Archive for March, 2008

Fire your dev teams (reprise)

No, of course I don’t really think you can fire your entire development team and throw away your existing successful code base. Just because a blog post is spell checked and doesn’t contain swear words all over it does not mean someone is being entirely serious. I’m really disappointed in the anonymous Internet hate comments that some of you have left. I’m surprised and disappointed that people claiming to be professional programmers are acting like teenage forum trolls.

Many people did leave constructive comments and their points are worth some discussion.

jimmyD pointed out that the Internet runs on “hacker built” systems such as Apache, Bind, Sendmail and many more. They’re built by a loose collection of programmers–sure–but in no way are those tools “hacks”. Apache has a rigorous process for defining their projects, managing and running each project, and for testing and releasing software. There’s a massive difference between “hacker built” and “hacked together” systems. The programmers who develop successful open-source tools are not your average computer programmer. Many successful open-source programmers are hired by large enterprise companies or successful startups in order to apply their skills to other software. Open-source is some of the most successful “enterprise” software you’ll find.

While there was disagreement about how best to move from “startup” to “enterprise” some people conceded that there is indeed a time when a company needs to move from a code slinger mentality to something a little more formal. (Thanks to Adam Ierymenko for contributing the term “code slinger”).

Business people who start companies are usually not the same people to take those companies from startup to enterprise. Many successful startup founders immediately hire business execs with years of experience running large businesses (Google, WestJet, RackSpace, Facebook). Why do we assume that technical people will be able to span the transition when business people are happy to admit that someone else has more appropriate skills? IT is not a commodity, developers often do not span these multiple roles. Dennis Martinez blames IT management for having the wrong developers, but based on the responses I had to my first post I suggest we also blame developers for failing to admit they cannot or should not span styles of development. (By the way Dennis, you should re-read my post before grabbing sentences out of context and claiming every line of text is advice.)

The terms “enterprise,” “enterprise quality” and “enterprise developer” drew a lot of flak. Many people assumed that since I had used the E word I was talking about massive engineering projects, slow application servers, or processes involving lots of overhead. I didn’t mean that, and just like you I’ve been burned by heavy shrinkwrapped stuff labelled “Enterprise”. What I mean when I say “enterprise” is that a thing is suitable for use and extension over the long term. That means it’s well tested, firstly. It means the architecture is coherent and consistent. It means the software is extensible, and maintainable by people who (often) did not write the software in the first place. It means the system is performant and scalable and easily deployed.

There will always be tradeoffs when writing software. There’s no one “right way” to create an application. A startup, under significant pressure to deliver, will usually make tradeoffs that produce worse code, and that’s the right decision at the time. But please, startup IT people, make sure you and your team are aware that you are making compromises. Discuss the problems you might face in future and have a plan in place for fixing the problems when you become the next Facebook.

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mike on March 9th 2008 in Agile, Web 2.0