Effective Pasta Cooking Is Ineffective

Bowl of pasta

As developers, we are constantly bombarded with new tools, programming languages, libraries, and frameworks. Many, if not most, claim pretty much the same thing: They want to make us more effective as a developers. If you are a web devloper in particular you know about this problem. The number of tools and frameworks hitting the market in the Javascript world has been frying our minds for years at this point, and it may finally show some sign of slowing down, if only a little. Granted, it could also be me. I’ve more or less abandoned the idea of keeping up with the Joneses at this point. At least when it comes to Javascript frameworks for the web.

And while I applaude the idea of improving my life, after all I’m sucker for all things effective, I have come to see many of them as veneer on cracked concrete.

Let me try to illustrate this with a totally off-topic example. A number of years ago, a friend from out-of-town stayed with me for a few weeks while taking a course. We had a blast, she’s fun and enjoyable, and as far as I can recall we only had one argument for the whole ten weeks she stayed with me. It was whether or not you should have a lid on the pot while cooking pasta! I kid you not, this was the most heated debate we’ve ever had!

Her opinion was that, when cooking pasta, you should never use a lid. For some reason it’s supposed to taste better when cooked that way. And possibly that it is how Italians cook pasta. Not that she has a drop of Italian blood in her, but neither have I. Regardless, I encourage the Italians to cook their pasta however they please. I cook mine how I please.

My opinion (and the winning one, as far as I’m concerned) is that of course you should have a lid on your pot. It saves a great deal of energy (electrical in my case) and that’s the only argument I need.

She was adamant in her conviction that pasta tastes better when cooked without a lid. And so I challenged her to a blind test; I would cook to pots of pasta, one with the lid on, and one with the lid off. For exacly the same amount of time (cottura 11 minuti), and under as similar circumstances as possible. If she could tell the difference between them, I would bow down and accept my defeat.

She declined my challenge.

Wisely… she would have lost.

The thing is this; the pasta we were cooking was the cheap, dried kind that you can keep in your cupboard for months and months. Had it been juicy, freshly baked pasta that we had prepared then and there, then maybe, maaayyybe it would have made an ounce of difference. But then the fresh pasta is normally boiled no more than 3 minutes tops.

The problem is not the lid or lack thereof. It’s that the pasta itself is rubbish (actually, it’s quite good, but it’s nowhere near a bowl of fresh pasta). And now I’m sure you see where I’m getting with this; You can cook the dry pasta in holy water, using a pot of pure gold, and it will still not come close to fresh baked pasta.

And so, back to the world of programming languages and frameworks.

It’s not that those new languages and frameworks aren’t any good. Quite the contrary, some of them are very good indeed. They have made me more effective, they are more intuitive, and they work around some of the normal quirks that you get when programming in Javascript. The problem is that the pasta… sorry, the surrounding stuff is rubbish. The specs, the ideas, the design, the communication, the business propositions and (perhaps most of all) the understanding of the problem/solution at hand.

I’m happy to report that I am a better developer today than I was, say, five or ten years ago. Well, shame on me if I hadn’t learned anything in all that time. And part of it is that I have learned new tools, new languages, new frameworks, new algorithms and new libraries. But the main contributing factor is that I now have vastly more experience in understanding problem/solution fit, and how to communicate with customers, stakeholders, and colleagues around those topics.

By all means; If you are a developer, go ahead and try out some of the cool and improved tools and libraries. But don’t forget to practice some of the other stuff as well. The stuff that may truly turn you into a more effective developer; communication skills and understanding business domains.

I know, that’s not why I became a developer either. But it has helped me greatly in being more productive, and I also tend to enjoy my work more when that is the case.

I still cook my pasta with a lid on the pot. You cook it however you want, but make sure to have the proper ingridents while doing so.

(Feature photo: Katrin Gilger)

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