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Why Conventions Matter

Note: This article was originally published at phly, boy, phly on 12 January 2012.

When I started teaching myself scripting languages, I started with Perl. One Perl motto is "TMTOWTDI" -- "There's More Than One Way To Do It," and pronounced "tim-toady." The idea is that there's likely multiple ways to accomplish the very same thing, and the culture of the language encourages finding novel ways to do things.

I've seen this principle used everywhere and in just about every programming situation possible, applied to logical operations, naming conventions, formatting, and even project structure. Everyone has an opinion on these topics, and given free rein to implement as they see fit, it's rare that two developers will come up with the same conventions.

TMTOWTDI is an incredibly freeing and egalitarian principle.

Over the years, however, my love for TMTOWTDI has diminished some. Freeing as it is, is also a driving force behind having coding standards and conventions -- because when everyone does it their own way, projects become quickly hard to maintain. Each person finds themselves reformatting code to their own standards, simply so they can read it and follow its flow.

Additionally, TMTOWTDI can actually be a foe of simple, elegant solutions.

Why do I claim this?