Monday, 13 February 2012

A Message to the New Breed of Software Developers

With the advent of the "App" and their associated distribution stores (Mac, iPhone, Android etc.)  the act of developing software has never been more popular or more accessible. The opportunity to create the next "Angry Birds" in your bedroom or living room and become an overnight millionaire is clearly very enticing to many individuals.

Before I became involved in Quality and Process Management, and long before I became a consultant I earned my living as a software engineer. I use the term advisedly - I wasn't just a programmer; I was a systems designer, architect, tester, requirements engineer, configuration manager and I learnt my trade over the course of many years from some great and passionate people.

I was driven by simplicity, elegance and efficiency in both design and code. But mostly I was driven by a desire to be a brilliant engineer with acute attention to detail, and a self motivated need to write as near perfect code as possible. It helped that in those days we were constrained by both hardware and software limitations. Compliers were command lines driven, terse and unforgiving, and IDEs were few on the ground. Memory and disk space was grossly expensive and processors were slow. A build that today might take a minute or two would take half a day, so silly mistakes were costly and time consuming. Most people, including myself coded away from the machine, only committing when we had desk checked everything to iron out as many problems as possible. All these things led to the disciplines of efficiency and care that we learnt back then.

Today, computer resources are plentiful and cheap. Software development tools are powerful and much easier to use. The constraints we suffered are resigned to our memories and computer museums. The only constraints that haven't changed are time and money which are clearly still in short supply in all commercial development shops.

But despite these advances in technology those quaint old values that I shared with my colleagues, my mentors and mentees, should still be forefront in every developer's mind. Cutting corners is not acceptable. Shipping products that fail is not acceptable. Thinking of your customer simply as a cash cow is not acceptable.

I use mobile devices for many activities during the course of the day - some critical for business and some which are critical for my relaxation. I expect these devices to work without having to reboot them during the course of the day (as I do with my laptop and desktop machines). Far too many apps crash my devices and memory management is often diabolical. New versions of software reintroduce old bugs suggesting that no proper version control is in place.

I think it's great that people have the ability, imagination, enthusiasm,  capacity and desire to create software and there are a number of apps I use regularly on both my iOS devices and Macs which are a pleasure and delight to use. These are often sourced from those one person outfits whose desire to create great software outweighs the desire to get rich quick. They also tend to be great at supporting problems and always willing to go the extra mile to help fix things when they occasionally go astray. These people understand that they have a responsibility to focus on the details and to get things as right as possible as often as possible.

So my message to all developers, commercial and freelance, whether part of a team or solo artists, is simple. Please reassess your values and your methods next time you start to work on a piece of code or a new design. The best processes in the world are worthless if you - as an individual developer - fail to actually give a toss about what you are responsible for, and fail to give true consideration to your customers and their basic needs and requirements.

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