In 2001, Lamont Adams of TechRepublic chiseled what would become ten commandments of Gerald M. Weinberg’s timeless wisdom: Egoless Programming. Today we’re going to learn its third commandment:
No matter how much “karate” you know, someone else will always know more.
First of all, this is a good thing. My friend Neal Ford has said that as soon as you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to look for another room.
In 2001, Lamont Adams of TechRepublic chiseled what would become ten commandments of Gerald M. Weinberg’s timeless wisdom: Egoless Programming. Today we’re going to learn its second commandment:
You are not your code.
This is without a doubt one of the hardest lessons for any early-career engineer to learn. As humans, we take pride in our creations. Unfortunately, software is soft because it’s meant to be changed, rewritten, and very often discarded completely.
In 2001, Lamont Adams of TechRepublic chiseled what would become ten commandments of Gerald M. Weinberg’s timeless wisdom: Egoless Programming. Today we’re going to learn it’s first commandment:
Understand and accept that you will make mistakes.
This one should be obvious. But we engineers often behave as if our fallible human nature does not extend to our chosen craft. And as much as I’d love for that to be true, it simply isn’t.
In 1971, Gerald M. Weinberg wrote1 these Ten Commandments upon the stone tablets of The Psychology of Computer Programming.
Well, they weren’t really written in stone. But they have stood the test of time. Wise is the software engineer who learns them and puts them into practice.
1. Understand and accept that you will make mistakes. Assume that you will write bad code. Find it and fix it before it affects users.
Your technology organization cannot afford unlimited innovation.
Dan McKinley coined the term innovation token to model this concept. Every organization gets a fixed supply of approximately three innovation tokens, and it can spend them on anything. As your organization grows in maturity, you might earn a few more tokens. But for the foreseeable future, the supply is fixed.
How does this work in practice? Well, let’s start spending tokens:
Let’s choose Elixr for our backend services.
In 2008, I believed the only way to save a critical software system was to rewrite it from scratch.
I had just been promoted to engineering manager of my team, and that system was our biggest project. And it was in trouble. I knew we had made a lot of mistakes along the way. Now that I was “in charge,” I was going to fix everything.
That rewrite almost failed, and I nearly got myself fired.
Great software engineering teams recognize the primacy of principles. A few decades ago, everyone wanted to visit Toyota. It had become the canonical example of a great manufacturing company. And Toyota invited everyone to visit, even its competitors.
Because Toyota knew that its competitors would do everything they could to duplicate its practices and tools, rather than understanding the principles of continuous learning and improvement.
Toyota knew that by the time its competitors successfully duplicated its practices and tools, it would have learned and improved.
What is a great software engineering team? It routinely delivers differentiated value to its customers. It can go fast forever. It can respond to changing market conditions and move in the right direction. It can deliver software that runs on day one and keeps running on day two. Teams like this have many common characteristics, but let’s focus on two:
They recognize the primacy of principles. Stephen Covey once said, “there are three constants in life…change, choice, and principles.