The great exalted software guru measures time in bytes

The great exalted software guru measures time by the size of the USB drive I give to him. I brought with me a 16 GB USB drive able to fit on a key chain to give to the guru. I laid the new 16GB drive at his feet and the guru picked it up and examined it closely.

He said, “It has been a long time since you last visited.”

I asked, “How long has it been?”

The guru replied, “It has been 15 gigabytes ago.”

Yes, the guru was right it had been a long time. The guru said, “You first visited me 16 gigabytes ago.”

I said, “How can it be that I gave you a 16 gigabyte USB drive today and I have visited you many times before.”

The guru smiled and said, “Time begins now not yesterday.”

I thought I am going to need a bit more explanation than that and I started to speak and say, “Exalted software guru…”.

The guru held up his hand and I stopped. The guru continued and said, “In software the first day of learning starts today not yesterday.” I started to speak again and the guru held up his hand to stop me. The guru said, “skills that were useful yesterday are not useful today. Those skills you develop today will not be useful tomorrow. This is why software professionals need to learn something new every day.”

He reached under his rob and scratched himself. I felt a bit uncomfortable not knowing how to respond and then he pulled out a 5 ¼ floppy disk.

I thought, “640KB.”

He said, “no 720KB.”

I said, “16GB minus 720KB is really just about 16GB, so the 720KB is insignificant.”

 The guru smiled and said, “YES!, what you learned in the past may not be useful today or tomorrow.”

I asked, “if skills that I learn today are not useful tomorrow then why learn them today?”

The great exalted one held up his hand and said, “Why do you keep trying to interrupt me?” I apologized and he continued and said, “you need skills today and you need to learn tomorrow’s skills today too.” I nodded because I started to understand.

Just like he always does the guru picked up his new 16GB USB drive and walked back into his cave. He waved and said, “I will see you in a few terabytes.” It was his way of saying I will see you soon.

 I walked down the hill and thought what I had learned today. I need to learn something new every day about tomorrow. I can’t live off of the technical skills I learned in the past. Then I thought, “I wonder where I can buy a 1 terabyte USB drive.”

More from the guru…

https://davidlongstreet.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/the-software-guru-speaks-again/

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Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain!

The little dog Toto pulls back the curtain and exposes the Wizard.    In this most embarrassing moment the Wizard thunders out, “pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain.”  Well, there are many IT organizations and IT “professionals” saying the same thing these days.  Too many IT professionals are Wizards pretending to be something they are not.  They manipulate knobs and dials creating a lot of smoke and noise.  They give the appearance what they are doing is really complex and sometimes even frightening.   When challenged they will speak in techno talk in hopes they will not be challenged.

 Over the years, I have pulled back a lot of IT curtains and heard over and over again “pay not attention to the little man behind the curtain.”

Watch out for fling monkeys too!

Read more at Reboot! Rethink and Restarting Software Development

Technical Support Cheat Sheet – Cartoon

A friend of mine sent me this cartoon that outlines the steps necessary to solve most technical problem. The great thing about this cartoon is that helps people learn the steps necessary to solve problems instead of providing an answer.

Technical Support Cheat Sheet

Technical Support Cheat Sheet

Read  more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development

Published in: on August 24, 2009 at 11:20  Comments (2)  
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Is software an art form?

If software was truly an art form, then the same adjectives used to describe art would be used to describe software.   I often software developers ask, “What three words best describe your software applications.”    Seldom do I hear words like, beautiful, elegant, sophisticated or graceful.   On the other hand,  I have had many  say, “Alt, Control, Delete.”

Published in: on August 5, 2009 at 06:56  Comments (1)  
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Just Google it! Huh?

There is a misconception it is okay to have documentation scattered about individual computers and a “shared drive.”  The myth is documentation can be found via searches and it does not need to be organized.  Some organizations want to implement a Google style search mechanism.  The beauty of the Google search engine is it seems so simple.  Google relies on creators of websites linking information together and some relatively complex algorithms.  The founders of Google wrote a paper entitled, The Anatomy of a Large Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine outlining how the Google search engine would work.   It is not as simple as it looks.  Most organizations with disorganized documentation cannot get their developers to use consistent terminology nor can they get them to embed hyperlinks in a document.

