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Hiring Good Programmers Matters

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  • The answer depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SpaceCadetTrav (641261) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:43PM (#13236079) Homepage
    Are you trying to build a good application or a cheap application?
    • by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:45PM (#13236096) Journal
      Not really. You'll spend far more money building an application with poor programmers regardless of the quality of the application. That is, if the poor programmers are ever able to finish at all.
      • by certron (57841) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:09PM (#13236284)

        Although, without bad programmers, we wouldn't have The Daily WTF [thedailywtf.com].

        Sometimes a person's purpose in life is to serve as an example to others. What kind of example is another matter entirely...

      • by heatdeath (217147) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @09:08PM (#13236640)
        Actually, in some kinds of applications, poor programmers are actually on par or better than smarter programmers. Usually you do your best when you're writing code that is easy enough to understand, but hard enough to keep you interested. I, for one, have no patience for writing simple test UIs, for example, or webpages. But some other people find it challenging enough to keep them interested.
    • by TurtleQ (812931) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:52PM (#13236154)
      As Joel points out, you can have both. He states that, unlike physical products, adding quality to software does not make the software expensive. This is because the cost of "super-programmers" can be divided among the thousands/millions of software licenses sold. The programming cost is fixed, so making it high quality may cost only pennies per sale.
      • by Savantissimo (893682) * on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @10:17PM (#13237000) Journal
        Joel is clearly right about the quality and speed of the programming depending entirely on the quality of the programmers. But then he pulls a fast one and assumes that those same people are the best at anticipating what users want and designing the parts of the software that the user interacts with, and that is a rather questionable assumption. How many times have you seen a beautiful interface with unstable code (many media players come to mind) or a crappy interface with code that is like Bach in bytes (TeX, anyone?). There's a lot more that's important in making great software than coding.

        My pet theory - and I admit I'm talking out my ass here - is that managing new software development ought to go like this:

        1. Decide what you are going to make. Get a reality check from the intended audience. Don't assume that everyone likes or needs what a super-programmer thinks is spiffy.

        2. Design and mock-up all the static parts of the user interface and informally specify user-visible behaviors. Have someone who understands visual design and industrial psychology take the lead in directing the UI design with the programmers in a supporting role and management only there to back up the designer's decisions when requested. Get the best such person you can find, even if you think you can't afford her. This person is as important as everybody else on the project put together. Come up with as many radical variations as possible the first couple times through. Be bold and elegant and try to come up with things the user didn't even know she wanted. Have the UI design person get user feedback with the programmers present but with the understanding that they are there to find ways to make what the designer wants and the user needs happen and not to raise problems that programmers can solve on their own. The UI guy needs to be ruthless in excluding things that will get in the way, no matter how cool the programmers think the feature is. Repeat step 2 until the programmers start to lose their minds or the design converges in detail.

        3. Formally specify all user-visible behavior by writing the complete user documentation before the first line of code gets written. Have the UI designer and the tech writer work together on the outline and have the programmers looking over the writer's shoulder as the bulk of the text is written. If there is no tech writer, get the UI person to do it, if possible. Check with real users again to make sure it makes sense to them.

        4. Then let the programmers do their thing. Having hired good people, don't tell them how to factor or comment or code or what languages they should use. Let them add things only so long as it does not affect the user. (General solutions for specific problems, for example.) Before they start, make them hash out whatever rules they like to ensure quality and maintainability - but hold them to their own rules when things get hairy. Make a significant part of their pay (20%-50%) depend on matching the design and documentation to the UI designer's satisfaction, passing testing and meeting or beating target dates they agreed to when they got full control of the project.

        5. Short of correcting a thermonuclear fuckup that would otherwise cripple the software, don't allow any changes, additions or deletions to the design by anybody until the whole thing is out the door as planned.

        Is this a stupid or impractical way of doing things? What am I missing?
        • by Cederic (9623)

          For new software product development, you might get away with that.

          Writing software for business use, not a hope of achieving that.

          Deadlines of "7 weeks away, because that's when the ads go on TV", requirements of "Has to do everything!", constraints of "No, we can't afford ", changes a week out like "we just signed an agreement, you must integrate with this whole new supplier"...

          The only thing you've suggested that's really viable and sensible there is hiring good people. Although you utterly bollocksed th
        • by mcrbids (148650) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:05AM (#13238139) Journal
          Where you go wrong is that people don't actually know what they want!

          I've written projects with HIGHLY detailed specs. I've talked to people high and low. I've gotten signatures in triplicate.

          And, those are the projects that BOMB QUICKLY AND PAINFULLY.

