I heard someone talking the other day about how Google needs to optimize their code. They really pay attention to low level operation of their software, actually having people spend time writing compilers and ensuring they generate efficient code. This is on top of the idea that they want to ensure data structures efficiently use space, there is no unnecessary network traffic, etc. The reasoning is that at "Google-scale" (Gs) if something takes 10% longer, that's 10% more electricity they have to supply, 10% more machines, and 10% of the Google IT infrastructure budget is a big, big number.
I've never worked at Gs. In fact, I've never worked at 0.001Gs. Most of my work in software development has been to support dozens, or maybe hundreds of users. SQLServerCentral, which was a joint programming project, was my largest piece of software , and that was built on other pieces of software, with little contributions from me and lots of Andy Warren's keyboard sweat in the early years. Despite working on small projects, I still have always learned to consider the little things.
When you grow up with compilers that take minutes, as in 10 minutes to compile a few hundred lines of code, you pay more attention to your algorithms. When you grow up with kb of memory, you use it wisely. When you work across a 300 baud modem, you don't mess around with lots of data transfer. Even though many of those constraints don't apply, I still try to be careful and watch my data types, watch my round trips, and be aware that there are actually bits being whipped across the ether or in and out of transistors in a not-so-little package on my computer system.
The argument about "just buying more hardware" has some validity, but it's not an excuse for not improving your skill and becoming better at your craft. As my friend Jeff Moden often quotes, it doesn't take any more time to do it right the first time. That's true, but you need to know how to do it right, we at least well. For all of us, that should mean some regular effort to improve your skills and become better at your craft, just like Google looks to constantly optimize their own systems.
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