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The Codeless Code: Fables and Koans for the Software Engineer, is a series of stories about the programming monks of the Temple of the Morning Brass Gong, parodying the style of Zen Koans. Each story (or "case") is meant to humorously illustrate a principle of programming philosophy or best practices.


  • Amusing Injuries: Wayward monks are corrected in painful, but amusing ways.
  • Author Avatar: Qi, the scribe, appears as a character in a few cases.
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  • Badass Bookworm: The monks and masters are all programmers, but that doesn't stop them from producing an array of martial arts weapons when they need to.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Call a programmer a monk (or nun), call a manager an abbot, call a company a temple, and call the customer the Emperor.
  • Cosmic Retcon: The scribe does this in Version Control.
    • Kaimu claims that his "Ideal Undo" does this.
  • Death by Irony: The punishment for particularly bad practices.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Monks can be killed (or seriously hurt) for making mistakes in programming. The customer (the Emperor) is just as demanding.
    Abbot: If the Emperor loses confidence in our temple, our IT services contract may not be the only thing cut off prematurely.
  • Don't Think, Feel: What Bawan appears to teach. It turns out to be "Don't Think. Know."
  • The Dreaded: The Clan of the Wolf's Bitter Breath is responsible for testing. Their appearance means a bug is about to be reported against your code.
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  • Face Your Fears: Zjing suffers from a crippling fear of heights, and since the Temple is up on a mountain, she normally works remotely from a nearby valley. However, on two occasions, she has something important enough that she is willing to make the climb and visit the temple in person.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: Jinyu poses one interview candidate a question involving multiple inheritance, which has no elegant solution in Java. She wants to see how he will work around this problem.
  • Implied Answer: "Null" and "Wu." Either one means "I'm not answering because you're asking the wrong question."
    • Suku's "phi" is another one. It means "Your question is a False Dichotomy. Take the two options you gave me, and try combining them."
  • Laborious Laziness: Avoiding this is the moral of case 199. Djishin was too lazy to find third-party libraries, so he took up the much more arduous task of making the ones he needed by himself. Banzen's error was that he tried to dissuade Djishin from this path instead of letting him fail on his first try, because he was too lazy to ask Jinyu (who knew about Djishin's flaw years ago) for advice.
    • Discussed again in case 206. Laziness is in fact considered a virtue of great programmers, but it has to be the right kind of laziness. note 
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  • Lampshade Hanging: "As documented in cases 61, 62, 67, 120, and probably others besides, abbots of the Spider Clan have the life expectancy of a dolphin in the Gobi Desert."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Masters do the laser-guiding, punishing poor practices in a way that demonstrates their flaws. For example, when Hwidah writes a program that fills the log files with useless messages, Yishi-Shing forces her to search for a white pearl in a field of snow.
  • Koan: Averted. While the stories are inspired by koans, Qi admits he doesn't follow the style very closely. In particular, the stories tend to have a clear moral (since unlike Zen, programming has a clear "right way to do it").
  • Old Master: Bawan, Banzen, Kaimu, Suku, and Jinyu.
  • Red Shirt: A mismanaging abbot won't survive to the end of the story. Lampshaded in later cases.
  • Scrapbook Story: Each case is a standalone story, but the characters recur and there's some continuity between stories.
  • Secret Test of Character: Banzen tests a series of monks, apparently studying their source code. In fact, he's testing if they'll clean up the paper sack he discarded in the corner of the interview room (and by extension, whether they clean up their code properly).
    • Jinyu keeps some wooden building blocks in the interview room, and she can see what a candidate is suited for by what they build with it.
  • Serious Business
  • Shout-Out: The title references The Gateless Gate, a famous collection of Zen koans. Also, some cases include Qi's commentary and a poem, similar to Mumon's commentary and poems in The Gateless Gate.
    • One case references the monks of the "Harmful Go-to Clan," a reference to Djikstra's famous memo "Goto Statement Considered Harmful."
  • Spin-Off: The Applicant, a series of side stories about a novice journeying to join the Temple.
  • Tap on the Head: Very common. No head injuries ever result, although that's small consolation, as the Master is probably setting up a more elaborate punishment while they're unconscious.
  • The Perfectionist: Zjing. To the point that she attempts to retie the knots of a rope bridge because they looked ugly. While standing on the bridge.
  • Those Two Nuns: Yiwen and Hwidah.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In-universe. In Case 144, Djishin admits that the stories in The Codeless Code are embellished by the scribe to make them better lessons.
    Djishin: Null. You may trust the annals to be faithful to the spirit of the events which occurred, rather than the specifics of those events.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: You'll need to know a bit of programming to understand most of the koans. The moral of each story is generally implied, rather than stated outright.

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