Programming by the pound

In which we try to figure out why some programs are worse off for the end users than they need to be.

We are likely to spot the root cause and less than pleasing hairdos if a hairdresser cut by the pound, that is, with no regards to style or aesthetics, but rahter focused on cutting a pound of hair off each customer.

We’d see: bowl cuts, bald, half-bald, … Speed and weight is of the essence.

The source code of some programs looks as if they have been created in a similar fashion. Just push code in without a sense of style or aesthetics. Copy and paste, ad hoc design from the beginning, Rube Goldberg like amendments.

Most people will not be able to see this, as they only have the user interface to interact with, if the software ever hits the market.

The programmer on the other hand will never learn any better. Basically he is doing a stellar job - the customers get served in a speedily manner, and there are no complaints. As mentioned above, the customers are less likely to spot the ugliness as they don’t see the code. The programmer rarely sees other peoples code, and likely cannot tell the difference between a good style and his own.

Sort of having a blind barber tell you: “Looks good to me.”

But if the end users are happy with the delivered product should we care at all? Well that depends, we’re all paying the price. The price for the software has to be earned somewhere. If the productivity of the end users doesn’t increase to cover the cost, then the choice to get the software in the first place was a bad idea. The cost of updates and additions goes up the more convoluted the source code is, because it will take longer to fit the new requirements into the existing code. Starting from scratch means losing the entire investment and betting on another system with a high probability of having the exact same issues. You may even lose the part of your data.

I’m not arguing that the hairdressers shop should be a cathedral, rather that it shouldn’t be a shanty building with wires and hoses dangling in dangerous positions.

Whenever you spot a user interacting with a user interface, and they become frustrated, odds are that the developers had more focus on programming by the pound getting things done than actually enabling their customers to get things done.

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