Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Programmers who "care" vs $2-shop software.

There is something to be said for the experienced coder who is capable of producing low quality software at a fantastic rate. As a programmer who cares about software, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that software must always be thoroughly tested and beautifully architected, appropriately apply design patterns, separation of concerns, and all the rest of it.

Whereas sometimes, a business needs a rough-and-ready, potentially high maintenance solution, until such time as either a venture stabilizes or, alternatively, crumbles away.

[EDIT 20121030: in New Zealand, we have a chain of shops called "The $2 Shop" (http://www.2dollarshop.co.nz/), which sell very cheap stuff that doesn't last very long but is good if you're in a hurry]

The work of a $2-shop programmer is often ruthlessly ridiculed by programmers who "care" (that is, programmers who are accustomed to applying a quality/craftsmanship oriented approach to their work). The $2-shop programmer however relentlessly and undeniably produces lots of working software - it's just that it's difficult to maintain, and augment.

$2-shop software however - whether it's written by a keen business owner, or by an opportunist contractor who learned VB from a web tutorial - can often end up being the core of a bigger system. This is because, as a business venture stabilizes, it attracts higher quality (more stable) programming, resulting from the desire to make the process more robust ans scalable, for the longer term. The trouble is that businesses may not be inclined to significantly refactor existing software infrastructure and instead opt for high quality clip-ons to an existing, $2-shop core.

Herein lies the problem. If a business wishes to attract quality programmers, it needs to be open to the idea that they are most likely going to want to refactor $2-shop code when they come across it, in the same way that if you were investing in extending a house you would want to address hazardous electrical wiring in the process.

If a business with pre-existing $2-shop software infrastructure (let's face it, this is most of them) is willing to take this approach - that is be open to investment in significant refactoring, and trust it's programmers to advise as to where this is appropriate - then it (a) introduces a short-term cost and (b) sets itself up for long term stability.

In summary, I think that there is definitely a place for $2-shop programming - it is in the realm of prototypes, high risk ventures, and where there are significant gains to be made by acting very fast. And for the resulting $2-shop software to become part of a sustainable and scalable business model, businesses must accept the cost of refactoring.

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