          The last time I tried that approach, I was told on the DAY OF ROLLOUT after 1.5 months of full-time development that it "wouldn't work" and had to be "totally redone".

          I screamed, bitched, complained, waved contracts, specifications and all, before spending another 2.5 months rewriting the application. (while people were using it!)

          So, now I do things differently. I spend a bit of time, get a spec, and send out an email to all involved, and wait for 24 hours. Then I write it, knowing full well that it will suck upon delivery, and I make this knowledge apparent, obvious, and common.

          Then, the comments come. The text is hard to read. It doesn't include N-ARCANE-FEATURE. When you click the button called "Save", it saves it, but it's not obvious what you are saving.

          Whatever. The feedback comes in spades.

          So, focus on making updates quick and easy, and listen. That's the Linux way: release early, release often.

          People will tell you what they like and don't like. Listen, and release an update when you add new features.

          In my flagship product, I've released over 40 releases in a single year. It'd be painful, except that the product updates itself, and it takes me all of about 10 minutes to release. Really.

          It costs each user about the same - 5-10 minutes, and they can do it whenever they like.

          So, I release early, I release often, and I listen closely to the feedback. Users get what they want, and I get what I want. (Users' money!)
        • Is this a stupid or impractical way of doing things? What am I missing?

          Not stupid, but naive. Waterfall models went out with the 1980s, because they didn't work.

          If there's one great truth the software industry has (mostly) successfully learned in recent years, it is that successful projects must be adaptable, because requirements change. With the possible exception of things like military and medical projects, it's almost never helpful to fix absolute requirements up-front. Any project whose plan invo

      • by el_womble (779715) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @04:21AM (#13238177) Homepage
        This makes me worried about government contracts. What happens when there isn't any 'market' and the software is essential to running a country?

        In the UK that means that there is a bid. The lowest bidder gets it, they employ the cheapest coders on the planet, farm as much off shore as possible, and then waste millions supporting crappy software. We're now in a situation where we can't trust the government with ANY software creation. They got the passport software wrong (well to start with), they got the tax software wrong (New Tax Credits was a fiasco) and they got the air traffic control wrong (fortunately nobody has died... yet).

        What Joel says rings so true that its scary to think that the really important software will NEVER be written like this. But what can you do to remedy the situation? Because there is no market, you can't expect competition to improve the quality of the code, the only incentive being fines to companies when they get it wrong - thats no incentive, that just makes accountants want to do just a good enough job not to get fined.

        Do you open source the problem? While I agree that security through obscurity is not security at all, you will never get a country that thinks its a good idea to ahve its tax software open to all to see. There is also Brookes law to deal with and there is still no guarentee that you will attract the best of the best.

        Anyways... fascinating article!
    • by DogDude (805747) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:07PM (#13236272) Homepage
      You can have your application built cheaply, quickly, or well. Pick two.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:43PM (#13236083)
    I hired a bunch of monkeys and I can't wait for them to write Shakespearian works!
    • "It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. Stupid Monkey!" - Mr. Burns
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @09:20PM (#13236709)
      > I hired a bunch of monkeys and I can't wait for them to write Shakespearian works!

      Well, I couldn't hire monkeys, but I did the next best thing - outsourced the documentation department.

      Romeo, Romeo, why is it that they are calling you Mister Romeo?
      You should be talking to your father about getting your name changed,
      And if you will not be doing that, oh please just be renewing my contract,
      And I will be changing my name to Julie or something else that sounds kind of American!
      (Shall I be listening to the on-hold music, or shall I just punch "0" and hope to be transferred?)

      They didn't quite meet the "all documentation shall be written in iambic pentameter" part of the specification, but it wasn't bad for $6/hr... and it was still better English than what my alma mater's graduating these days. I'm convinced!

    • Re:I hope he's wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ikkonoishi (674762)
      I heard they got 27 letters [tninet.se] so far.
  • Common Sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tweak232 (880912) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:45PM (#13236091)
    Is it really that hard to find out that if someone who is good at what they do will do a better job than someone who is not as good? That seems to be common sense.

    I guess it is just me... move along now, nothing to see.
    • Yes but it is more of an issue if the better programmer costs twice as much as the sub par programmer could you make more profit with the sub-par programer. Will his affordability out weigh the costs of poor quality.
    • Re:Common Sense (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Daverd (641119)
      It's not just whether a good programmer is better than an average programmer. The good programmer is going to be much more expensive to hire than the average programmer. TFA talks about why trying to cut costs on programmers doesn't pay off in the long run.
    • The point is that if your problem doesn't have the headroom to make a good programmer shine, then you don't need a good programmer. Any old joe will do. If, however, your problem is somehow "hard", then having the best pays off.

