As a youngster I was taught to think of history in terms that scream out for marble monuments and epic poetry. College did its best to break me of that tendency, and though I retain some of that boyish awe, I have come to appreciate the humanizing elements of history.
I like to remind myself as summer approaches by watching the musical 1776, about the drafting of the US Declaration of Independence. Aside from the fun it has with history, I also enjoy the lessons it offers for my day job. The play looks beyond the yellowed parchment with the odd penmanship and the huge signature of John Hancock, and into the people and the passions that went into it. For me, that long hot summer in Philadelphia is an apt metaphor for the software development process.
In “The Egg,” we see John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson waiting for their first draft of the Declaration of Independence to be read in Congress. “It’s a masterpiece, I say!” says Adams. “They will cheer every word, every letter!” They launch into song about the “eaglet being born” but wonder if instead their efforts will lay an egg… As an aside, I also love the scene where Franklin, Adams and Jefferson argue over the national bird. It’s a dispute echoed every year as we look for a new project code name.
Needless to say, the first draft is not the last. Requests for edits are immediate, loud, and from every corner…
Similarly, software development consists of compromise. “Requirements” may come from any department in the company, and they often conflict. Often times there are impossible conflicts and “more user-friendly” faces off with “less intrusive.” “More features” steps on the toes of “lean and mean.” “Something for everyone” runs smack into “back to basics.” The answer is often in the middle; one point of view may win one year, only to give ground the next.
The specifics may change from year to year, but the basic questions do not. When we release, we gauge our success, with reviewers and with the market. And the process begins again. Another message of 1776 is this: it’s never over. They don’t call it a “development cycle” for nothing. Change is constant. Competitors are working just as hard for that Editor’s Choice, hardware and software never stops evolving, new threats emerge daily, and so the cycle continues. Last year’s brilliant new feature may raise questions nobody had thought to ask before…but now that they are asking, there’s much more work to do.
It’s hard work…but it’s worth it. Much like those men in 1776, I still get a thrill when I see my finished product (although mine is on the shelves of course).
Message Edited by Sondra_Magness on 05-20-2008 04:03 PM