How do you go from being an okay programmer to being able to write maintainable clean code? For example David Hansson was writing Basecamp when in the process he created Rails as part of writing Basecamp in a clean/maintainable way. But how do you know when there is value in a side project like that?
I have a bachelors in computer science, and I am about to get a masters and I will say that colleges teach you to write code to solve problems, not neatly or anything. Basically you think of a problem, come up with a solution, and write it down...not necessarily the most maintainable way in the world. Also my first job was in a startup, and now my third is in a small team in a large company where the attitude was/is get it done yesterday (also most of my jobs are mainly database development with SQL with a few ASP.NET web pages/.NET apps on the side). So of course cut/paste is more favored than making things more cleanly. And they would rather have something yesterday even if you have to rewrite it next month rather than to have something in a week that lasts for a year. Also spaghetti code turns up all over the place, and it takes very smart people to write/understand/maintain spaghetti code...However it would be better to do things so simple/clean that even a caveman/woman could do maintenance. Also I get very bored/unmotivated having to go modify the same things cut/pasted in a few locations.
Is this the type of skill that you need to learn by working with a serious software organization that has an emphasis on maintenance and maybe even an architect who designs a system architecture and reviews code? Could you really learn it by volunteering on an open source project (it seems to me that a full time programmer job is way more practice than a few hours a week on an open source project)? Is there some course where you can learn this? I can attest that graduate school and undergraduate school do not really emphasize clean software at all. They just teach the structures/algorithms and then send you off into the world to solve problems.
Overall I think the first thing is learning to write clean/maintainable code within the bounds of the project in order to become a good programmer. Then the next thing is learning when you need to do a side project (like a framework) to make things more maintainable/clean even while you still deliver things for the deadline in order to become a great programmer.
For example, you are making an SQL report and someone gives you 100 calculations for individual columns. At what point does it make sense to construct a domain specific language to encode the rules in simply and then generate all the SQL as opposed to cut/pasting the query from the table a bunch of times and then adjusting each query to do the appropriate calculations. This is the type of thing I would say a great programmer would know. He/she would maybe even know ways to avoid the domain specific language and to still do all the calculations without creating an unmaintainable mess or a ton of repetitive code to cut/paste everywhere.