      His point, I think, is that a lot of the good software out there *does* have the headroom to make a good programmer shine, but in fact it's still "joe's" who are being hired (see the AOL argument).

      Personally I think it's because programming is a junction point between art and science
    • Let me guess... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nobodyman (90587)
      ...You aren't in management, are you?

      Seriously though, it is very non-obvious to a good deal of IT Managers. When you perceive software development costs as ultimately a burn on revenue, their conclusion is that you need to minimize said costs (much in the same way that you would seek the lowest-priced landscaping or office-cleaning staff).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:45PM (#13236093)
    ... sucking up to the egos of your readers.

    Yes, you're all great programmers, much better than all the others out there. Especially because you read my posts. We need more people just like you.
    • Re:Can't Go Wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Pyromage (19360) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @09:57PM (#13236904) Homepage
      I find this article interesting not because it sucks up to programmer egos - which it does - but because, unlike many other articles, it brings in some relatively hard data to support the up-suckage.

      Consider Paul Graham, who could be accused of writing programmer ego-stroking articles. They are both good writers, but I like that Joel (at least here) tries to support the theory. He doesn't say "Some programmers are fundamentally better", which is a fairly wide-spread folk belief, backed only anecdotally usually. Instead, Joel says "Are some programmer's fundamentally better? Here's some data that suggests just that".

      On a seperate note, a lot of other posters here are saying "Who's Joel?" and "Why should I listen to some guy I've never heard of?". Well, that's a silly argument against whatever he might be saying in your article of choice. Remember that ESR was a nobody once; he seems to be primarily noted for writing the Cathedral and the Bazaar. Similarly with Joel: he's worked on a few software projects, though you may have never heard his name, and he writes well, and his articles make sense. To me anyway: you may disagree, but at least then you're disagreeing based on content, not based on "I've never heard of him so he must be some jackass upstart know-it-all."
    • by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @12:23AM (#13237521) Homepage
      Speak for yourself, Mr. Ego. Me, I looked at the story summary and saw my entire short career crashing down around me.

      Just pack my job up and move it to India now. Apparently, I won't be needing it.
  • versus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rd4tech (711615) * on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:46PM (#13236101)
    A good, very intelligent and experienced programmer can develop scores of times faster than the average one, because:
    - There isn't a need to go and ask simple questions all the time around.
    - Development experience gives a 'mental' outline of what the end thing will look like
    - Intelligence comes handy when one is 5 level deep in a nested function (which can't be simplified) and trying to add another 2 levels at once.
    • Large working set memory also comes in handy as a function approaches 3000 lines of code.... :-D

      Not that I normally write functions that big, but...

    • by melted (227442) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @01:38AM (#13237779) Homepage
      First of all, a good dev is not necessarily faster than a bad one. The bad one will do just enough to get by, badly. The good one will make a fucking work of art out of the features he owns and it will be a pleasure to maintain and extend his code. This usually takes more time than "just enough to get by" approach, but this pays off time and time again over the years.

      Second of all, if you're five levels deep in the nested function, that's a good indicator that you're not good enough at software design.
      • First of all, a good dev is not necessarily faster than a bad one.

        That's a matter of perspective. If a "good" dev produces work that does the same thing in the same amount of time as an "average" dev, why is he a good dev? (Obviously this has to hold in the long run, and not just at the time of first writing, and usually this is where the difference lies. Clean designs and good documentation practices usually exhibit their greatest benefits during maintenance.)

        Second of all, if you're five levels dee

  • Cost of Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overshoot (39700) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:49PM (#13236123)
    The argument applies across the board with techies in the design end of things. Throwing bodies at a problem generally makes schedules slip even in the design state; what it does to the test and qualification stages is much worse.

    My experience with this is in the IC design part of the world, but the rule remains: you're better off with half the people but good ones.

    If you want to add bodies, let them do review work. It actually does contribute to quality, and has the added benefit of making better engineers out of the reviewers (and, IMNSOHO, of those who know that their work is going to be reviewed, too.)

    • Re:Cost of Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pvera (250260) <pedro.vera@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @10:13PM (#13236987) Homepage Journal
      This cannot be stressed enough: throwing more bodies into the problem only makes the project last longer.

      It gets worse when outsiders above the project (say, a division manager that is not paying attention to the status reports) decide to listen to hearsay and water cooler talk and use that as criteria to bring more people in:

      "The guys in the break room are bitching about the project, we need to bring more php programmers."

      Next thing you know, this head guy is talking to everyone except the actual team that knows what is going on.

