Monday, August 29, 2005

Work vs. Progress

In Work vs. Progress, Scott Berkun writes about the difficulty of measuring progress in software development and other creative activities. We all know hours worked, lines of code, and other simple metrics don't really measure progress. Managers depend on such metrics only because the alternative is wicked hard.

Berkun outlines some smarter approaches to setting goals and measuring progress, but there is no silver bullet. Each software project has its own challenges, constraints and personalities. A good manager has a bag of tricks, but must adapt to the situation at hand. On this blog, I have often complained about short-sighted managers, but I haven't often acknowledged this simple fact: Software project management is an extremely difficult job. It is easy for software developers to complain about bad managers, but few of us could do a better job.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Franconia Notch State Park

Lonesome Lake

Alpine Zone

Franconia Notch

Friday, August 19, 2005

Spam Bites Blog

Over the past few days, this blog has been hit by spammers who post unrelated comments to specific posts. I have removed most of the spam, but here's an example:
='Brand New News Fr0m The Timber Industry!!'=

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[... and so on ...]
I am currently using the basic Blogger comments feature. I suppose this means I will have to replace it with comments from or some other source. I'm open to suggestions. Please post a comment if you have some relevant advice. Of course if it's spam, I'll just delete it.

Ethics and Software Development

Mr. Ed has posted another thought provoking essay on Hacknot. The Crooked Timber of Software Development asserts that software development is more of an occupation than a profession:
The key concept in any profession is that of integrity. It means, quite literally, "unity or wholeness." A profession maintains its integrity by enforcing standards upon its practitioners, ensuring that those representing the profession offer a minimum standard of competence. Viewed from the perspective of a non-practitioner, the profession therefore offers a consistent promise of a certain standard of work, and creates the public expectation of a certain standard of service.
In other words, unlike the medical profession, we have no residency system, licensing board, or code of ethics. Therefore software development is not a real profession.

I suspect Mr. Ed is using a rhetorical flourish to make his point. In any case, I don't agree there is one standard for all professions. Software development, as a profession, is certainly at a much earlier stage in it's evolution than medicine. But I do agree with his main point:
If we are ever to make a profession of software development, to move beyond the currently fractured and uncoordinated group of individuals motivated by self-interest, with little or no concern for the reputation or collective future of their occupation, then some fundamental changes in attitude must occur. We must begin to value both personal and professional integrity and demonstrate a strong and unwavering commitment to it in our daily professional lives.

Mr. Ed closes with the story of David Parnas, a software developer who resigned from the Department of Defense over his objections to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). There might be a hint of politics masquerading as ethics in Parnas's story, but you can't argue with his code of ethics:
  • I am responsible for my own actions and cannot rely on any external authority to make my decisions for me

  • I cannot ignore ethical and moral issues. I must devote some of my energy to deciding whether the task that has been given is of benefit to society.

  • I must make sure that I am solving the real problem, not simply providing short-term satisfaction to my supervisor.

Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Contestants Making Brownie Points

In the early 1970s, the prophet Dr. Brooks wrote this about a major software development project:
The project was large enough and management communications poor enough to prompt many members of the team to see themselves as contestants making brownie points, rather than as builders making programming products. Each suboptimized his piece to meet his targets; few stopped to think about the total effect on the customer. This breakdown in orientation and communication is a major hazard for large projects.
If you are a student of human nature, it's no surprise the contestants are still at it. In some organizations, it is all about maximum visibility for minimum effort. The truly frightening thing is how far the tools for self-promotion have evolved since the 1970s. These days contestants wield PowerPoint presentations, electronic mail, and instant messaging in their quest for maximum visibility. There's nothing wrong with Joe Programmer using such tools to communicate, but in some cases, he should be spending more time with his favorite IDE.

Of course, the above quote is from The Mythical Man-Month. Having stated the problem, Dr. Brooks begins framing the solution in the very next sentence:
All during implementation, the system architects must maintain continual vigilance to ensure continued system integrity. Beyond this policing mechanism, however, lies the matter of the attitude of the implementers themselves. Fostering a total-system, user-oriented attitude may well be the most important function of the programming manager.
In other words, when a software project is in trouble, it is ultimately not the fault of individuals who "suboptimize". It is the architect's job to monitor the integrity of the system and the project manager's job to foster the right attitude. This is a classic system of checks and balances. It may be human nature for developers to minimize effort, but in a healthy organization, the leadership encourages and rewards behavior that results in a better product.

The above quotes come from Chapter 9, Ten Pounds in a Five-Pound Sack. In this context, Dr. Brooks was describing how to safeguard performance when developing large systems. He might just as well been describing how to safeguard the health of a development organization. Only a dysfunctional organization allows a developer to choose building a better career over building a better product. In my opinion, the only way to build a better career should be by building a better product first.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Disintermediate Cutting-Edge Schemas

Yesterday, my co-resources and I were having fun with the Web Economy BS Generator. This inventive little web-toy automatically generates meaningless marketing phrases like "maximize front-end web-readiness", "whiteboard compelling initiatives", and "generate magnetic interfaces".

But truth is stranger than fiction. This morning I googled a few of these phrases. It turns out a company named Intisoft really does enable collaborative e-business. And an Arthur Anderson report really does recommend that your company disintermediate customer relationships. I am almost certain 90s Web hasn't really been "orchestrating e-business to e-business e-business since 1995", but it's difficult to separate parody from unintentional self-parody.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Wilton Town Hall Theater

The Wilton Town Hall Theater is a Southern New Hampshire treasure. It is a very small movie theater with two screens. Most of the year they show foreign and independent films. During the summer they usually show at least one blockbuster to help pay for the rest of the year.

Yes, the theater really is in the town hall. The box office entrance is right next door to the town offices. Ticket prices are $5 and $3. As you walk to your seats in the main theater, the wooden floor boards creak. It feels like you are stepping back in time. When the vintage "Previews of Coming Attractions" reel plays, the effect is complete. You have traveled back to 1965.

I haven't been able to find the details on the web, but in addition to running current films, the Wilton Town Hall Theater also offers free Saturday matinees of film classics. This Saturday, the free feature is This Gun for Hire, a 1942 film noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

March of the Penguins

We saw March of the Penguins last night. It's a feature length National Geographic Special about the annual migration of adult emperor penguins. It was fascinating. Every March, the penguins leave their ocean habitat and walk 70 miles across the Antarctic ice to their breeding grounds. They form pairs, each mother lays a single egg, then each pair works together to ensure the survival of their chick through the harsh Antarctic winter. They are 70 miles from any food source. I won't give away any more details. That would take the fun out of watching the story unfold. It is just incredible how they manage to survive.

This is a great family movie. There are some short scenes that might unsettle a sensitive child, but overall it is uplifting and fun. The kids in my family (ages 8 to 48) all loved it.

For more see Google Reviews.