Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We Have Met The Enemy

In the previous post "Why Extreme Programming Fails"I attempted to shine a light on a dirty little secret of software development. The biggest obstacle was, is, and shall be, the people writing software. Do I condone the 48 Laws of Power, of course not. But to ignore the realities of human behavior in building software would be as foolish as building an elaborate sandcastle on a beach below the high-tide line and expect to hold back the water from destroying all your hard work. Programming is a social activity. See my review of Weinberg's book at

Sun Tzu wrote that you should know yourself and your opponent to have the best chance of victory. Understanding your team is the best place to start to ward off non-technical issues. Admitting that people have hidden motives is not to say those motives are good but to realize how situations should be approached or to understand why a given developer is so hard to work with. The 48 Laws are stated in an almost malevolent way in an effort to illustrate how people act at the extreme. Law #1, "Never Outshine the Master" can be taken either as a command for those who want to curry favor or it can be taken as a reason why a long-time developer may not take it well when showed up on a coding task by a new hire. At their foundation, the laws show behavior issues where ego, mistrust, control, and laziness are the motivations instead of loyalty, honesty, or integrity. We don't have the luxury of assuming everybody in the workforce is on the up-and-up or motivated to do a good job; once we learn that lesson we can begin to steer our own course, taking detours around those who put obstacles in our way instead of being at the mercy of those whose desires are as capricious as they are destructive.

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