      This happened to us less than a month before delivery. For real. We found by accident that the boss was concerned and was getting ready to shop around for extra PHP people. Small problem: we were not having PHP problems. Our problem was a hosed CVS repository, which is what we were overheard bitching about while making coffee in the break room.

      When we told the boss that there was nothing wrong with the code and we were less than two days behind our schedule (which is much more agressive than his) he almost shit a brick.

      The lesson? Don't bitch about technical stuff unless it is a controlled environment. We now keep our bitching for our daily walk to pick up lunch. The odds of someone from the office overhearing us and getting half of the information are pretty much nil.

      BTW, the boss still came up with a good idea for bringing extra people, since programmers are not needed. He thinks we can bring temps just to do grunt work like filling a bunch of web forms, etc.
    • Re:Cost of Quality (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Brandybuck (704397) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @10:51PM (#13237155) Homepage Journal
      If you want to add bodies, let them do review work.

      Let them do process busy work as well.

      A few months back we were too crunched on the schedule, but another project had cancelled so there were loads of bodies available. But putting them to work coding would have destroyed the project. As always, upper management didn't understand that. So when I was asked where I could best use some extra help, I answered truthfully: have someone else write all the freaking documentation and attend all the freaking meetings so I dont' have to. Tada! They listened and I ended up with four extra hours per day to get the work done.

      p.s. Of course, management never learns. Another project is slipping and they're throwing people at it as fast as they can cancel projects. Sigh.
  • by BlightThePower (663950) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:51PM (#13236139)
    I'm not buying. Well, if it is true then it really it speaks to the failure of software engineering as a whole. I hire any other sort of engineer, I expect a certain level of competence and a job done to agreed standards. Not all engineers are created equal of course but the point still standards. This strikes me as revelling in a a form of failure quite frankly, there simply shouldn't be such a wide variation of outcome within the application of an engineering discipline.

    • That's where the difference between a computer programmer and a software engineer comes in. You can call yourself the former after even a self-taught course or one of those 6-month technical schools, but it takes plenty of time, work, determination, etc to receive a software engineering degree.
    • the problem here is exactly that, there is no such thing as a "software engineer".

      any asshat can call himself a programmer, and many do. even if they're complete utter crap. unlike the "engineer" title, the "programmer" one isn't regulated
    • I hire any other sort of engineer, I expect a certain level of competence and a job done to agreed standards.

      And if you hire any other sort of engineer, the standard you can demand depends on the engineer too. You're not going to be able to hire just any bloke who happens to have a BSEE and hand him the PCI-Express specification and then expect a low-BER implementation in a useful time frame.

      Experience counts. Quality work requires skilled craftsmen.

      Much more to the point, engineers are not cattle:

    • by GrahamCox (741991) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:03PM (#13236243) Homepage
      I have always seen software "engineering" as a craft, done by craftsmen. There are too many unfixed aspects to be able to really call it engineering or a science. Of course it has elements of those, but it also has elements of art, and that's what makes it a craft. And just as there are wonderful craftsmen who can create a masterpiece of a beautiful chair from wood, there are factories turning out cheap Ikea furniture by the ton. Both might be perfectly functional in terms of parking one's botttom, but in a hundred years time no-one will be seeking out Ikea chairs in antique shops.

      Software is much the same. A true craftsmen of the art will produce code that is so tight, so functional and so spare that it is nothing short of beautiful. When was the last time you made something beautiful? We all get the warm fuzzies from time to time when we think we've done good work, but how can you really tell?

      My view is that software engineering courses are all very well (not exactly a waste of time), but they might perhaps be the wrong way to turn out good programmers. Perhaps something more like the traditional apprenticeship would serve better - mentoring by someone who is already a craftsman "well versed in the art". I guess the main drawback of this is that most good programmers are often terrible teachers, but that might reflect the lack of a tradition in the field.
      • It is not just programming it is software "design". Design being the inportant word. You don't have a interior designer right out of school redo your house your hire a firm that has some experienced ones and some that are new but are being mentored by the experienced ones. Your right software design/programing is not engineering.
      • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @09:02PM (#13236608)

        This was an interesting observation:

        I guess the main drawback of this is that most good programmers are often terrible teachers, but that might reflect the lack of a tradition in the field.

        Something I've found in many aspects of life is that the people who are really good at something tend to be able to explain it, clearly and accurately, to someone less experienced. This is true of almost any field I've ever studied, from mathematics to martial arts, from driving to dancing.

