Cowboy coding
Cowboy coding is a term used to describe software development where programmers have autonomy
Autonomy is a concept found in moral, political and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision...

 over the development process. This includes control of the project's schedule, languages, algorithms, tools, frameworks and coding style.

A cowboy coder can be a lone developer or part of a group of developers working with minimal process or discipline. Usually it occurs when there is little participation by business users, or fanned by management that controls only non-development aspects of the project, such as the broad targets, timelines, scope, and visuals (the "what", but not the "how").

Cowboy coding typically has more negative connotations, depending on one's opinions on the role of management and formal process in software development; "cowboy coding" is often used as a derogatory
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 term by supporters of software development methodologies, such as Agile
Agile software development
Agile software development is a group of software development methodologies based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams...

. However, the term has been reclaimed to some extent by those practicing within the community.

Disadvantages of cowboy coding

In cowboy coding, the lack of formal software project management
Software project management
Software project management is the art and science of planning and leading software projects. It is a sub-discipline of project management in which software projects are planned, monitored and controlled.-History:...

 methodologies may be indicative (though not necessarily) of a project's small size or experimental nature. Software projects with these attributes may exhibit:

Lack of release structure

Lack of estimation
Estimation (project management)
In project management , accurate estimates are the basis of sound project planning. Many processes have been developed to aid engineers in making accurate estimates, such as*Analogy based estimation...

 or implementation planning may cause a project to be delayed. Sudden deadlines or pushes to release software may encourage the use of quick and dirty or code and fix techniques that will require further attention later.

Inexperienced developers

Cowboy coding can be common at the hobbyist or student level where developers may initially be unfamiliar with the technologies, such as testing, version control and/or build tool, usually more than just the basic coding a software project requires.

This can result in time required for learning to be underestimated, causing delays in the development process. Inexperience may also lead to disregard of accepted standards, making the project source difficult to read or causing conflicts between the semantics of the language constructs and the result of their output.

Uncertain design requirements

Custom software applications, even when using a proven development cycle, can experience problems with the client concerning requirements. Cowboy coding can accentuate this problem by not scaling the requirements to a reasonable timeline, and may result in unused or unusable components being created before the project is finished. Similarly, projects with less tangible clients (often experimental projects, see independent game development) may begin with code and never a formal analysis of the design requirements. Lack of design analysis may lead to incorrect or insufficient technology choices, possibly requiring the developer to port
In computer science, porting is the process of adapting software so that an executable program can be created for a computing environment that is different from the one for which it was originally designed...

 or rewrite their software in order for the project to be completed.


Many software development models, such as Extreme Programming
Extreme Programming
Extreme programming is a software development methodology which is intended to improve software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements...

, use an incremental approach which stresses that the software must be releasable at the end of each iteration. Non-managed projects may have few unit tests or working iterations, leaving an incomplete project unusable.

Advantages of cowboy coding

  • Developers maintain a free-form working environment that may encourage experimentation, learning, and free distribution of results.
  • It allows developers to cross architectural and/or tiered boundaries to resolve design limitations and defects.
  • Without a development/designer framework, the programmer, as opposed to the project manager, is responsible for removing roadblocks. This may improve the speed of development.
  • Independent developers can begin with cowboy coding techniques before later selling them to commercial use or creating community-supported projects.
  • Small projects may be burdened by heavy software management methodologies; cowboy coding removes this burden.
  • By coding in their own time, a hobby project may come to fruition which otherwise wouldn't have.

External links

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