If a specific document is referenced by many other documents, then the document is significant.  If the document is not be referenced via some linking mechanism, then there is no way to determine its significance. The problem, of course, is getting individuals to link documents together.   Believe it or not I have had developers argue this point.   Even though they have never read the short paper or long paper written by Brin and Page the founders of Google they just somehow know all the inter-workings of Google.  They think it would be easier to design a complex search engine with artificial intelligence not yet invented by mankind instead of standardizing terminology and using some sort of naming convention for their documents.

Read more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development.

http://infolab.stanford.edu/~backrub/google.html

“I will tell you… I don’t know…its Tradition!”

Some friends or mine David and Jo Cowdery operate a vineyard and winery in the south of France called Chateau La Bouscade. They have received several awards for their wines, so I was excited when  I received a couple of bottles wine from them.    What I found interesting is the bottles were sealed with screw caps not corks.   Since I do not know a lot about wine, I asked my friend Jo, “What’s up with the screw caps?”  She laughed and told me that screw caps were far superior than corks.  She told me that all the wines at Chateau La Bouscade have screw caps.   “Say it ain’t so, Jo!”

The scientific evidence is overwhelming that screw caps are better than corks in a bottle of wine.   It turns out a bottle of wine with a cork has at least a 1 in 10 chance of having cork taint.  Cork taint ain’t a good thing either.  It makes wine smell like shoes or a wet dog.

So what does this have to do with software? A lot. I have spent years gathering scientific evidence on the best methods to develop software and the scientific evidence is overwhelming.  I am not alone because organization like SEI and QAI share my findings.  Just like it is hard for get consumers of wine and wine makers to change it is hard to get software developers to abandon traditions.

So why do wine makers still use corks and how did this tradition get started?  Tevye a character in the Fiddler on the Roof sums it up nicely, “I will tell you… I don’t know…its Tradition!” The same can be said about software development.   I don’t know why so many software organizations refuse to adopt best practices.

There is an old proverb saying, “Seldom does Saul become Paul.” It means that seldom do people actually change.  What happens is a new generation has to grow up with the idea from the beginning.   There are pioneers like David Cowderoy who lead the way for a whole new generation of wine makers.    The new generation starts with the idea from the beginning.  A new generation of human factors engineers are going to be the future of software development.   These human factors engineers understand the importance of studying actual users and customers.  One best practice is to study the business and not to be passive in the requirements process.

I was speaking at a conference and I was asked the question,  “if things like metrics are such a good idea, then why don’t more software organization adopt metrics?”  I don’t know why?  I don’t know why people are overweight or why they smoke or why some wine makers still use corks.  I guess it is like Tevye says, “Tradition!”  Because It can’t be explained with logic.

Cheers!

Read more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development.

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For my  non American friends
“Say it ain’t so Joe” is a reference to Shoeless Joe Jackson who was accused of fixing the outcome of  the 1919 World Series.  Legend has it that as Jackson was leaving the courthouse during the trial, a young boy begged of him, “Say it ain’t so,  Joe!” and that Joe did not respond.

To learn more about the argument of screw tops v. cork  see http://www.hoguecellars.com/feature/homework.html

Bah, Humbug! A look at IT Past, IT Present and IT Future

Everyone knows the story of the Christmas Carol.  Charles Dickens examines Christmas past, Christmas future, and Christmas present. As perhaps the worlds only Software Economist, I examine IT past, IT present and IT future in this short article.  Like Dickens, I have endeavored in this Ghostly little article, to raise the Ghost of an idea.

  1. IT past.
  2. IT present.
  3. IT future.

All industries have cyclical ups and downs.  There is no reason to believe that the software development industry (IT) will not follow the same up and down cycles like other industries and the overall economy.  When the economy rebounds will so IT.

The more I study, learn and experience software development, the more I am convinced that software development is just like every other industry.   What a Ghostly idea!