        It's interesting that in Japanese, there is little distinction between being very good/experienced at something, and being a teacher of it. If someone in Japan asks you whether you teach programming, and you're the 20 year veteran Senior Software Engineer at your company, the answer is yes even if you don't teach in the English sense. It's simply implicit that by being good at something, you will be teaching those around you as you do it.

        I think the difference between someone who's really good at something and someone who's just OK usually comes down to a depth of understanding. One can follow a cookbook of techniques, or regurgitate information they've been fed in the past. The other writes the cookbook, because they've understood the information and worked out how it all fits together.

        A corollary of this is that those who truly understand a subject tend to be better able to convey their understanding to others. Because they can see it from more than one point of view, they can adapt their explanation and examples to fit the knowledge and learning preferences of the person they're trying to teach. Those who never reach that level of understanding can repeat what they were told when they were learning themselves, perhaps even in multiple ways they learned from multiple sources, but they can't adapt it, can't see it from different perspectives and present it in different and original lights.

        Thus I'm rather surprised that you think most good programmers are terrible teachers. Most programmers may be terrible teachers, but I question whether a good programmer who is unable to pass on that knowledge is really that good at all. It's unwise to generalise completely, because of course teaching requires skills all of its own, but I've met very few great practitioners in any field who weren't also outstanding teachers.

    • For one rare moment I agree with Joel on this. One good engineer is irreplacable by any number of okay engineers. Lesser engineers are fine for doing the bits of the process that are little more than testing and data entry but they lack inspiration and insight into how things work.

      Simply knowing how to code doesn't make you a programmer. I come up with elegant solutions others usually would never come close to. I rather like having some of those programmers available to write the boring crap but I still hav
  • His point is that a good programmer will simply create code of a quality that average programmers never can create.

    Isn't this fairly obvious? The thing is, in the code sweatshops that many "software" companies operate, high quality code is no longer the point. It's very much the same attitude that tangible goods manufacturers have taken, making a marginally acceptable product that is more or less disposable in the long run is the point. Get it out there, sell a few million units, and move on to the next ve

  • The problem is defining what makes a good programmer. While some firms hire based on price. But still a lot of others actually try to find good programmers. Thus the problem what makes a good programmer. Is it certifications which I think are Crap, is it years of experience which is just as bad judge, or is it formal education which is just like certification.
    I like to consider myself a good programmer and most of my customers think so too. But am I really a top notch programmer there are a lot of progra
  • Yes, but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheOtherAgentM (700696) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:52PM (#13236153)
    Can the good programmer create code that compiles with a message, "Error: Too many errors." like I did in college? Now THAT is hard to do.
  • Who is Joel? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by daniel_mcl (77919) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:54PM (#13236166) Homepage
    Unless this Joel fellow has some sort of long-forgotten historical notability in software engineering, I fail to see why his articles continually show up here. His company, which he repeatedly plugs in his articles, has put out two pieces of software -- a bugtracker and a content management system -- which nobody I've talked to has ever heard of. Does Joel have some insight into programming that everyone reading Slashdot does not?

    I suppose, of course, that the same could be said for most tech journalists, most of whom would have a hard time compiling a source tarball. On the other hand, usually tech journalists are reporting on companies' press releases, not writing editorials about software design.
    • I'm surprised at how rarely this is pointed out.

      That being said, I read his articles because unlike a lot of techie type blogs: He can write, He writes about broader topics than say problems compiling OpenSSL on a widget box 2000 with RH, he often uses real numbers to support his opinions.
    • 1) Joel, IIRC, was the program manager for the development of VBA. I realize that that's mostly an opportunity for every twelve-year-old who has typed in and compiled hello.c to look down on him, but some might view it as "some insight into programming that everyone reading Slashdot does not".

      2) I know this is a radical concept to the "You can't say that! RMS says you can't say that!!!" crowd, but -- it's not like you can only read things you're going to unquestioningly believe. His stuff gets linked becaus


    • He jumped out of airplanes for the IDF, wrote the spec for VBA while he was the project manager for Excel in the early nineties, started http://www.fogcreek.com/ [fogcreek.com] and made an assload of money.

      You can read the rest of his resume here: http://joel.spolsky.com/resume.htm [spolsky.com]
    • Re:Who is Joel? (Score:2, Informative)

      by istartedi (132515)

      Shutup. He's cool. Thousands of slashdotters who never had a chance to be cool in any other context now have a priceless opportunity to mimic the in-crowd in highschool by pretending that their pundits of choice have something to say that isn't obvious to anyone with an IQ of 90. Don't blow it for them. These nerds are desperately deprived of coolness and there's no telling what they might do if they don't get their fix.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:30PM (#13236427)
      Regardless of what software he has put out or what other projects he has worked on, his blog (JoelOnSoftware) has been read by many developers I've come across - at least the good ones...

