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Fri, 29 Aug 2003

This is an archived blog post. I've switched to using WordPress as my blogging software and have not migrated all my old posts. I believe strongly in not letting an old link die, so this page continues to work. Please do visit mikemason.ca/blog to read newer posts.

People Problems

I’m sitting in the sun, on holiday in Portugal, and I realise I’m having the same kinds of problems to deal with that I do when I’m at work: people. Whilst I work for a software company, the software isn’t usually the most challenging aspect of a project. Technology is usually the easy bit – let’s face it, writing big enterprise applications isn’t exactly rocket science. (If it were rocket science, we’d still have people problems – Nasa’s software might only contain one defect per million lines of code, but if two people get confused between feet and metres it’ll still slam a probe into the surface of Mars at 30,000 miles per hour…) There are plenty of instrinsically-hard technical problems being solved, but these are being worked on by research teams and academics. I found out at uni that this really wasn’t going to be my thing – I seem to be much more of a “technical people person”.

Tech is easier than people. This holiday I’ve been driving around perfectly happily on the wrong side of the road in an unfamiliar hire car, figuring out the lights, where the wipers and gearstick are, how to fill it with diesel, and it’s all been plain sailing. The people, however, are a different matter. I’m mainly trying to relate to the person I’m on holiday with, and it’s fraught with difficulties. We misunderstand each other, have different ideas about how to deal with each situation (mostly getting lost!) and generally have a bunch of problems to deal with. Software is the same – despite what we might like the rest of the world to think, writing an application to add up a bunch of numbers isn’t hard. We just need to know which numbers, and how we should carry our multiplications.

Back at work, we tend to write a lot of software. It’s kind of what we’re good at. We’re so good at it, in fact, that software can end up looking like the cure-all for our people problems. We can just write a tool for this, a script for that, and sometimes you lose sight of the fact that the underlying problems are people problems. Sure, we need to have good frameworks and toolsets for our developers to use, but we should always keep sight of the fact that people write our software, and people are why we succeed or fail. It’s one of the reasons that Agile practices like the daily standup help us work so well. I think most of what I’m trying to say has been said quite well already by the Agile Manifesto.

And on a non-technical note, hanging out in Portugal has reminded me of Speaker for the Dead, which is part of a great series of books. I keep thinking weird things about peoples accents…

Posted 16:58, 29 Aug 2003.  

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