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Software - How Software Companies Die
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 1995 05:09:25 -0500

<><><><><><><><>  T h e   V O G O N   N e w s   S e r v i c e  <><><><><><><><>
 Edition : 3257               Monday 20-Feb-1995            Circulation :  5076
VNS COMPUTER NEWS:                            [Tracy Talcott, VNS Computer De
==================                            [Nashua, NH, USA
 Software - How Software Companies Die
        {Windows Sources, March 1995, p. 208}
        {Contributed by: Mique Talcott}
        By: Orson Scott Card
   The environment that nutures creative programmers kills management and
 marketing types - and vice versa.
   Programming is the Great Game.  It consumes you, body and soul.  When
 you're caught up in it, nothing else matters.  When you emerge into daylight,
 you might well discover that you're a hundred pounds overweight, your
 underwear is older than the average first grader, and judging from the number
 of pizza boxes lying around, it must be spring already.  But you don't care,
 because your program runs, and the code is fast and clever and tight.
   You won.
   You're aware that some people think you're a nerd.  So what?  They're not
 players.  They've never jousted with Windows or gone hand to hand with DOS.
 To them C++ is a decent grade, almost a B - not a language.  They barely
 exist.  Like soldiers or artists, you don't care about the opinions of
 civilians.  You're building something intricate and fine.  They'll never
 understand it.
   Here's the secret that every successful software company is based on:  You
 can domesticate programmers the way beekeepers tame bees.  You can't exactly
 communicate with them, but you can get them to swarm in one place and when
 they're not looking, you can carry off the honey.
   You keep these bees from stinging by paying them money.  More money than
 they know what to do with.  But that's less than you might think.  You see,
 all these programmers keep hearing their fathers' voices in their heads
 saying "When are you going to join the real world?"  All you have to pay
 them is enough money that they can answer (also in their heads) "Geez, Dad,
 I'm making more than you."  On average, this is cheap.
   And you get them to stay in the hive by giving them other coders to swarm
 with.  The only person whose praise matters is another programmer.
 Less-talented programmers will idolize them; evenly matched ones will
 challenge and goad one another; and if you want to get a good swarm, you make
 sure that you have at least one certified genius coder that they can all look
 up to, even if he glances at other people's code only long enough to sneer at
   He's a Player, thinks the junior programmer.  He looked at my code.  That
 is enough.
   If a software company provides such a hive, the coders will give up sleep,
 love, health, and clean laundry, while the company keeps the bulk of the
   Here's the problem that ends up killing company after company.  All
 successful software companies had, as their dominant personality, a leader who
 nurtured programmers.  But no company can keep such a leader forever.  Either
 he cashes out, or he brings in management types who end up driving him out, or
 he changes and becomes a management type himself.  One way or another,
 marketers get control.
   But...control of what?  Instead of finding assembly lines of productive
 workers, they quickly discover that their product is produced by utterly
 unpredictable, uncooperative, disobedient, and worst of all, unattractive
 people who resist all attempts at management.  Put them on a time clock, dress
 them in suits, and they become sullen and start sabotaging the product.  Worst
 of all, you can sense that they are making fun of you with every word they
   The shock is greater for the coder, though.  He suddenly finds that alien
 creatures control his life.  Meetings, Schedules, Reports.  And now someone
 demands that he PLAN all his programming and then stick to the plan, never
 improving, never tweaking, and never, never touching some other team's code.
 The lousy young programmer who once worshiped him is now his tyrannical boss,
 a position he got because he played golf with some sphincter in a suit.
   The hive has been ruined.  The best coders leave.  And the marketers,
 comfortable now because they're surrounded by power neckties and they have
 things under control, are baffled that each new iteration of their software
 loses market share as the code bloats and the bugs proliferate.  Got to get
 some better packaging.  Yeah, that's it.
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