Monday, 15 June 2015

Two Great Essays on Software and Programmers

For many years, the stand-out essay on programming and programmers has been Rands’ The Nerd Handbook. It’s one of those essays which makes you wonder when you met the writer and how he got into your head so quickly. If you’re a programmer or engineering type, and have doubts about the acceptability of your behaviour and the way you look at the world, then read this and know that You Are One of Many.

Last week I read another essay that made me think “this guy has been there, understands what he's looking at, and has nailed it”. Paul Ford’s What Is Code? is the best essay I’ve read about software, programming, managing software projects, and the personalities and motives involved. Uniquely, Ford manages to explain software developers' concerns in managerial terms and managerial concerns in terms I hope software developers will understand. It’s a must-read.

The whole thing is quotable, but this one hit me especially...
What no one in engineering can understand is that what they perceive as static, slow-moving, exhausting, the enemy of progress—the corporate world that surrounds them, the world in which they work—is not static. Slow-moving, yes, but so are battleships when they leave port. What the coders aren’t that the staid enterprise world that they fear isn’t the consequence of dead-eyed apathy but rather détente. 
They can’t see how hard-fought that stability is. Where they see obstacles and intransigence, [managers] see a huge, complex, dynamic system through which flows a river of money and where people are deeply afraid to move anything that would dam that river.
You want to understand the culture of a large company, grok that second paragraph. The word afraid is exactly the right one. Management doesn’t really know why the river of money flows through their organisation, because they know that all the competing organisations are no better or worse. So it must be magic. And they are afraid that someone will do something to turn the magic off.

If you haven't read either, read both.

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