Joel Inserts Foot in Mouth and Then Shoots Self in Foot.

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For as smart a guy as Joel Spolsky supposedly is, you’d think he’d keep his dumb ass remarks off his blog and between himself and his interns.

In his latest ego-inflating piece of verbal masturbation, Joel insults the internal corporate developer.

Is software really about artistic high notes? “Maybe some stuff is,” you say, “but I work on accounts receivable user interfaces for the medical waste industry.” Fair enough. This is a conversation about software companies, shrinkwrap software, where the company's success or failure is directly a result of the quality of their code.

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Sadly, this doesn’t really apply in non-product software development. Internal, in-house software is rarely important enough to justify hiring rock stars. Nobody hires Dolly Parton to sing at weddings. That’s why the most satisfying careers, if you’re a software developer, are at actual software companies, not doing IT for some bank.

Now, let’s put aside for the moment the arguments on how outstanding internal developers are just as important as outstanding shrink wrap developers. Scott Reynolds does a nice job covering that.

The real question here is just who on god’s green Earth does Joel think makes the recommendation to buy his bug tracking and content management software? It certainly isn’t management or the Linus Torvalds of the world clamoring for FogBugz. Hmmm, call it a hunch, but I would imagine a large proportion of his sales come from internal corporate developers. So how much sense does it make to give them the big middle finger while sitting smugly cloistered away in your ivory tower divorced from reality?

Now I agree with his general point, that if you’re in the business of software, you should hire the best programmers you can get. I don’t think his goal was to alienate corporate developers, but to illustrate one unique aspect of how hiring the best applies to shrink-wrapped software.

Here’s why: duplication of software is free. That means that the cost of programmers is spread out over all the copies of the software you sell. With software, you can improve quality without adding to the incremental cost of each unit sold.

Essentially, design adds value faster than it adds cost.

Where I disagree is his casual dismissal of non-shrink-wrap developers. Hitting the high notes isn’t always about creating emotional appeal with a shrink wrap product. Sometimes it’s solving an engineering problem in such a creative or elegant manner so that millions are saved, or in the case of Apollo 13, lives are saved.

How about this for a principle, For many internal developers, millions of dollars, the entire business, even lives may be at stake (for example, the Shuttle programmers), all resting on the integrity of a single copy of unique software. How is the best any less needed in this scenario?.

I could say more, but I need some sleep. I’ve got a plane to catch.

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