The Placeholder’s Paradox


Hungry software engineers are huddled around a hastily scribbled whiteboard diagram. Two senior developers are desperate to reconcile their dispute so they can beak for lunch.

SD1: … so basically we need some kind of placeholder function here and here…

[She draws a square on the whiteboard and points]

… that way we can start to tackle that complexity later, right where we need to tackle it. Thoughts?

SD2: But how is that going to work?

SD1: I’m not sure yet. It wouldn’t do anything until we implement it later.

SD2: So it’s empty.

SD1: Yeah, it’s a placeholder. We know we’re going to run into issues. We might not know what kind, but we know where. So let’s set up the placeholder function now so we don’t need to retrofit all our code later.

SD2: But we don’t know what that code needs to do.

SD1: Right. Not yet. We only know where it needs to be. But if we don’t put it in now we’ll regret it. We’ll end up doing a lot of rework.

SD2: I don’t think we should be writing pointless code.

SD1: Well it holds a place for us. An extension point. It’s not pointless, just… we won’t actually extend it until later. That’s its point.

SD2: But it’s just a placeholder.

SD1: Wait, I…

[A long pause ensues]

SD1: Let’s break for lunch.

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