The Current State of IT
What has happened in the field of software has happened before and has happened in a lot of other industries too.  The recession in IT is worldwide problem and not isolated to the United States or Western Europe.  An Australian friend who does IT consulting in Southeast Asia wrote, “The few consulting jobs I had planned in 2009 in Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam are gone or on hold for the time being.”  Another friend living in Europe wrote, “these are tough economic times and it is a bad time to be looking for a job.”   More than half of IT employees and contractors in the UK express dissatisfaction with their career path.

It seems like there are comments on all the Linkedin groups about the economic woes of IT.

According to a recent CIO survey CIO’s are continuing to put discretionary IT projects on hold, renegotiating IT vendor contracts, and freezing IT hiring.   Nearly 64% of the CIO’s reported they were freezing IT hiring and nearly 43% planned on reducing head count.

Before we get depressed here are some basic economic principles:

1. All industries have cyclical ups and downs. There is no reason to believe that software will not follow the same up and down cycles like other industries.  For those of us with a bit of gray hair we remember the slump in oil industry in the 1970’s and look at the profits of the oil industry today.

2. Recessions are like forest fires because they clear out a lot of the dead and unnecessary wood. Investment in IT needs to be re-examined and carefully scrutinized.   Too much investment was based upon “latest” and “greatest” technology and not on sound cost/benefit analysis.

3. When the economy rebounds so will IT. IT is following the same cyclical pattern as the overall economy.

The unemployment rate for the software development industry rose over the last year.  Overall the unemployment rate for software development rose from 2 percent to 4 percent or it just about doubled.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) during the past year the

– Software Engineers unemployment rate rose 1.9 percent to 4.1 percent

– System Analysts unemployment rate rose 3 percent to 5.7 percent

– Computer and Information Systems Managers unemployment rate rose 2.7 percent to 4 percent

This is just about the same level of unemployment for college educated individuals.  While the overall unemployment rate is just around 9.5 percent,  the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor degree is around 4.8 percent.   The rise in unemployment in the software industry is following the same trend as overall employment too.  The unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelors degree or higher went from 2.4 to  4.8 percent during the same period of time.

IT Past
Not too long ago, there were companies testifying in front of congress saying there was as shortage of IT workers and they need more H1B visas.  During the early 1990’s many proclaimed that the IT industry was recession proof.   Some experts proclaimed there would be a shortage of IT workers by the year 2010.   IT turns out these experts were wrong.   It seems that IT is following the same economic trend as the overall economy.  I feel like I am repeating myself.

Many in the IT industry were fat and happy and did not continue to improve skill sets or learn about the business.  It seems like few in IT actually study the core business.

IT Future
The software industry will return and be healthy again.   Will the software industry be exactly the same as before?  No, this much we know for sure.  It will emerge and become healthy again, but the shape and especially the location is not known for sure.

Those individuals that take the time during a recession to sharpen skills and increase their skill sets will prosper.   There will be many individuals that will leave the software development industry for good and look for career options elsewhere.  This same thing happened in the late 1970’s with the oil industry.

This is the time to polish skills and sharpen your tools.  The internet provides an avenue for individuals to self study without outlaying any cash.  The library offers a lot of online resources and current technology books too.

Specific Trends

Continuation of Offshore Development
Clearly a lot of IT jobs are being exported and this trend will continue. Other industries like textiles moved completely offshore and the design and marketing jobs remained in the USA.    It appears the same is going to be true of software development.

The number of graduates in computer science continues to plummet.  The number of those choosing to major in computer science has fallen about 50% since 1999. BUT the number of PhD’s getting computer science degrees continues to grow.  The percentage of non residents (international students) getting PhD’s in Computer Science rose from 20% in 1985 to nearly 80% in 2008.  Most of these doctoral students are from Asia.   These PhD’s return to their home countries and teach computer science.  This means the instructors for off shore developers are being trained at schools in the US.

The next round of off shore developers will be better trained than the first round of developers.  It will be increasingly difficult for US and western European developers to compete on skills and on price.

Specialization
As industries mature they specialize.  Software development is still an immature industry.   There are a variety of industries that have been around for a few centuries like  engineering, medicine, law, architecture and textiles and they all have specialists along an industry line.