      I tend to judge him by what he has said more than any experience with software he has written or managed. And really his blog has very good insights on software that other people ignore at their peril - this particular story is no exception to that rule.

      just because he also has a bit of the marketer in him (understandable since he owns a business) does not automatically mean he does not know what hes talking about in regards to programming.

      So would you disagree with his assertion that a higher quality developer can produce code that would never come from a mediocre one?
      • kind of circular (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cahiha (873942)
        his blog (JoelOnSoftware) has been read by many developers I've come across - at least the good ones...

        "Good" can mean many things. Joel largely represents mainstream views of Windows and Macintosh programmers--the kind of views you might find among Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows XP kernel, Safari, or even Mozilla developers. If you want to be like one of those developers, then follow his advice. If you think that there is something seriously wrong with that kind of software (as I do), then you woul
    • Re:Who is Joel? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by puetzc (131221) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:41PM (#13236503)
      The replies to this post seem to fall into two catagories:
      1. I haven't heard of him, therefore he must not be important and
      2. He can think and write, therefore I read his log.

      I definitely fall into catagory 2. I am not a programmer, but I work with programmers, request changes from them, and depend on their work. Insights that I gain from his website and his books have lead to more understanding on my part, and better results. That's good enough for me.
    • by autopr0n (534291) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:07AM (#13237853) Homepage Journal
      Joel was the lead developer of Excel at microsoft for a long time, and he also had a hand in the development of VBScript.

      Anyway, his articles are the main reason for his fame these days. His company also has a third product, CoPilot, that lets people fix software problems remotely.
  • by tokengeekgrrl (105602) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:56PM (#13236179)
    1. You can have it done fast.
    2. You can have it done cheap.
    3. You can have it fully functional

    Now pick 2.

    Fast and cheap = means using average and inexpensive programmers and is not fully functional

    Fast and fully functional = exceptional programmers and will cost an arm and a leg

    Cheap and fully functional = means it will take a long, long, long, long time for the average and inexpensive programmers to build it

    The timeline for the application, whether you need it tomorrow or can wait a few years, in addition to the budget determines what kind of programmers you can afford and need to hire.

      - tokengeekgrrl
    • Practical engineering of any kind (EE, RF, ...) always involves coming up with the best design you can given a a range of constraints (which include time, money, staff, rate of change of constraints, etc).

      Good engineers are ones who can come up with the best product possible, given those constraints.

      Joel is saying that only the best products really matter, and so only the best engineers really matter.

      • by Xugumad (39311) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:55PM (#13236583)
        Another point to keep in mind that not all your programmers have to the above average, or even average. For example, we have a student helping out over summer. She just doesn't have the breadth of experience for us to trust her with architecture design or the most complex programming tasks, but there are lots of simpler, straight forward jobs that she can do. And working at around half my salary (per hour), she's a hell of a lot cheaper than hiring a graduate programmer with several years experience.
  • I agree. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rick and Roll (672077) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:57PM (#13236187)
    I agree. In the words of Leon Battista Alberti,

    No art, however minor, demands less than total dedication if you want to excel in it.

    This means that people who aren't dedicated to their profession won't properly trap errors, will always be calling functions wrong, and won't figure out what their users want. In a word, they won't excel.

    If you don't want your software to have nasty bugs, hire good programmers. If you want your software to work beautifully, hire good programmers.

  • by haute_sauce (745863) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:57PM (#13236188)
    It is not enough to have 'star' engineers, you MUST have dedicated and motivated individuals. Being a good programmer does not imply willingness to work towards a common goal or play well with others. In some ways I would rather have a team of mediocre programmers who were reliable and worked well together than a couple of 'stars' who had thier own agenda.
    • Being good and experienced at programming doesn't just involve getting the code done and compiling. It also involves having some clue about stuff like security, good design, and generally knowing a lot more than just how to printf("hello world.")

      The corporation I work for had at some point decided to replace an existing, working system with a monstrosity that had more buzzwords. So a team from a BIG corporation contracted the work, and took a couple of years at it, until finally the project was scrapped.

      By
  • by vectorian798 (792613) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @07:59PM (#13236212)
    Best working conditions --> Best Programmers --> Best Software --> Profit!

    WTF happened to the ??? step!
    • Best working conditions --> Best Programmers --> Best Software --> Profit!

      WTF happened to the ??? step!

      That's implied at the beginning - getting enough money to afford the best working conditions and best programmers. As the saying goes, it takes money to make money.
  • by Hangtime (19526) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:00PM (#13236214) Homepage
    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.

