Are you a software developer? I am, and everyday I’m embarrassed by my profession.
Every single day, I run across some website, app, video-game, program or plugin that is egregiously broken; embarrassingly broken; 5000-developers-with-six-figure-salaries-and-free-catered-lunches-and-still-can’t-get-it-right, broken.
Apps on my phone, tablet, computer, tv, and car, crash constantly, sometimes resulting in actual data loss. We shoved television behind a pay-wall in a cube that buffers and loads more than it presents anything. We broke copy & paste, because who would ever want to paste a password anywhere? Form fields do this shit where they want to autocomplete and autocorrect and autofill 3 different suggestions at once. We connected wrist-watches to the internet to draw doodles back and forth that don’t even send half the time. We hid mechanical engines behind electronics so complex there is noticeable lag driving performance cars. We connected entertainment systems to airplane diagnostic systems, so passengers can see how high up they are. We connect doors to the web to unlock them remotely, but firmware updates brick them and now you’re locked out of your house. We connect smoke detectors to the web and now the entire house & every connected device in it is beeping because you grilled a burger-patty, and the app on your phone to stop them isn’t responding.
Today’s software is a perpetual nightmare machine of non-stop frustrations.
Writing software is hard, mostly for reasons that don’t actually involve the software itself. I could go on about stakeholders, or how project managers are whatever. I could say that developers should be left alone to concentrate. I could say it’s nobody’s fault because it’s everybody’s fault. I could say all kinds of trite crap to poorly defend the people that populate the position I hold most dear, and currently the most fun job I think anyone could ever hope to perform.
I could say lots of things, but they’d all be lies.
The harsh truth is that many of you shouldn’t be writing software for production use, because you’re just not that good at it yet. You’re not experienced. You haven’t shipped anything. You don’t know how to recover from the damage you will inevitably cause.
You break people’s shit – constantly, anonymously, and without repercussion. You aren’t meticulous in your life, you don’t care about etiquette, so you won’t do your employer any better, and you certainly won’t care if any of your users complain on Twitter.
Sure; mistakes happen. We all overlook stuff. That’s how you learn, right? By repeating and improving and discovering what you missed the previous times. And there is more to discover everyday, because there are more & more design patterns and philosophies and dependencies and processes and teams and stakeholders and deadlines and Carl called in sick and no one understands what he even does here anymore but it’s suddenly critical to today’s problems and why is this line of code 500 characters long and who messed up all this whitespace and why can’t we all agree not to use ternaries and why does this class inherit from 5 other classes and on and on and on.
Software is eating the world, but… garbage in, garbage out. So, what can we do?
- Be meticulous. Someone will undoubtedly refer to you as OCD, or apply some other insulting derogatory bullshit label. Screw them; they suck at their job anyway.
- Pay attention, to everything. You are the Axel Foley of software development. Writing code and fixing bugs is target practice for your soul. Do it constantly, rearrange the pieces in your mind while you shower, and take everything in. This means watching, listening, learning, while writing less and solving more.
- Be vigilant. Everything around you is intricately balanced and ready to come crashing down at a misplaced semi-colon’s notice. I’m not joking. You can very easily cause millions of dollars in revenue losses by breaking just 1 dependency in a complex chain. Code is poetry, but it’s also contagious.
- Be respectful. Push your chair in. Hold the door for everyone. Smile at people, even when you’re grumpy. Someone has to maintain the terrible decisions you’ve made once you level-up & move-on, and that’s easier to do when you like the person who’s shadow you’re in.
- Contribute to open-source. This is where you earn your lumps; not behind closed doors, not in a sweet corporate environment, and not sitting at a desk sipping a mocha-latté. You need to jump up on stage, give your best performance, and embrace the tomatoes and boos, because you’re probably going to be terrible for your first few rounds.
- If it ain’t fun, it ain’t right. Once you stop feeling joy from the software you’re writing, it’s time to move onto something else. Sitting still and being complacent isn’t healthy, even if it feels pretty natural not to burn all those calories moving on to newer and more exciting endeavors.
- Make friends. Like, real ones. Ones that will come to your wedding from across the country. These are the people that will remind you how good you are when you need them to, and they’ll have your back when you’re not having fun anymore.
- Learn how to make soup. Not even kidding. Understanding how to make the best of what few ingredients you have is essential to writing good software. Embrace your constraints, and don’t be afraid of butter or salt because they’re universally delicious.
- Challenge authority constantly. Most people have no idea what they’re doing. They were asked or tasked with a problem, and either they follow the above methods or they pass the problem on to someone else. They’re in a holding pattern, until the next big thing happens to them, instead of making big things happen around them.
- Find mentors everywhere. Follow a person around that you want to be like, take bits of pieces of what works for them, and apply them to your life. Steal, plagiarize, and sample small enough traits until you’re an amalgamation of the hippest, funniest, most awesome people you’ve ever come across.
Then, after all of that, sit down and write the best ‘effing software anyone has ever used. ❤️