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I am a PHP and JavaScript Developer and Head of Tech at a communications agency in London.

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Juniors Literally Can't Write Switch Statements: What Senior PHP Developers Need to Focus On

2017-09-26 00:00:00 +0000 Home > Blogs > Juniors Literally Can't Write Switch Statements: What Senior PHP Developers Need to Focus On Tags: php, javascript, senior, juniors, code basics, learning,

If you follow the PHP community on Twitter and other places you’ll have noticed a lot of negativity floating around recently. Lot’s of arguing and bickering, visual debt* anyone..? @Nealio82 wrote an interesting post on the topic, highlighting some of the problems…

The PHP community is broken. There are clear factions of die-hard fans within our wider ecosystem viciously guarding their own biases and making the same denigrating and sneering comments we already face from the much wider software community.

And on the train home tonight I spotted this conversation on Twitter about dependency injection, I suggest you read it all and I’m definitely not taking sides…

It would seem there are a lot of senior PHP developers arguing with each other, and often about how many angels they can see dancing on the head of a pin. Fundamentally no one knows where the line that separates when to use dependency injection and when not to is, or even if there is a line.

For me many senior PHP developers seem to have the wrong focus, there isn’t enough perspective. Possibly there are too many ivory towers. While many senior developers are arguing about the benefits of Doctrine over Eloquent, for example, there are junior developers who literally can’t write basic code properly.

At work recently a company has been doing some code for us and one of their junior developers produced a JavaScript switch statement that looked like this…

var input = 5

switch (input) {
    case "1":
    case "2":
    case "3":
    case "4":
    case "5":
        //Do Something!!
    break;
    case "6":
    case "7":
}

Gobsmacking, literally insane. And the sad thing is I’ve not been able to chat to the junior and discuss their code with them. Then a few days later one of my juniors wrote a PHP switch statement that began…

<?php

switch (true) {
    case $this->object instanceof SomeClass:
        //Do Something
    break;
    //etc, etc...

I don’t want to embarrass the junior because they’re great, super smart, but what was their excuse? “I found the code on Stack Overflow…” So I, and two of the seniors, had to explain how switch statements work and not to ever mindlessly copy and paste stuff off Stack Overflow…

As senior developers we need to put things in perspective, particularly in the PHP community right now. Beyond actually coding stuff, the day job, the primary focus of senior developers should be to educate and guide junior developers. This means two things, teach the basics, the real basics, and encourage juniors to learn, to self teach.

What do the basics look like? Use the Command Line over a GUI tool, write out MySQL in the CLI so you learn it, don’t just config in Workbench or something. Use a simple text editor for a few years, not a super powerful IDE, do the wax on wax off. Write short, simple methods, minimise control structures, add some comments. Test things, be careful when you deploy something, make backups, don’t hot fix on the server… etc…

As a senior you won’t always have the time, and occasionally you won’t have the capability, to explain the really complicated stuff. So focus on the basics and encourage juniors to learn themselves, but don’t define who to learn from or who to follow or who to respect. This is not only wrong, but leads to the mindless bickering we see a lot of currently.

A couple years ago I saw a great talk by Marco Pivetta on Extremely Defensive PHP, it’s brilliant, so good in my opinion that I share it with most of the junior developers I meet or work with. But I also recently shared Rob Allen’s talk on building APIs, and I’ve always encouraged people to watch Jeffrey Way’s Laracasts. Doing this doesn’t mean I think Marco, Rob or Jeffrey are perfect, that they’re always right, that they never make mistakes. I have no idea which one of them is the better developer, like I have no idea which one of them is the better cook. It just means they’ve created some interesting, helpful content that may teach you something.

Code is like philosophy, you should read as much of it as possible, from as many sources as possible, regardless of whether you agree with it or not. Me personally, I prefer capitalism over communism, would I ever say read Hayek but not Marx, no! That would be idiotic, read both, they were both intelligent people, they both have interesting ideas and you can make your own mind up on who you prefer.

Ultimately senior developers arguing with other senior developers about dependency injection or polymorphism or interface segregation is completely pointless. It won’t achieve anything. As senior developers we need to focus on helping and guiding junior developers. And it will do the PHP community some good if we focus on this for a while rather than bickering about those angels.

Because as Socrates said, “Shit if I know…” **

* Personally I didn’t agree with Jeffrey’s position on type hinting, however I think the reaction was unnecessary and over the top. Generally I just thought he articulated an idea poorly, no need to hang him.

** He didn’t really say that… But it was along those lines… Look up Socrates and the Oracle of Delphi…