Monday, May 01, 2017

You don't say

I've been working in software companies and development teams for around 30 years now and this is a phenomenon I've noticed many times. Over the years I've worked with many engineers, managers and administrators and some were great thinkers and problem solvers, a bigger number could only wish that they were; as with most things in life, you could say, it's been a mixed bag.

In my experience though, it's often a bad sign when the new guy (or gal) arrives and sets themselves up as the "bringer of wisdom", the chosen one who's going to solve the hardest problems and fix the most stubborn bugs with some trendy methodology or some latest open-source framework or widget. You can invariably tell who's going to turn out well and who's going be frustrated, the classic tell-tale-sign is when the person starts an annoying number of sentences with the words "why don't we just...", as if the insertion of the word "just" makes what they are about to suggest both simple and true. This comes in many forms, engineers often offer the "why don't we just use X" line, where X is the latest trendy gizmo, or alternatively management/sales types often suggest the popular "why don't we just outsource it", i.e. the delusional urge to delegate and make it someone else's problem. I'm sure everyone has their favourite "why don't we just..." line. Most of the time of course the problem on the table is still on the table precisely because it's hard and unyielding to a "why don't we just" kind of proposal. 

Of course, without optimism and trying new things we don't innovate or progress but it's also not wise to underestimate or dismiss that that went before. No one ever captures 100% of a problem space, perfect solutions don't exist, but by definition any existing solution that "works" must have captured some of it and therefore it's usually a good idea to build on this rather than ignore it. Very rarely someone or something does come along however, and really does "just" solve a previously difficult or intractable problem, these moments are often tipping points in the trajectory of a product, company or industry, and over my entire working life, unlike "why don't we just" wannabes, I have only ever seen a tiny handful of them.

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