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Agility

Saw some more advertisements for programmers.  Well, software developers, web developers, GUI developers and other such job titles.  In more than one case, I saw the words “Agile Environment.”

Some of you might think this refers to some development tool or programming language.  It doesn’t (unless there has been some recent change).  It refers to a practice.

As a friend once described it to me, two developers sit in a room, sharing a PC and a project.  They agree, quickly, on an overall strategy, then one starts typing in code, going as fast as he can.  Once he draws a blank or runs out of steam, he rolls out of the way and his partner rolls in and takes over, typing as fast as he can.  Sure, I guess they stop occasionally to discuss how they are going to do the next bit, but the idea is to just keep typing.

It is easy to see how this would interest company executives.  After all, software engineers cost a lot of money – though not, seemingly, as much as they used to.  If you can make them write faster, then, obviously, the cost per line of code will go down.  If the cost per line goes down, then you can bring that million-lines-of-code project in for far less money.

I cannot believe, however, that the savings are real.  Why?  Because the rapid programming deprives the developors of the one thing they desperately need: time to think.  If I have time to think, then I can find better ways to do things.  By thinking before typing, I can figure out a way to accomplish a task that bypasses many sections of otherwise-needed code.  In other words, I can write more concise code – the cost per line goes up, but there would be, in many cases, far fewer lines.

But this is difficult to prove and management is only interested in that which can be shown in a profit and loss statement, apparently.  I believe strongly that the supposed savings actually evaporate, once you take into consideration the unnecessary lines of code, the extra testing, the time needed to rewrite larger-than-needed modules.  Unfortunately, many of the people in charge are the mutant-mind, Zuckerberg types who actually program faster in their heads than they can actually type anyhow and honestly believe that all developers can or should be able to do what they do.  Having worked with probably a hundred software professionals over my career, I can categorically state that most cannot.

It is okay, though.  Mega-corps will continue to adopt this eye-shade-pleasing method and they will be able to convince everyone that it is saving them a lot of money.  They will even use it in the one place they mustn’t: those applications where milliseconds really do count, where being a quarter second behind the competition is as bad as being a minute behind.  This will leave an opening for those a little less beholden to the accounting department to come in – rationally, methodically – and clean their clocks.

Agile development is probably here for a long time to come, but I believe it will eventually fade away, not from deliberate decisions, but simply as those most devoted to it find themselves losing again and again in the marketplace.

 

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