Jef Claes

On software and life

30 Oct 2011

The gift of legacy

Just after graduating, I hated legacy with the heat of a thousand suns. I felt unfortunate, having to work on old code, built using outdated technologies, while software is all about making new and shiny things. Right, guys? Those naïve expectations of a rookie got crumbled very soon. Legacy is a constant in our industry. You can try to ignore it as long as possible, but it’s impossible to keep that up forever. Over the years, I have come to accept that. I even have been fully embracing it lately.

Legacy is an opportunity to learn from the past. To learn from the costly mistakes our predecessors made, so you can avoid them in the present. Often legacy also helps me fully comprehend the motivation behind more modern architectures and software practices. Finding yourself all alone in thousands of lines of code, where the smallest change can impact an unknown amount of long forgotten scenarios, makes it perfectly clear why we test our code, and why it should be a crime not to.

It’s a shame that there often isn’t a whole lot of glory in maintaining old software. Although, I do think some programmers should be awarded a medal of honor after serving multiple months in the trenches. There is, however, a lot of space to make small refactorings, improving the code quality and in the meanwhile giving you the small wins you need to keep going.

All legacy isn’t bad per se though. Once in a while you discover a ruby in the dust; a creative solution or a small but interesting trick, which you might be able to apply later on.

Legacy is a gift, learn to embrace it.