Thursday, December 15, 2005

Skills are not enough

Some of us are reading McConnell's Rapid Development, and this question arose:

Why, ten years after that book was written, are most of the software organizations we know are still messed up? Does McConnell's advice actually not work?

Here was my take on it. Usually I'm not quite so excitable at the office, but I had to read patent applications, and that made me grouchy. Edgy. Whatever.

OK, here's my irrational rant of the day. (my first of the day.)

I believe that the problem is the technical mindset. By that I mean we focus on technique rather than on character. This mindset is endemic to our culture in this period of time: look at all the how-to books. The weakness, however, is seen in the titles of all those "Dummies" books. No matter how much technique a dummy may have, s/he is still a dummy without changes in CHARACTER.

If I think wishfully rather than realistically, that's not a skills issue; it's a character issue. If I deny reality rather than face the truth that (my team and) I have screwed up yet again, that's character, not technique.

I said "culture" above rather than "industry" because Dummies books aren't limited to what we usually think of "tech" (as in technology) subjects, although they *are* focused on "tech" as in techniques, and skills....

In fact, sorry to say, this kind of technique-obsessed thinking has infiltrated the church (you can mentally substitute any other religious or civic group with a fair chance of being correct) -- what do we need for successful small groups, choirs, programs? Skills! Classes! Training! Technique!

Bah! What we need is integrity, holiness (in some areas), zeal, leadership, and guts! Not just technique! Not just skills! Technique and skills are just crap if my head is full of wishful thinking. You can see this if in place of "civic group" you put "marriage." Your wife doesn't want skills and technique (well, maybe in some things), she wants YOU.

What we need in software development, BESIDES knowledge of tools and techniques and skills, is discipline, reality, courage.

What we have, early in the 21st century is lots and lots of technocrats, very smart and highly skilled people who may be OK in the character department, but not great. Not highly courageous. Not highly disciplined.

That includes me.

Reading these accursed patent applications makes me feel very edgy.

Regarding McConnell's advice (in the book) I said:

It would work if only we would follow it. We cannot master software if we only work on technique. We must first master ourselves.


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