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Don’t Let ChatGPT Write Your Code

ChatGPT

We can all agree it’s ridiculous to suggest that we should ignore a modern tool that makes it exponentially easier to finish our work.

But as I’ve learned in 20+ years of writing code, there’s always going to be a drawback to using any tool that “makes life easier”. In this case, AI-based tools that use ChatGPT or some other AI-based foundation are similar to the frameworks we’ve been using for years.

There are developers who can build incredible websites with React, Angular, Vue, or Svelte. But many of those same developers couldn’t do basic DOM manipulation or build a simple Ajax-based website (or better yet, a Fetch API-based website) with pure JavaScript.

Now ChatGPT is everywhere, in almost any tool we use, ready to do all the work for us.

I can’t see this as being a good thing in the long run. I think two things can be true at once:

  • It’s productive to use AI-based tools to complete our work
  • It makes us dumber to use AI-based tools to complete our work

So here are my suggestions (meant for front-end developers, but the same concept applies elsewhere):

Every once in a while, when you’re not in a time constraint, write code using a blank slate. Don’t use a framework and don’t ask ChatGPT questions. Just write HTML, CSS, and JavaScript from scratch. If you don’t know how to do something, look it up online like you did back way back in 2021.

If you’re pretty sure of what feature to use (like Flexbox) but aren’t sure about how exactly to use it, look it up on MDN or another similar resource. Or find a nice tutorial that walks through all the features. I’ve done simple but interactive ones for CSS Grid and for Flexbox that you might enjoy.

When you write a piece of code, do your best to understand what every line — and even every character — is doing. If you change the code slightly, like changing a CSS value, ask yourself, Why does it break? Why does it not break? Endeavour to understand it. Don’t just move on because “it works”.

The same applies to JavaScript. MDN’s resource is, again, invaluable. So is Stack Overflow. I’ve been writing JavaScript tips in my newsletter since 2013. Every one of those tips can be found in the newsletter archives or (if you prefer) in an e-book bundle that discusses more than 300 different JavaScript and DOM features, most of which are lesser-known.

All this being said, it is true that ChatGPT itself can be used as a search engine or question/answer engine. But there’s something lacking when we go that route. The answers it gives are often too good and turn us into brainless robots who copy and paste the answers without much thought. And I’ve already had problems when using ChatGPT myself when it comes to debugging, maintaining, and updating code. It almost feels like you save time in the beginning, but lose a lot of that time later.

Ultimately, we’re all going to do what helps us finish our jobs, makes us more money, and pleases our bosses and clients. But let’s not forget about raw coding. That’s the kind of work that I believe makes us better web developers and will help us be capable in a job interview.

One Response

  1. Tyrion says:

    I doubt that artificial intelligence will replace programmers in the near future. I tried to formulate a task for writing a small parser like the GPT chat, well, I spent 2 hours writing a technical task for it, until I achieved 90 percent of what was needed.

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