Machete mode

Wednesday 25 June 2003

For the last day or so, I’ve been working hard to write some code using technologies that I really don’t understand. It needs to be done quickly, so I’ve been in “machete mode”. That’s my term for the style of working where nothing matters but getting to the end goal. I call it machete mode because I imagine a jungle of technological unknowns separating me from my goal. Instead of careful craftsmanship, reasoned balancing of goals, elegant design, and thoughtful coding, I have to work quickly with tools and technology that are mysterious to me. Extreme sample-searching, blind cut-and-paste, just-in-time documentation diving, and guerilla debugging are the order of the day.

This kind of work is nothing to be proud of, but it is fun and challenging in a Survivor-like way. You know, the lone developer dropped in the middle of unforgiving terrain, with nothing but his wits and a machete. And at the end of it all, you’ve probably learned something, if only a few milestones so the next time you have to go that way, a few things will look familiar.


The "Machete mode" is a very interesting and accurate metaphor. I'm wondering if it was inspired by Programming is Gardening, not Engineering mentioned on this site earlier.

Anyway I have completely different pattern for Machete Mode: when technology is old and crappy, when there is no documentation at all (even single line in the code), when the huge pile of functionality sits in one file and gives an impression that it was written by twelve years old under some sort of a drug, and you have a requirement to implement new functionality on top of it without even trying to "fix the world" and do it quickly -- that's a real Machete mode.
It's almost a guilty pleasure... Sometimes circumstances put you in a situation where you're required to ditch all of the disciplines that you normally work under and code 'like it's your birthday' ;)

The thing is, I still find that I often go back and tarmac the trail that I hacked through the jungle and as you say, next time along the path it's easier. I think being able to drop into the 'nike' mode yet still end up with stuff that you can follow later on is a useful skill...
Great metaphor. I use my machete a lot ;-)

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