    I agree with the first part of the statement but not necessairly the second. The reason is as someone who has friends in both worlds rarely does the "software house" ever care about your outside life. If fufilled means being challenged, constantly engaged in your work, but constantly on deadline death marches, always-on fire control, and no life outside of work I guess you can call that satisfied. Have a friend who works MS. LOVES his job, but everything in his life revolves around it and the insane hours he keeps there.

    Work to Live, Don't Live to Work.

    I respect the heck out of Joel but he seems to fall in that second camp. When the tale of your life is told make sure its not about the code you cranked out but the lives and people you touched.

    • The reason is as someone who has friends in both worlds rarely does the "software house" ever care about your outside life.

      We live in different worlds. I have no experience of software product companies that try to consume you. On the contrary, in my experience, software product companies that hire "good programmers" are conscious that they "good programmers" are often "high performers" in several areas that don't include work, and need to be to keep happy, and thus productive. I guess that is because the p
  • Yeah, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:00PM (#13236216)
    bad programming saves money now. Good managers save money now, and use this success when moving on to a better job. In this day and age of lateral movement and massive layoffs, where odds are you're not gonna be at that job long enough for hiring good programmers to pay off, why bother?
  • by symbolic (11752) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:01PM (#13236228)

    Does every "good" programmer have a degree in computer science? Are there exceptions? How can a programmer who might be "average" GET to be a "good" programmer? Can mediocre programmers be MADE into good programmers? This guy seems to be suggesting that it's ok to continue the cycle by doing NOTHING to enhance the abilities of these mediocre programmers. What about hiring a couple of good ones, and then some others who can be ACTIVELY mentored? Isn't that how some other professions work? What is medical internship all about? What about the journeyman status in the building trades? It's all about mentoring and moving people to the next level of expertise.
  • I simply must raise a point at the seemingly obvious statement that a 'good' programmer is so much better than an average programmer.

    Lord knows that applies to artists, look at the paintings that Botticelli did of me back when I was still alive compared to the ones done all of those other greasy creeps.

    But programming is supposed to be a science and a process. If you prepare a precision algorythm and carefully test it before coding with all manner of valid and absurd inputs, then it
    • by humankind (704050) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:24PM (#13236387) Journal
      Here's what I think is the difference between a good programmer and a bad programmer:

      1. It has nothing to do with money. You can find good quality developers at both ends of the pay spectrum. In fact, I adamantely believe that the further you get towards the high end of the pay spectrum, the worst the quality is. Too cheap is bad too, but not as bad as too expensive.

      2. A good programmer isn't limited to a narrow set of tools or technologies. He will pick the best platform and language/tools based on the application's needs. A bad programmer is one who only knows a small subset of technology and ends up forcing applications to operate within the confines of resources which limit stability, flexibility, performance and productivity.

      3. A good programmer spends a lot of time researching the project before ever writing a single line of code. A good programmer demands the client/employer be as detailed as possible regarding the specs of the application. A bad programmer is comfortable with ambiguity relating to product specs. A good programmer, in lieu of getting detailed specs from the client, will create his own outline of what the application will involve and make it finite before coding even starts and make sure the client signs off. Good programmers don't tolerate ambiguity in specs.

      4. A good programmer/sub-contractor is more likely to charge a flat rate for the development of the project than an ambiguous time-based wage (but all sub-contractors have to have provisions to deal with project creep and problem clients).

      5. Good programmers expose bugs in applications and platforms. Bad programmers create them where they didn't exist.

      6. Good programmers always exceed the client's expectations in terms of flexibility and versatility. Bad programmers tend to literally interpret feature lists and make program structure more finite than modular.

      and last but by no means least...

      7. Good programmers ALWAYS DOCUMENT THEIR CODE WELL! Bad programmers take great pride in making sure nobody can understand what they're doing.
      • by Bjarke Roune (107212) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @06:25AM (#13238400) Homepage
        I do not agree.

        1. It has nothing to do with money. You can find good quality developers at both ends of the pay spectrum. In fact, I adamantely believe that the further you get towards the high end of the pay spectrum, the worst the quality is. Too cheap is bad too, but not as bad as too expensive.

        Maybe you are not guaranteed good programmers by paying alot, but good programmers still cost more. I just do not see how things could be different, except if you are saying that companies are completely unable to recognize quality.

        2. A good programmer isn't limited to a narrow set of tools or technologies. He will pick the best platform and language/tools based on the application's needs. A bad programmer is one who only knows a small subset of technology and ends up forcing applications to operate within the confines of resources which limit stability, flexibility, performance and productivity.

