I've been working on a software project mostly solo for over 5 years. It was a mess to begin with (I am the third or fourth developer to be working on it), and although it's less of a mess now it is still incredibly disorganized. The rate of progress in getting it under control is glacial and I'm starting to feel despondent over the state that it's in. How do I really start fixing it?
Project specifics: It is a sales program written almost entirely in Visual Basic Classic (VB6) with a MySQL back end and a reporting engine written in C#. The C# reporting module is a joy to work on, it was only just written in the past couple years and before that all reports were done in Crystal Reports 9 (yes, we still have some reports that rely on it).
The actual program itself, however, is a complete disaster. There are not quite 90k LOC total, and about 10k lines of comments (mostly not documentation, but old code that's been commented out). 158 form files, and 80 module files. I have no idea how many of those are actually used, because some features of the program are simply deprecated and (uh, sometimes) noted as such without having the associated code removed from the program. I would guess that only 50% of the code is in actual productive use.
I am afraid of touching a lot of the code just because I am not sure if I'm breaking something that one obscure client relies on, it's happened on more occasions than I can count. It's like there are landmines strewn throughout the code.
There is not really any structure to the project. It is not object oriented except in the few places I have had the patience to reform so far. If you need to get data on a form, you instantiate a database object, declare your query right there in the function, execute it and do what you will with the dataset.
When I began working on the project there was no source control in use. I tried to encourage the other people I was working on to use it, but I was the new guy and my attempts to get people to use subversion all but failed. The company's lead developer finally caught a mercurial bug in the last couple years and he's made sure that all developers do use source control on all projects now, so at least that's some progress.
I think if I was able to work on reforming the project full time I would be able to make decent progress and maybe even have an estimate for how long it would take me to fully makeover the project, but it is in active use and I am constantly being asked to put out fires, fix bugs, add features, etc. etc.
So how do I start to really fix this project? Try to tool VB6 with another language? Try and rewrite the program in my spare time? Or is this completely hopeless?
After this post I went back to the project with renewed zeal, but fell back into hopelessness within a few months after seeing such a slow rate of progress. I then repeated this cycle 2 or 3 more times over the next year or so.
I have since moved on to a different job. Although after so many years of vb6, and only peripheral experience with other technologies the search was difficult and I faced many rejections along the way (around a dozen interviews over the course of a year). My advice to others in this situation is to consider leaving for this factor alone. Consider the damage you can do to your career by staying in a dead end position such as this.