Saturday, December 06, 2008

Q: What is the second rule of software development?

A: Even the easy stuff is hard

A few years back I found myself sitting in a team meeting about a software project that was running way behind schedule. The company had an old Windows 3.0 product that it was trying to catapult to a Web 2.0 version in order to capture back lost market share.

The meeting was called by a Really Big VP. This last missed date was indeed, The Last Missed Date. There were no more excuses to be had.

So we were sitting in the meeting getting the expected reaming..... as if a blast of justified fury could undo a year of misguided coding. Finally the Really Big VP said, “look, we’re going to finish this product by the end of the month, even if it means that I have to learn how to program over the weekend.

At that point I knew that this product would never see the light of day. And it didn’t. But more importantly I found myself having to confront this very serious question: How the hell could a profession present itself in such a way as to give feasibility to the notion that competence could be garnered with nothing more than a weekend’s worth of cramming?

I mean, can you imagine a hospital administrator saying, “We are going to save this patient even if it means that I have to learn brain surgery over the weekend”?

Everybody knows that practicing medicine is hard. Yet, for some reason, there’s a bunch of people out there that think that coding is easy.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because of all those advertisements that promote “productivity right out of the box”.

Or maybe it’s because some dentist‘s kid with a knack for Dreamweaver took a few photos and made a web site that got an A on the science fair project. Thus, the syllogism becomes: "hey, if my kid can do it, how hard can it be?"

Whatever the reason, the premise is a dangerous myth.

Believe me, coding is hard. The learning curve takes five years minimum, and the devilish details are picayune and astronomical.

Still we seem to want to believe it’s easy, even yours truly.

For example, only three days ago I thought that I could do an installation of Subversion on a Linux box in four hours. (So what if my installation experience was Windows based?) The reality was that I forgot that I had forgotten all my Unix admin skills as well as my aversion to working at the command line.

So, what I thought would take a half a billing day of labor, took a day and a half and a ton of documentation review.

I guess that the only thing that’s easy when it comes to making software is falling prey to our own delusions.


Anonymous Sam I am. said...

You've pointed out an awful truth about internet/.com/coding world and I wish to add graphic design in this category as well. Still after 11 years of doing professional "GRAPHIC" design I bump into VPs that "USED TO BE A DESIGNER" or "USED TO BE A PROGRAMMER". Like you meet a lawyer who used to be an astronaut!!! Aaah what ever, both professions are piece of cake! The term "I used to..." carries a nasty truth that the person has absolutely no idea of what he/she is talking about. It reminds me of an interview I did years back at a company that after a formal interview they've asked me to pass a web design project test, then next week I received a call from the company asking about 2 references to prove that I am designer and all the portfolio I showed them was done by me! Finally I got a call that I've aced all stages and now I need to pass the last interview with the VP of marketing! She was a impatient pregnant woman (perhaps she was on labor that day!) who asked me some irrelevant questions which I answered them precisely and politely but when she asked me if I can be helpful in case their SQL Server went down she finally pushed my button! I looked her straight in the eye and told her "I wonder how come an illiterate person like you ended up taking such high rank position." and I walked out!

People like her are looking to find a good healthy slave with all 32 teeth in place who can cook, fix their dress and take the kids to school, help with company relocation by offering some muscle to move stuff around while perform GRAPHIC DESIGN plus necessary CODING!!!

1:42 AM  
Blogger Bob Reselman said...

Sam I am:

Your story is incomplete.

So you gave the Really Big VP a piece of your mind and then you walked out. Tell me please, did you get hired?

If your bold move was the appetizer, I would have hired you just to get to see the entree.

12:35 AM  

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