Thursday, January 01, 2009

One Year...

One year ago I canceled all of my subscriptions to software development groups. One year ago I stopped attending any local users groups. One year ago I went back to being nothing more than a programmer.

I did that for a few reasons.

One reason was that I decided the posting opinions and comments to all of those groups seemed to exhibit attributes of an addiction. It became too important to be heard on a forum where there is no human interaction and that is filled with miscommunication, misinterpretation, and seemingly endless rehashing.

I canceled my subscriptions so that I would not be able to post. I have lurked on the groups that have rights that anyone may read without being a member. Because of not being able to post I did not feel the need to read the group several times a day. I probably checked the groups twice a month and then I quickly scanned the topics to see if anything new or interesting was being discussed or if any particular posters that I like to monitor had any comments.

Wow, if you have read to this point I am amazed. I mean really, who cares what one software developer rambles on about.

I have focused on software development. At work I am just another programmer. During the last year I have written tens of thousands of lines of code. Yes, that much. I have thrown out about the same amount as well. I have developed some of the most sophisticated code that is highly optimized for the specific platform in which it runs. I have invented two new visualization techniques for specific types of data. I have invented new "widgets" for manipulating data.

All of the code has been developed using the "Design by Use" approach.

I have complex objects that have tests to exercise them. I have thousands of lines of code without a single test (in the current way of thinking of tests).

I have not encouraged any process what-so-ever, in the traditional sense of process. I don't remind anyone to have a stand-up meeting. I haven't moved a single card on the white board from one category to the next.

During this time I have became "online" friends with a few of our key customers. Yes, a lowly developer talking directly to customers! Surely the end is nigh.

During this year I have been quite satisfied with work. And for me work has been writing software. Not talking about writing large systems, but actually writing them. This system is multi-threaded and difficult to manage because it needs lots of system resources. It runs on a database and has complex data structures. Just the other day I had to refresh my memory on the shortest path problem for graphs.

Here is an interesting observation. The code seems to be just as solid, reliable, and efficient as code where I used some software process and lauded the processes' use and talked of its advantages. "Heresy! Surely he has strayed because of his absence!" cries the dogmatic process evangelist!

During this time I have been carefully observing every aspect of the team I work on and other teams in the company. What have I learned? A lot.

I have learned "selective publication of favorable results" seems to dominate discussion in the field of software development. The "causal" argument is predominant in software process.

I have learned that skill in programming is the most important aspect of all. A skilled programmer can seemingly ignore process and still produce quality code. Another thing I have observed is that software process does not seem to improve the core skills of the software developer.

For example the core skills of a software developer would be such things as understanding the order of an algorithm, when to use a hash table, etc.

I have noticed some "younger" developers have the idea that you can just find something on "Code Project" and it will do. I ask them, "Can you maintain what you download?" By that I mean do you understand how it works because you are responsible for that code and no excuses will be sufficient to relieve you have the responsibility that the code works correctly.

A programmer with a sound understanding of algorithms, data-structures (or containers), threading, and other essentials is more capable of writing solid code than one who does not have good coding skills that follows some software processes religiously.

I recommend the reading of "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments".

In my opinion the greatest thing that can be done to improve software development is to improve the fundamental skills of the software developer.

This year of observation has me currently of the opinion that I would rather have a team of solid programmers that follow some informal process than a team of average programmers that adhere to every tenant of some software process.

Those that have followed my posts and ideas know that I am not talking about a bunch of cowboy programmers and empire builders. So, If you are imagining that I am justifying such behavior you are incorrect and I have not been clear and for that I apologize.

I advocate improved education, processes that promote the gaining of experience, and improved reasoning skills.

"The haphazard approach to training in reasoning from evidence in our society is, in its way, astounding — and merits a call to action. Better reasoning from evidence is substantially teachable but seldom directly taught, much less required. It should be central to curriculum requirements, at both graduate (advanced) and undergraduate (basic) levels — if not sooner."

"After all, sound reasoning from evidence is (or ought to be) fundamental for persons in each arena in which decisions should be rendered, or inferences drawn, on evidence: not just doctors and scientists, but journalists, policy makers — and indeed citizens, whose determinations affect not solely their own lives but others', each time they parent, serve on juries, and vote."
Reasoning from Evidence: A Call for Education, Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD

This year I am going to become involved again in Software Process. Not in the way I used to be involved. Times have changed and so have I.

What have you learned in the past year? What did you do to learn it?


CARFIELD said...

Very interesting thought, thanks for sharing

Esteban Araya said...


Don't let the Agilistas hear you. They'll come after you! :)

On a more serious note: yeah, we need more smart "get it done" programmers and less interruptions for them.

Good post!