Refactoring is an important part of programming. If you are maintaining a non-trivial code base you need to constantly remove cruft and improve on solutions otherwise the code will slowly rot.

Working with improving abstractions and code quality there is also a lure which is mostly ignored, which is over-engineering. The urge to add code that feels “magical” and just does things in an extremely elegant way. You can find examples in amazing C++ templates, or some awesomely elegant Swift code that might use some combination of operator overloading, generics and pattern matching. It might look cool, but over-engineering is dangerous.

It’s dangerous because you can spend days on that “perfect abstraction” which might be elegant on the surface — but your teammates will have a less pleasant time trying to figure out how to debug or extend it later on.

It’s dangerous because all that time you spent might make you reluctant to find easier solutions, or throw it away when it’s no longer needed.

It’s dangerous because that complexity disguised as abstraction is making your code less maintainable and also less easy to understand.

It’s dangerous because you might have thrown away bug free code and replaced it with something new and untested because you thought it might look more elegant.

But most of all it’s dangerous because it’s so damned satisfying to just find those beautiful abstractions. It’s so much fun that we forget how dangerous it is.

So when you feel the urge — remember restraint. The “magically cool things” your language can do are usually exactly those parts that you should stay clear of.

(Previously posted on