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In Defence of Best Practices

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The subject of “Best Practices” came up again yesterday in a thread on Twitter. This is a subject that rears its head every so often.

I understand all the arguments against the term “Best Practices”. There isn’t one correct way to do things. If there were it would be the only way, or automatic etc. It’s all situational etc. I really do understand all that. I’ve been in this conversation so many times over the years you wouldn’t believe it. I’ve heard all the various sentences and terms people would prefer to use rather than “Best Practice”, but here’s my answer to all that.

“Best practices are fine. Get over yourself and shut up!”

Tim Hall : 18th October 2019

I’ve said this more politely in many other conversations, including endless email chains etc.

When it comes down to it, people need guidance. A good best practice will give some context to suggest it is a starting point, and will give people directions for further information/investigation, but it’s targeted at people who don’t know enough about what they are doing and need help. Without a best practice they will do something really bad, and when shit happens they will blame the product. A good best practice can be the start of a journey for people.

I agree that the “Always do this because ‘just bloody do it!'” style of best practice is bad, but we all know that…

I just find the whole conversation so elitist. I spend half of my life Googling solutions (mostly non-Oracle stuff) and reading best practices and some of them are really good. Some of them have definitely improved my understanding, and left me in a position where I have a working production system that would otherwise not be working.

I’m sure this post will get a lot of reactions where people try and “explain to me” why I am wrong, and what I’m not understanding about the problems with best practices. As mentioned before, I really do know all that and I think you are wrong, and so do the vast majority of people outside your elitist echo chamber. Want to test that? Try these…

  • Write a post called “Best Practices for {insert subject of your choice}”. It will get more hits than anything else you’ve ever written.
  • Submit a conference session called “Best Practices for {insert subject of your choice}”. Assuming it gets through the paper selection, you will have more bums on seats than you’ve ever had before for that same subject.

Rather than wasting your life arguing about how flawed the term “Best Practices” is, why don’t you just write some good best practices? Show the world how they should be done, and start people on a positive journey. It’s just a term. Seriously. Get over yourself!

Cheers

Tim…

PS. I hope people from yesterday’s tweets don’t think this is directed at them. It’s really not. It’s the subject matter! This really is a subject I’ve revisited so many times over the years…

Updates

Due to repeatedly having to explain myself, here come some points people have raised and my reactions. I’m sure this list will grow as people insist on “educating me” about why I’m wrong.

I prefer “standard” or “normal” to “best”. As I said at the start of the post, I’ve heard just about every potential variation of this, and I just don’t care. They are all the same thing. They are all best practices. It’s just words. Yes, I know what “best” means, but that’s irrelevant. This is a commonly used term in tech and you aren’t getting rid of it, so own it!

I’ve seen people weaponize best practices. OK. So are you saying they won’t weaponize “standard practices” or “normal practices”? They won’t ever say, “So are you telling me you went against normal practices?”. Of course they will. Stupid people/companies will do stupid things regardless of the name.

But it’s not the “best”! Did you even read my post? I’m so tired of this. It’s a best practice to never use hints in SQL. I think that’s pretty solid advice. I do use hints in some SQL, but I always include a comment to explain why. I have deviated from best practice, but documented the reason why. If a person/company wants no deviation from best practice, they can remove it and have shit performance. That’s their choice. I’ve been transparent and explained my deviation. If this is not the way you work, you are wrong, not the best practice.

Most vendor best practice documents are crap. I have some sympathy for this, but I raise tickets against bad documentation, including best practices, and generally the reception to these has been good. The last one was a couple of weeks ago and the company (not Oracle) changed the docs the same day. I always recommend raising an SR/ticket/bug against bad documentation. It doesn’t take much time and you are improving things for yourself and everyone else. I feel like you can’t complain about the quality of the docs if you never point out the faults.


In Defence of Best Practices was first posted on October 18, 2019 at 9:38 am.
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