Let’s face it: every programmer loves the “copy&paste” when he is prototyping a solution, learning how to use a new library or just needs a quick fix, and why not?
I mean, yes, it is important understand what we are doing, the implications of every single line of code, keep the elegance, coherency and the simplicity, but those characteristics don’t come just from inspiration neither reading and understanding the theory, nor from a big flame war at email or IRC. We need examples. We learn, as good ape descendants, from imitation.
We are learning/fixing/prototyping and we need fast feedback in order to keep us happy and motivated. We need perceive the progress of our iterative work. The “copy&paste” is great for those purposes. Then, the discipline must do its work sustaining the new acquired knowledge, but that is another history.
But even in the “copy&paste” we must be smart and responsible with ourselves: we must seek the best examples to imitate, we must look at the alpha male, to borrow the brightest resources available. “Copy&Paste” the code of a lousy programmer and you will be another one; “copy&paste” the the code of a great programmer and maybe, someday, you and I will be one.
A great resource to search, easily and fast, great sources of code, since a couple years to now, is Google’s CodeSearch. It does searches along a great number of successful and recognized open projects sources (released tarballs mostly).
When I am working on a programming task which implies new code, my usual work-flow is to visualize the solution as a sequential execution of macro operations which will be defined to to a more fine grained at each iteration. At each iteration usually I found situations when I want to have either a quick solution, or I want to find how others have solved it, or just how to use a specific function/method call, so I go the CodeSearch site and type the used programming language, the related API, et voilà, several possible solutions are shown.
Further more, if I need know how to achieve something with autoconf-fu, script-fu, or even system-configuration-fu, I can do searches with specific file names as Makefile.am or configure.ac.
My two cents in programming tips.