I recently spent a few days working on rewriting the way that settings get passed into one of our products. This was a slight deviation to my usual work – I can usually be found writing code that requires more time thinking than it does actual code writing, but this task was quite the opposite, and it got me thinking about what the optimum average number of lines of code written per developer per day is.
Is there an optimum number of lines per day? It is well known that number of lines written is a poor measure of productivity, but that doesn’t make thinking about this question any less interesting – there are a huge number of factors to consider.
So what about if you were to level the playing field and only compare yourself with those writing the same language as you? Even by limiting this factor, your line count is still very much dependent on what it is you’re doing. Writing test code, implementing new features, and bug fixing all have very different code requirements. Some bugs can take many hours to find the source code responsible, and it may only require a single change of a line or two. Similarly, it’s possible when writing a new feature that you discover the need to refactor some code, which could lead to having less lines than when you started.
It’s also dependent on your experience and how concise you are in your code writing. It’s very easy to inflate code, even a simple if/else statement can be very quickly made to occupy twice as many lines as it needs if you have a phobia of curly braces occupying the same line as other code. It’s quite likely that the inexperienced beginner is being less productive, but writing just as many lines as (if not more than) the experienced programmer.
It’s widely accepted that counting lines is a poor measure of productivity, but interestingly there are still some people on the internet who like to boast about how high their average is. Personally, my favourite days are when I leave the repository with less code than when I started. I love coding, but my best days are not those where I have written a huge amount of code.
So how should we measure productivity? Perhaps on a feature oriented, bug-fix oriented basis?
Personally, I would consider my most productive days when I can roll off a list of achievements and give a combination of fixing bug X, implementing feature Y, creating a new test for Z, updating this piece of documentation, updating this website page, and perhaps even working on a new blog article.
It’s not all about writing code, I think it’s equally important to have a range of tasks that you are able to switch to. Doing the same thing all day every day can get boring and result in a drop of productivity. By having other tasks you can switch to, it can help keep you interested in what you are doing, and as a result keep productivity up throughout the day.
So what do your most productive days consist of, and how do you prefer to spend your time?