Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Ponytail is about to look at some source code Cueball has written, and he is warning her that he is self-taught so his code probably won't be written the way she is used to. Although few programming languages require a perfectly rigid style so long as the code is syntactically accurate, most programmers follow some sort of style to make the code easier to read. This includes indenting lines to show levels and using descriptive variable identifiers with CamelCase (or camelCase) or snake_case capitalization (capitalizing each word except for the first, and separating lowercase words with underscores, respectively).
In spite of Ponytail's initial (polite) optimism, she comments in three increasingly harsh and absurd similes. First, she suggests that reading his code is like being in a house built by a child, using a small axe to put together what he thought was a house based on a picture. This relates to a technique especially common for new programmers. They follow and adapt tutorials, and find examples of similar problems being solved, copy the solution ("cutting" it out as with an axe), jury-rig it together, and tinker with it until it seem to work. This can lead to code that is hard to follow or otherwise "messy" and inconsistent. Once a piece of code is working, inexperienced or deadline-driven coders are reluctant to go back and rewrite it to be cleaner or clearer, for fear of breaking something that has been working. This improvement practice is known as refactoring and code projects that incorporate cycles of refactoring tend to be easier to read and maintain than those that don't. Including good test cases reduces the risks.
Second, she suggests that it looks like a salad recipe, written by a corporate lawyer (who are notoriously difficult to understand), on a phone with autocorrect that only corrected things to formulas from Microsoft Excel (which are notoriously complicated). This may relate to the way many programmers use integrated development environments (IDEs). They serve as syntax-checkers and often also help correct other programming errors, but the result of just fixing what the IDE complains about often results in less-than-elegant code.
Third, she describes it as a transcript of the dialogue of couple arguing at IKEA, which was then randomly edited until the computer compiled it with no errors. IKEA is a world-wide chain of furniture stores which feature large, maze-like showrooms as well as a large warehouse area where you can pick up the furniture you want to buy in flat, some-assembly-required packaging. Especially on weekends when many people crowd in to a store, they can be stress-inducing places. Software development often starts with a set of requirements which result from discussions (or arguments) between the stakeholders: designers, customers, management, and others. It is common for these requirements to end up confusing and contradictory, suffering from a tendency to include a some of everyone's requests.
Finally, Cueball makes the rather weak assurance that he will read “a style guide”, though he would presumably benefit from more training in the basics.
The title text refers to emoji, e.g. "smiley faces". Ponytail's comment implies that at least a portion of Cueball's variables contained emoji, perhaps in an effort to capture the emotional content of the arguments which show thru the requirements document. Emoji exist in Unicode, and can be simulated using ASCII characters. Most languages will allow variable names to include underscores, so a variety of sad face ASCII emoji will be legal variable names, such as
Progressively more crying-face emoji are possible if variables can include UTF-8 characters or full Unicode, e.g. 😢,😭,😂,😿,😹. In most programming languages it would be impossible to use them in variable names, as the symbols would break the language's syntax rules. Notable exceptions to this are Go and Swift, Apple's new programming language, in which the code can understand and use emojis in variables. Java, as another example, allows unicode characters in variable names as long as they are letter, numeric, combining or non-formatting marks. (See  and ). Also, some C++ compilers support foreign Unicode characters and can have emoji in that manner.
- [Cueball showing Ponytail his laptop]
- Cueball: Keep in mind that I'm self-taught, so my code may be a little messy.
- Ponytail: Lemme see - I'm sure it's fine.
- [Ponytail sits at desk]
- Ponytail: ...Wow. This is like being in a house built by a child using nothing but a hatchet and a picture of a house.
- Ponytail: It's like a salad recipe written by a corporate lawyer using a phone autocorrect that only knew Excel formulas.
- Ponytail: It's like someone took a transcript of a couple arguing at IKEA and made random edits until it compiled without errors.
- Cueball: Okay, I'll read a style guide.
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