Hello, Good Bye, Howdy, John Wayne!

Some years ago I was traveling in China.  My client had written out directions for me in English, so I could find my way to the worksite.  My plan was to take the train from Beijing to a small town where my client was located.  At first, all was going well, but the signs started to change from Chinese/English to just Chinese.   I asked some other travelers on the train for assistance but, since my instructions were in English and I did not speak Chinese, they could not help me.   I decided the best strategy was to get off the train at the next stop, which I did.  I found myself standing in a small village in China with chickens running around on a dirt road.   I was standing there in a suit and tie holding my computer bag.   I had one of those profound, obvious thoughts – I am lost.

At the end of the road, I noticed one sign that was in English.  The letters read, B A R.  So I ventured to the BAR in hopes of finding someone who spoke English.  As I entered an elderly Chinese man looked at me with some excitement and said, “Hello! Good Bye! Howdy! John Wayne!”  That was the extent of his English, but that did not deter me from trying to communicate with him.  I tried to explain, in English that I was lost.  He  smiled and nodded, then he poured me a large glass of beer and handed me a sandwich.   Keep in mind it was about 10 am., I was in China, I was lost, and I was drinking beer.

Suddenly, the elderly Chinese man left the bar.  I drank the beer and finished the sandwich, and I was not sure what to do next.  Since I had no idea as to where I was,  I just sat there. After about twenty minutes, he returned with a young boy who turned out to be his grandson.  His grandson told me, in English, “My grandfather came to my school and told everyone there was an American in his bar. No one believed him, but he insisted; so, I came along to translate.”

The young boy read over my instructions and, luckily for me, he understood my predicament.  He translated all the train stops from English to Chinese.  He told me he would escort me to the train station and helped me purchase a ticket to where I needed to go.  I started to feel a sense of relief.   As I departed the bar, I asked how much I owed for the beer and sandwich.   The young boy translated for me and then said, “My grandfather says you are his American friend, and there is no need to pay.”  I thanked the elderly man. He bowed toward me and, instinctively, I bowed back.

Software development is also lost. It is as if we cannot communicate with anyone other than ourselves; and too often, we can’t even communicate with each other.  When customers and clients ask us the simplest questions, we tend to answer with jargon.  Over the past decades development fads have come and gone.  In the late 1990’s the development fad was RAD (rapid application development); we moved onto iterative and today, the fad “de jour” is Agile.    Some of the fads are actually good ideas and have positively impacted software development while other fads have caused great damage.  What all the past and current fads have in common is that they were developed because software development is lost.

Just as there was a lack of understanding between the elderly Chinese man and myself, there is a real lack of understanding of those interfacing with software development.  It seems software development lacks the necessary vocabulary to communicate and understand their customers.  There is a lack of understanding between industries and disciplines that have gone before us, yet there is a lot to be learned from them.

Read more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development
Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 07:22  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. wow — one of my biggest fears when I was in India

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