.

Ultimately, for small businesses, developing code for the long run requires clever thinking for the future state. Code should be something that allows another developer to easily understand and expand upon it with ease. While no project will ever be perfect, if you treat code as a love letter to the next developer, it will go a long way in supporting future agility and growth.