For example, the geocoder syntax seems to be of Ajax form, though I don't understand what is happening under the hood (especially with lines like
results.geometry.location). I am able to modify the body of
if (status == google.maps.GeocoderStatus.OK) for different purposes though.
So, being that I am able to take various code from the Developer's Guide and rework it to an extent for my own purposes, all the while not fully understanding what Google Maps is actually doing, does this make me a copy-paste programmer?
Is this a bad practice, or is this professionally viable? I am, of course, interested in learning as much as I can, but what if time-constraints outweigh the learning process?
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I wouldn't be concerned. When using an API there are different modes or reasons in using the API - all of them geared at helping developers complete their task in using the API. Google provides documentation for just this purpose - to use the tool in the way that you need.
Web APIs can also be a special case of publishers providing the 'boilerplate', letting you focus on the task rather than digging into the API design, etc.
When in doubt, set a breakpoint or call
In the case of