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  • Chris L. Bennett

My Code is So Clever, I Barely Understand It: Battling Ego-Driven Complexity

I still remember the day I revisited a project I had been particularly proud of a few years earlier. I needed to make a seemingly simple change. With youthful hubris, I had crafted an incredibly intricate solution using obscure language features and a pattern I vaguely recalled reading about. I was certain my past self had been a genius. But as I stared at the screen in confusion, a sinking feeling set in – my brilliant solution was now completely incomprehensible, even to its creator.

This humbling experience is all too common in the world of software development. Sometimes, our egos get the best of us. We crave the feeling of being clever, of using the latest bleeding-edge technologies, of feeling like the only person who could have built something so intricate. However, this pursuit of individual brilliance often leads to an insidious problem: ego-driven complexity.

The Hallmarks of Ego-Driven Code

How do you know if ego is quietly sabotaging your architecture? Here are a few telltale signs:

  • Elegance for its Own Sake: The code is beautiful in theory, utilizing elegant patterns and optimizations. But this beauty doesn't translate into actual user benefit or easier maintenance.

  • Knowledge Hoarding: The code is intentionally difficult to decipher, almost as if it’s designed to prove only the original author could have conceived of it.

  • “Just In Case” Engineering: Packed with features, abstractions, and flexibility to handle hypothetical scenarios that are unlikely to happen, increasing the system's complexity for minimal practical gain.

  • Gold-Plating: Showcasing technical prowess with bells and whistles that go beyond user needs, simply because the developer thought they were cool.

The Hidden Cost of Complexity

While indulging the ego might feel gratifying in the moment, it has serious consequences for your project:

  • Maintainer's Nightmare: Even experienced developers struggle to understand the intricate, clever code. Onboarding new team members becomes an ordeal.

  • Innovation Stifled: A disproportionate amount of time is spent untangling existing code instead of delivering new value.

  • Missed Opportunities: While you're admiring your elegant labyrinth, competitors with simpler solutions might be outpacing you in adding real-world features that users love.

  • User Neglect: The focus on internal complexity overshadows the user experience. Building something clever becomes more important than making something usable.

Taming the Ego, Embracing Simplicity

Breaking free from ego-driven complexity is a choice, and a continuous practice. Here's how to cultivate a healthier mindset:

  • The Beauty of Simplicity: Understand that easy-to-read, maintainable code is a sign of true skill. It's far harder to achieve simplicity than to layer on complexity.

  • Team Mentality: Celebrate collaboration. The best solutions often emerge from open discussions where the goal is solving the problem, not showcasing individual intellect.

  • Refactoring for Clarity: Make it a habit to revisit even working code with a critical eye toward maintainability and readability.

  • Empathy as a Design Principle: Put yourself in the shoes of future developers (including yourself) and your end-users. Would they find your solution straightforward or frustrating?


The most impactful software isn't just clever; it's useful, maintainable, and adaptable. While our egos may occasionally yearn for complexity, true mastery lies in finding the simplest solution that gets the job done exceptionally well. It's never too late to course-correct, even if it means occasionally swallowing your pride and refactoring past work.

Let's strive to leave a legacy of software that future developers – and maybe even our future selves – will thank us for.

Have you ever encountered code that was too clever for its own good? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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