In the early nineteenth century a skilled seamstress performed all the roles necessary to make a dress. All dress making was customized. The industry matured until several specialists performed all the roles once performed by the seamstress. Designing, planning, and marketing became a specialization too.  There are some designers who specialize in men’s clothing and others that specialize in just designing wedding dresses. This trend is already starting to happen in software development.

Less Technical Skills and More Business Skills
The long term trend is away from technical skills and towards business and design skills.  When the only tool was a needle and thread it took a lot of skill to sew something.  With the invention of the sewing machine, less skill was required of the seamstress. Clothes were first worn for very functional purposes and new we use them for both a functional and design purpose. The same was true with software development and especially with developing websites.    The first software programs were for functional purposes only and now design does matter.  Not long ago it took a strong understanding of html to develop a website but as tools improved the necessary technical skills diminished.  (a nice graph here).

While the number of computer science degrees have plummeted the number of degrees in human factors design continues to grow.  This is going to be a driving force toward understanding the business and understanding the user.

Summary
I have a heard a couple of themes from software developers for a number of years.  The first is software development is somehow different from all other industries.  No one can really give me a reason beyond “just because it is different.”  As things shape up it appears that software development is just like every other industry.

The second thing and more to the point here is I have heard from many software developers they are better than their counterparts in India, China or eastern Europe.  When I push and keep asking the question, “What are you better at?” They answer, “I am better at requirements, design and knowing the business.”  This is true!   Americans and western Europeans need to focus on what they are better at and move away from technical skills because there is no long term future in it.

The number of developers in Asia and eastern Europe continues to grow.  They are becoming better educated too.  It is going to be harder and harder for an American or western European to compete on skill and especially on price.

Published in: on July 8, 2009 at 09:33  Comments (2)  
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A pint between friends!

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.– Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

I hope my British friends do not take offense to this, but the current measurement system in England is confusing.   Milk brought to the house by the infamous milkman is in pints, but the milk sold in stores is in liters.  “Petrol” stations sell gas in liters and advertise the price in gallons.  The distance between cities is in miles, but other road signs are in meters.   Of course, beer is sold in pints!  Everyone just knows when you walk into British pub you ask for a pint.

It is not uncommon to have local rules that dictate measurement.  Most people do not know that the volume of a UK pint is not the same volume of a USA pint.  One UK pint is equal to 1.20 USA pints.    A pint in the US is about twenty percent smaller by volume than a pint in the UK.  If a “pint” of beer is ordered in London, it is going to be about twenty percent larger than a pint of beer in the USA.  When my British friends order a pint of beer in the USA, they typically spend some time examining the size of the glass.  They often comment, “This doesn’t look right.”  They know something is wrong, but they just can’t identify it; they just can’t put their finger on it.

I have had CEOs tell me the same thing about their software organizations.  They tell me, “Things just don’t look right.”  Malcom Galdwell points out in his book Blink that intuition is often right, especially for those with a lot of experience.   The problem is that it is difficult to persuade someone based just upon intuition.   In the end, everyone should be able to explain and answer the question, “How do you know what you know?”   Without measurement, many people get attached to their beliefs and embrace all the emotions that go with their opinions.  In the absence of measurement and data, the person with the highest pay grade wins the argument that is based upon opinion.

I tell my British friends the reason a pint is smaller in the States is due to King George.  I tell them that King George taxed the colonist in America and shorted them on beer.  History tells us about taxation without representation, but fails to tell the story about the beer.

Read more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development (www.RebootRethink.Com)

Cheers!

David Longstreet
Software Economist.

Computers are like Women…

To be fair I need to post how computers are like women.

Computers are like Women…

…No one but the creator understands her internal logic.

… The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible  to everyone else (men can’t understand women).

… Even the smallest mistakes are stored forever in long term memory.

… As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

…You do the same thing for years, and suddenly it’s wrong.

Computers Are Like Men…

A friend of mine sent me the following.  I have seen it before and I thought I would share it.

Computers are like Men…

…In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.

…They’re supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem.

… They have a lot of data, but are still clueless

… As soon as ou commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer you could have a better model.

…They hear what you say, but not what you mean.

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 01:01  Leave a Comment  
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