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Software development

Sustainable software development II : rewrite and star performer

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Rewrite
Developers usually like new project, sometimes called green field project, in the sense developers have more freedom to create (think of a white paper). In the same token, from time to time people will start a “full rewrite” project as the old project (code base) is “so messed up” and beyond repair. Is that real? A very high profile “rewrite” failure is the Netscape rewrite (see Joel Spolsky’s post here). And recently yours truly was involved in such “rewrite effort” as well. The result is also similar. I think not just developers, some managers also like the “rewrite” as well, due to various reasons. Some are valid, and some are not. Software (if it’s true software) usually lasts longer than people thought. In 2002, I visited my former workplace, a manufacturing place in Shanghai, and surprised to found they are still running my Foxbase/Foxpro based report generator, the the OS is Windows 3.1. At the time I worked on this (1994/1995), it saved 2 accounts, a few days of work (type calculators), each month. I bet they still used it for sometime after 2002, but I really doubt that will last till today, and the printer (Epison pin based) may not find punched hole printing papers 🙂

Star Performer
I thought this problem for a while. I happened to listen to one podcast from “this agile life“, and read this article The surprising danger of being good at your job from yahoo/business insider, both helped me think more about this problem.

I think in software development world, it’s a very common phenomena, like @codinghorror said in this post “two types of progammers“, basically he is saying there 20% of developers are passionate about software development, 80% of them are there to get a pay check. But the star’s power and magic needs to be balanced or controlled, so that the teammates can also thrive and together the team can deliver something truly good.

Another related phenomena, is Lebron James in NBA. A few months ago we witnessed his heroics again. But Cavs did not win eventually. One reason I think is they are one man team. While their opponent Warriors are a real team.

Side note
Last week I received an email from my former boss asking me about a “magic number” I put in the code. I had to admit I messed up 🙂

Categories
Software development

Sustainable software development : I

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I am starting a series of “Sustainable software development” blog posts. Like many series I did in the past, it could be a series of one and only, or it could be a true fall classic (WS series).

Back to the topic, I have been doing software development for almost 15 years, been through many organizations, sometimes move between different organizations inside one company. And I think among all these agile, water fall, off shore, near shore, on shore etc., the most important of all is: consistently deliver values to customer. The key of what I said is “consistently” and “value”. Note I am not trying to add another one or two buzz words here. By that I mean everybody should be happy: employee or contractor don’t get overworked, feel they got the short end of the stick, managers don’t feel they got squeezed between sales people and the end customer, the customer does not feel been lied to (by the “used car” salesman). How do we achieve that? I think it’s both a management and engineering question or discipline. Note I said “sustainable” in the topic, if any of the one conditions (symptoms) is true in real world, what will happen? Employee or contractor will leave, manager will feel depressed (they may not leave as fast because it’s usually harder to find a manager position), customer will get angry and make threatening calls…

Note I will mentioned “software”, not “application” or something. Software is a bit older word than application, or “apps” the new buzz word popularized by Apple (Steve Jobs?). Good old fashion software. A lot of times when I saw “applications” people developed, it’s merely a configuration or customization of some prepackaged software. I used to work for company does that sort of thing too. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in customization or configuration. But that is NOT “software development”, that is “software customization” or “configuration”. Also, there is a drawback to this approach, the “upgrade nightmare”, because it’s hard to upgrade to the original software due to poor customization. Customization, if properly done, I think the changes can be localized, and the application can be maintained. On the other hand, if it’s not properly done, just like “hard code” things in the code, it becomes harder and harder to catch up with the vendor as time goes. It’s very likely those kinds of system will generate a lot of outages and support calls, and we know most developers don’t like handle production support problem all day (and night). They like development better.

This reminds me a related question I came across on Quora How do you make programmers work 60-80 hours per week? The short answer is don’t do that. In today’s world, we still think about a problem when in shower (just like Warren Buffett got the idea to buy BoA stock in shower :-), as Ryan Matte said in Quora: a programmer never really turns it off. So from management point of view, they should really encourage the hard working developers to go off to take a break. I recall my middle school teacher had very similar philosophy.

So this is my 2 cents to get started on this topic. I will hopefully get back to this soon…maybe talk about how to use agile and team size to make software development more sustainable:-)

So long…