Thursday, June 28, 2007

Is it good to be perfect?

So over on raganwald there was an interesting quote pulled from an article by Steve Yegge that I believe attempts to point out just how much he loves working at Google. The article goes on to essentially point out that Google seems to do everything right in terms of software development. The appropriate levels of documentation are always available, the correct unit testing and other information is always completed and as blasphemous as it may sound developers are given a bit of free choice and input into what it is that they are actually doing/developing. THIS sounds a little bit like a Utopian society of developers but is it really? Steve attempts to point out that the way Google has done it is part of a discipline he states:

"I don't think you can get that kind of software-engineering discipline without doing it right from the start, and creating a culture that enforces and reinforces that discipline as the organization grows."

While this may be true is it the reality? This statement would seem to exclude all those companies that didn't start out in the way prescribed. Does that make sense?

I think what the quote is missing is that most companies are in the software business because they have to be, not because that is their main focus or even their main business driver. Take for instance BigCo. BigCo has a range of products that it offers to people. The products that BigCo. offers are what drives its business. Now it just so happens that the products that BigCo. offers are sold through the web and that BigCo. also has a fairly large IT department managing all the systems that deal with the product that it sells. The process that BigCo. follows grew out of the product process not out of a software development process. Does that fact make what BigCo. does for software development inherently flawed - or better yet would it make the avg. software developer mad? I am going to guess that like most things some portion of the way software is developed would and some would not. In the end however I would argue that it is still possible for BigCo. to come to a similar nirvana as Steve has found in working for Google.

Companies grow and they change a great deal in their life times. Alot like humans grow from children into adults hopefully learning along the way. This learning process can be long and it can be arduous but it can be done. What I would argue that the change from child to adult software development requires is good people that are willing to help BigCo. move towards a vision of nirvana. I would argue that being the 'Perfect' development shop from the start may leave no room to grow, to change, to expand the horizons and most importantly it will lack the people with a questioning eye for how the process runs. Without the questions the process, no matter how good it is, may stagnate and start to blemish or tarnish and when it does - those developers living in nirvana won't know how to fix it because they have been too happy for too long.
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