Software Programmers as Bees
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A faithful reader of this blog, Tom, sent me a link to Orson Scott Card's article titled[PROGRAMMERS AS BEES (or, how to kill a software company)]. "Is there any truth in this?" Tom asked?Having worked both sides of this fence as I approach my 22 year anniversary at IBM, I guess I can venturesome opinions on this piece. Let's start with this excerpt:
"The environment that nurtures creative programmers kills management and marketing types - and vice versa."
By this, he means "kills" in the UNIX sense, I imagine, and not the "Grand Theft Auto IV" sense.Different people solve problems differently. Some programmers have the luxury that theycan often focus on a single platform, single chipset, single OS, and so on, but Marketing types are tryingto come up with messaging that appeals to a broad audience, from people with business backgrounds to others with moretechnical backgrounds, and that can be more challenging. For programmers, "creative" is an adjective; formarketers, it's a noun.
"Programming is the Great Game. It consumes you, body and soul. When you're caught up in it, nothing else matters."
True. As a storage consultant, I find myself writing code a lot, from small programs, scripts, and even HTML codefor this blog. When you are in your zone, working on something, one can easily lose track of time.
"Here's the secret that every successful software company is based on: You can domesticate programmers the way beekeepers tame bees. You can't exactly communicate with them, but you can get them to swarm in one place and when they're not looking, you can carry off the honey. You keep these bees from stinging by paying them money. More money than they know what to do with. But that's less than you might think."
I have never tamed bees, but many of my friends who are still programmers are motivated by factors other thanmaximizing their income, such as: friendly co-workers, job security, casual attire, and interesting challenges. A few make more than they know what to do with, the rest have
"One way or another, marketers get control. But...control of what? Instead of finding assembly lines of productive workers, they quickly discover that their product is produced by utterly unpredictable, uncooperative, disobedient, and worst of all, unattractive people who resist all attempts at management."
False. Either marketing had control in the first place (ala Apple, Inc.) or they never had. "Control of what?" is the key phrase here.
"The shock is greater for the coder, though. He suddenly finds that alien creatures control his life. Meetings, Schedules, Reports. And now someone demands that he PLAN all his programming and then stick to the plan, never improving, never tweaking, and never, never touching some other team's code."
True. But if you don't like surprises, perhaps software engineering is not the right career path for you.
"The hive has been ruined. The best coders leave. And the marketers, comfortable now because they're surrounded by power neckties and they have things under control, are baffled that each new iteration of their software loses market share as the code bloats and the bugs proliferate. Got to get some better packaging. Yeah, that's it."
This one depends. I've seen teams survive and manage, with junior programmers stepping up to backfill leadership roles, and other times, projects are scrapped, or started anew elsewhere. As for marketers, it doesn't take much to get one baffled, does it?
Thanks for the link, Tom!