Code Philosophy: Why Worse is Better (Ep. 15)

The Zombie Coder is back for a new season! Today’s episode focuses on one of the Zombie’s key coding philosophies: Worse is Better. Learn about the history of the phrase and join the “Cult of Done” if you dare.

Key Resources for today:


Avoiding Death March Projects

What is a death march project? Recognizing Death March projects is easier than you might expect, and avoiding them means simply setting your own boundaries.

And remember:

Don’t work for Sh*tBags!

Dev Rule #1: Delivery Isn’t a Cure-All

How many programmers view themselves as craftspeople? From those I know, the vast majority.

When dates are on the line and customers are shouting – many programmers with that mindset will hunker down, work extended hours, and chant the mantra – “Once we ship, everything will be better.” This is a lie.

Best Case Scenario: You hit whatever date the boss or customer wants and deliver exactly what they want. In years of development, I’ve yet to see a single deliverable that qualified as exactly what someone wanted. Even with extensive documentation and discussion beforehand. Delivery is compromise. The verified features and functionality of software meets the standard set. People always want more, it’s why no software is ever “done”. If the end product is exactly what they wanted, the bitter taste of angry meetings and phone calls will flavor your delivery like an open container of ice cream left in a freezer of rotten meat and onions. It may still be ice cream, but it tastes like garbage.

Worst Case Scenario: Continual miss communications force further and further schedule slips and angry calls until the product is cancelled and new “leadership” or (more likely) a new development team is brought in to “Fix Things”. This is, almost universally, the end result of using a poor outsourcing team or contractor. At some point, a manager is gonna realize that doubling down on the steaming pile isn’t gonna work. Don’t be in this situation, it won’t end well.

Delivery won’t necessarily hurt a bad situation, but it’s also not guaranteed to help. Continual communication and clear expectations keep bad situations at bay. Some leadership may simply be toxic – but the vast majority of people in the world simply want to get things done and not look stupid in the process. Delivery only fixes the first part of that, and it can make the second part substantially worse.

An amazing craftsperson doesn’t just make an amazing product – they sell the world that it is amazing. Quality whispers – it doesn’t shout.

Dev Rule #0: All Rules Have Exceptions.

Why is this Rule #0 and not #1?

First, it’s not so much a rule as a disclaimer. You’ll always find an exception to the rule – even this one. To quote a pure cinema classic, “not so much rules as guidelines”. I know enough about nerd mad typing from having done it so many times. I’m not going to argue with paragraphs of text justifying violation of one of my personal rules. Chances are, I’ve violated that rule more often and with more gusto than you anyhow.

Second, we’re programmers – indices start at 0. Unless you’re one of those MatLab folk. But really, Matlab folk should be isolated on an island away from civilized folk anyway. Bonus Unlisted Rule: Don’t take programming advice from any programmer who’s primary language is Matlab.

Dev Rules: Personal Philosophy of a Rogue Software Engineer

Not long ago, a fellow software engineer popped his head into my office to reveal some new daily horror worthy of posting to TheDailyWtf. As usually happens in such situations, my brain ejected a small stream of profanity before I gave into an uncontrollable urge to shake my fist and point out the voluminous reasons this particular example indicated the responsible party should be tossed off the roof of our building. As my face returned to the normal shade of programmer day-glow white, my fellow laughed and said that I should write down my personal development philosophy.

So here goes. Friend – if you are out there – I suspect you will find this good bathroom reading. And if you printed, perhaps useful as well. Just use soft paper.

For everyone else, ignore these posts. They will not make you happier or more productive. I am no Mel, and definitely don’t qualify as a Real Programmer. For #@$* sake, this a WordPress site complete with crappy PHP stolen from a WP index. Chances are half the server traffic here is Russian Command and Control Botnet commands forcing the latest DoS attack against some GOP website. Worse yet, I wrote this with a WYSIWYG editor. Not random SQL queries.

What I’m saying is, don’t take me seriously.

More likely than not, these posts are all written under the power of various prescription drugs in a vain attempt achieve some sort of sleep while dealing with Chronic Illness. If nothing else, such curses give you more free time. Bad spelling, grammer, and made-up Texanish words be ahead. You’ve been warned.