Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Long Read: Code Monkeys

This week's SLR is a gargantuan piece from Bloomberg Business about "code", computer programming languages and how they are used to craft the 21st century and beyond, written from the perspective of the people who have no idea what code is.

You are an educated, successful person capable of abstract thought. A VP doing an SVP’s job. Your office, appointed with decent furniture and a healthy amount of natural light filtered through vertical blinds, is commensurate with nearly two decades of service to the craft of management.

Copper plaques on the wall attest to your various leadership abilities inside and outside the organization: One, the Partner in Innovation Banquet Award 2011, is from the sales team for your support of its 18-month effort to reduce cycle friction—net sales increased 6.5 percent; another, the Civic Guidelight 2008, is for overseeing a volunteer team that repainted a troubled public school top to bottom.

You have a reputation throughout the organization as a careful person, bordering on penny-pinching. The way you’d put it is, you are loath to pay for things that can’t be explained. You expect your staff to speak in plain language. This policy has served you well in many facets of operations, but it hasn’t worked at all when it comes to overseeing software development.

For your entire working memory, some Internet thing has come along every two years and suddenly hundreds of thousands of dollars (inevitably millions) must be poured into amorphous projects with variable deadlines. Content management projects, customer relationship management integration projects, mobile apps, paperless office things, global enterprise resource planning initiatives—no matter how tightly you clutch the purse strings, software finds a way to pry open your fingers.

Here we go again. On the other side of your (well-organized) desk sits this guy in his mid-30s with a computer in his lap. He’s wearing a taupe blazer. He’s come to discuss spending large sums to create intangible abstractions on a “website re-architecture project.” He needs money, support for his team, new hires, external resources. It’s preordained that you’ll give these things to him, because the CEO signed off on the initiative—and yet should it all go pear-shaped, you will be responsible. Coders are insanely expensive, and projects that start with uncomfortably large budgets have an ugly tendency to grow from there. You need to understand where the hours will go.

It's a fascinating piece and well done, explaining the business of software development cycles, hardware upgrades, licensing, integration, and the whole nine yards.  As somebody who works in this industry it's a nice new perspective and a reminder that the people running the show where you work may not be tech geniuses, but they can be pretty smart too.


disqus_RobWolfe said...

I have to respectfully disagree. This article, and others of its ilk, misses a key point. nearly 100% of people in this country would be incapable of building/repairing nearly anything they use or wear on a daily basis. You do not repair your own car. You do not make your own clothes. You do not build your own toaster from scratch. You do not grow your own food, or at least not a substantial amount of it.

There is nothing magic about coding as opposed to all of those other skills. Is it difficult? Absolutely. Is it important that whomever is writing the code and managing the projects is competent? Sure is. Does the average person need to know how to do it? No more than they need to know how to butcher a hog.

and before you say "well code is different and you just don't understand because you aren't in IT"... I have a Computer Science degree and about 30 years in the industry. Yeah we like to think we are special but we are no more special than any other highly skilled tradesman.

Charles Roberts said...

The excerpt reminded me of Dilbert.

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