Cowboy Coding: Code & Fix Model

Instructor: Brianna Whiting

Brianna has a masters of education in educational leadership, a DBA business management, and a BS in animal science.

Sometimes companies need something done quickly. While rushing through a project or system can be hazardous, sometimes it is just what a company needs. In this lesson we will learn about cowboy coding.

A First Look at Cowboy Coding

Have you ever heard the term, 'don't be a cowboy?' It is often used when someone wants to do things outside the norm and prove how brave they are. While this type of living may be problematic in our personal lives, when it comes to creating systems, it may be just what a company needs. You see, when a company uses the cowboy coding technique they are essentially letting someone go wild doing whatever they feel is best. In this lesson we will learn about one of the methods commonly used when someone is partaking in cowboy coding.

Cowboy Coding

Cowboy coding is the act of letting a coder have complete control of the design of a system. But why would a company choose such a wild approach? Sometimes there is a fast approaching deadline that needs to be met. Letting someone take control and use cowboy coding, allows them to make repairs and fixes where needed just to get a system working as soon as possible. Sometimes, cowboy coding occurs because a company does not have all of the needed resources or supplies to complete the design of the system. This means someone needs to piece together whatever they have just to get a system up and running. And, sometimes cowboy coding is used because the instructions are not clear enough. Maybe they only got the basics and are forced to make something out of nothing.

One thing is sure, while cowboy coding may get the job done quickly and with the minimalist of tools and procedures, it is not without its problems. Cowboy coding often times has many errors. Because there was not a specified format or procedure, the system is rushed to completion. As time goes on, running the system might produce difficulties as there were not step by step instructions laid out. This prevents someone from going back and finding the problem easily because they are essentially missing the map of how the system came to be.

Code-and-Fix Model

One popular tool that cowboy coders often use is the code-and-fix model. The code-and-fix model is the concept of jumping right in and begin to design the system, only to fix any problems along the way. There usually is no planning or organizing before the work begins. While it is used the most, it too has some problems. Because you rush in and begin designing and developing, big problems can occur later in the project. Often times this means going back and redoing a step which costs time and money.

When to Use the Code-and-Fix Model

Obviously, the code-and-fix model is not without its share of problems. But in a time pinch, it could prove to be the only option a company has. Below we will look at positive characteristics of the code-and-fix model as well as the negative aspects.


  1. Time saver: When you need results fast, code-and-fix is perfect. With a small amount of time, the code-and-fix model allows one to produce a finished product fast.
  2. Lack of money or resources: Sometimes a company does not have the money to really plan a project. They may not have the resources, the knowledge, or the personnel needed to create steps and applications.
  3. Novice: The code-and-fix model allows even the most beginner coder and designer to participate. They don't need to follow instructions or plans, or other procedures. They simple jump right in and begin to design the system.

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