I was reading this
top ten list yesterday, and I thought I can problably come up with my
own list of things no-one told me before I started developing software
for money. This is my list.
- Object orientation is much harder than you think
Maybe it's just me, but coming from Computer Science class I
thought that OO was easy. I mean, how hard can it be to create classes
that mimic the real world? It turns out that it's pretty hard. Ten
years later, I'm still learning how to model properly. I wish I spent
more time reading up on OO and design patterns. Good modeling skills
are worth a lot to every development team.
- The difficult part of software development is communication
And that's communication with persons, not socket programming.
Now and then you do run into a tricky technical problem, but it's not
at all that common. Much more common is misunderstandings between you
and the project manager, between you and the customer and finally
between you and the other developers. Work on your soft skills.
- Learn to say no
When I started working, I was very eager to please. This meant
that I had a hard time saying no to things people asked of me. I worked
a lot of overtime, and still didn't finish everything that was asked of
me. The result was disappointment from their side, and almost burning
out on my part. If you never say no, your yes is worth very little.
Commit to what you can handle, and if people keep asking you for more,
make it very explicit that this would mean not doing something else.
What I did was to have a list of stuff that I needed to do on a piece
of paper with me. When someone asked for something, I showed them the
list and asked what I should bump to have time to help them. This
allowed me to say no in a nice way.
- If everything is equally important, then nothing is important
The business likes to say that all the features are as
crucial. They are not. Push back and make them commit. It's easier if
you don't force them to pick what to do and what not to do. Instead,
let them choose what you should do this week. This will let you produce the stuff that brings value first. If all else goes haywire, at least you've done that.
- Don’t over-think a problem
I can spend whole days designing things in front of the white
board. That doesn't mean it will be any better, it just means it will
be more complicated. I don't mean to say you shouldn't design at all,
just that the implementation will quickly show me stuff I didn't think
of anyway, so why try to make it perfect? Like Dave Farell says: “The
devil is in the details, but exorcism is in implementation, not theory.”
- Dive really deep into something, but don't get hung up
Chris and I spent a lot
of time getting into the real deep parts of SQL Server. It was great
fun and I learned a lot from it, but after some time I realized that
knowing that much didn't really help me solve the business' problems.
An example: I know that at the table level, SQL Server will not take an
IU lock – it will only take a IX lock. This is a performance tweak,
since most of the time, the IU lock will have to be escalated into a IX
lock anyway. To find this, I spent countless days experimenting, I read
loads of material and talked to Microsoft people at conferences. Have I
ever had any use of this knowledge. Nope.
- Learn about the other parts of the software development machine
It's really important to be a great developer. But to be a
great part of the system that produces software, you need to understand
what the rest of the system does. How do the QA people work? What does
the project manager do? What drives the business analyst? This
knowledge will help you connect with the rest of the people, and will
grease interactions with them. Ask the people around you for help in
learning more. What books are good? Most people will be flattered that
you care, and willingly help you out. A little time on this goes a
really long way.
- Your colleagues are your best teachers
A year after I started on my first job, we merged with another
company. Suddenly I had a lot of much more talented and experienced
people around me. I remember distinctly how this made me feel inferior
and stupid. I studied hard, reading book after book but I still didn't
catch up. They had too much of an advantage on me, I figured.
Nowadays, working with great people doesn't make me feel bad at all. I
just feel I have the chance of a lifetime to learn. I ask questions and
I try really hard to understand how my colleagues come to the
conclusions they do. This is why I joined ThoughtWorks. See your peers
as an asset, not competition.
- It all comes down to working software
No matter how cool your algorithms are, no matter how
brilliant your database schema is, no matter how fabulous your whatever
is, if it doesn't scratch the clients' itch, it's not worth anything.
Focus on delivering working software, and at the same time prepare to
continue delivering software using that code base and you're on the
- Some people are assholes
Most of the time, most of the people around you are great. You
learn from them, and they learn from you. Accomplishing something
together is a good feeling. Unfortunately, you will probably run into
the exceptions. People that because of something or other are plain old
mean. Demeaning bosses. Lying colleagues. Stupid, ignorant customers.
Don't take this too hard. Try to work around them and do what you can
to minimize the pain and effort they cause, but don't blame yourself.
As long as you stay honest and do your best, you've done your part.