        A good programmer will not only think of the needs of the application when choosing tools, but will also consider the context he is in. Chossing an unknown and complex tool might well be a very bad idea, even if it fits the job perfectly. I realize that you might intend this to go under "the application's needs".

        3. A good programmer spends a lot of time researching the project before ever writing a single line of code. A good programmer demands the client/employer be as detailed as possible regarding the specs of the application. A bad programmer is comfortable with ambiguity relating to product specs. A good programmer, in lieu of getting detailed specs from the client, will create his own outline of what the application will involve and make it finite before coding even starts and make sure the client signs off. Good programmers don't tolerate ambiguity in specs.

        Most projects are not of the form "implement a correct compiler for Java" or something equally well defined. In many contexts, demanding exact specifications will result in endless preparations, and as soon as the spec is "perfect", requirements will have changed. Specifications change because needs change and the knowledge of the users and developers increases as the project progresses. This is not a bad thing, it is a very good thing, even if it can be annoying to the programmer. I think eXtreme Programming gets this right: get some code out of the door as quickly as possible so people can try it out.

        4. A good programmer/sub-contractor is more likely to charge a flat rate for the development of the project than an ambiguous time-based wage (but all sub-contractors have to have provisions to deal with project creep and problem clients).

        Specifications change so a flat fee is a bad idea for everyone.

        Good programmers expose bugs in applications and platforms. Bad programmers create them where they didn't exist.

        Good programmers are human, so they make mistakes too. Of course they may do it less frequently, but they still do it.

        6. Good programmers always exceed the client's expectations in terms of flexibility and versatility. Bad programmers tend to literally interpret feature lists and make program structure more finite than modular.

        Unneded flexibility and versatility can increase code complexity, introduce bugs, make the program harder to use in the common case and lengthen development time. It is much better to get the program out there in use quickly, and then implement just those things people actually end up needing. Of course, in some cases things can be made more general "for free", and then the good programmer will try to spot it and do that. Sometimes the flexibility and versatility is really useful og necessary, and only in those caes will the good programmer make the program that way.

        7. Good programmers ALWAYS DOCUMENT THEIR CODE WELL! Bad programmers take great pride in making sure nobody can understand what they're doing.

        I might agree, depending on what yo
        • Obviously you disagree.

          I could respond to your arguments tit-for-tat, but I don't really think it's necessary. If I hired you, I suspect I'd end up having to re-do a lot of what you did, because you seem to be very good at coming up with excuses, which is what a good programmer doesn't do. Anyone who thinks that not documenting code is practical in any environment is not someone I'd respect as a "good programmer". Obviously, your milage does vary. Talk to me when you've developed commercial software tha
  • Singing the praises of his beliefs based on reasonable logic and the apparent success of his small company.

    I don't think his vision would really work if he had to appease public shareholders and had thousands or even hundreds of people working for him.

    The guy definitely has insightful things to say sometimes. The self-congratulatory way he's done it this time is a little over the top.
  • my own experiences (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slashdotnickname (882178) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:13PM (#13236311)
    I work in a large group of programmers of varying ages and backgrounds. I believe you can categorize programmers into 2 main groups.

    The first, and the majority at our company, are school trained programmers. These are people whose main experience with coding has been either class related (where the emphasis is usually on theoretical applications) or employement related (where the emphasis is usually along the lines of "just get it done").

    The second group of programmers, which I'm in, is the hobbyist turned professional. We are people that began programming for fun, and often program on weekends on side-projects. Data structures and interface definitions become part of our regular vocabulary, and it's often hard to talk to programmers in the first group regarding projects.

    Also, from my own experiences at work, I can say that it's the smaller second group of programmers that end up carrying most of a software project, both in code output and internal design. Although the first group of programmers tend to do a better job at testing.
  • by restive (542491) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @08:19PM (#13236359)
    Say what you like about this being dribble, but this is exactly what Google is doing, betting the farm on the long-term value of the cream of the crop.
  • by Wonderkid (541329) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:37AM (#13238071) Homepage
    ...it depends on the size of your company or budget. If you are a small organisation, you need experienced, honest, reliable and hard working programmers - because you cannot afford to wait for them to become good, assuming they have the potential in the first place of course. However, a large company can afford to assign less experienced engineers to less critical tasks (and even send them off to college), while allocating the top programmers to mission critical projects.
  • Other news (Score:5, Funny)

    by Frankie70 (803801) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @05:33AM (#13238291)
    In other news,
    1) Good Carpenters build good furniture
    2) Good Architects architect good structures
    3) Good Authors write good books

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