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Reading some...

posted Dec 24, 2011, 10:32 AM by Frank Adrian
Someone left a copy of the book "Dreaming in Code" by Scott Rosenberg lying about at work and, since I had nothing better to do during the holiday, I picked it up and started reading. Besides being a fascinating look at a software project train wreck, the author goes into the arcana of programming and programmers fairly well, giving a good view into the world we code geeks inhabit. He has one section devoted to software engineers' tool lust and the danger that entails - primarily that software people will dick about with tools rather than going and actually coding what is needed for a product to be completed.

This took me back to a conversation I had with Dick Gabriel at the 2002 Feyerabend Seminar/Conference/Happening/Whatever...

I talked to Dick about doing something to make programmer's lives easier and he snapped at me, "I never want to hear about making things easier for the programmer again - we should be focused on making things easier for the user." Of course, at one level, he was right - in our "Worse is Better" world, we often turn out a product that sucks for the user and we shouldn't do that. Dick also might have still have been bitter about his experience with Lucid where, frankly, the developers who were his intended customer base showed that they couldn't actually tell if a tool were good enough and wouldn't pay for it, even if it was good. But, at a deeper level, I still think his blanket elevation of customer ease over provider ease was wrong.

Basically, we depend on others to do many different things for us in our lives. Although these things are done for money, unless they are done well and with care, it is our quality of life that often suffers - just ask anyone who has been on the phone with an indifferent customer service agent. And most people who do things well and with care are those who actually like doing those things. This is true for auto mechanics, medical care personnel, managers, salesmen, and, yes, programmers. If, in my quest for the supreme customer experience, I make the lives of the people providing me with this experience hell, the less likely I am to find the experience. Contrariwise, the more I make the life of these people who provide me with service easier, the more care I get in return (this is one reason you shouldn't be surly to waitstaff) - no, it's not always true, but it's true enough.

And this is where I think Dick lost the thread. In his statement, his vehemence made it sound almost as if he thought that we should turn out great service, even at the cost of making the lives of service providers impossibly hard. Unfortunately, down that road lies a company with no one left to provide the service. I can think of only one or two companies who made this strategy work (the most prominent example being Apple Computer). In order to do this, the company had to provide many additional benefits, real or psychic, to make this difficulty worthwhile. Sometimes (especially when I look at the shiny surface of an iPad), it almost seems worth it. But, in the final analysis, I don't think so. I think the world is better when we all take note of each others' limitations and work to make everyone's lives a bit easier.

That being said, I'm glad that the book gave me a chance to reminisce.