Friday, January 20, 2012

Passion Breeds Collaboration While Lack of it Breeds Indifference

I'll put the user in a box
Ever go to the doctor's office full of questions and ideas about a long term illness you may have?  Perhaps that's only me.

How did the doctor act?  Did he engage you in conversation?  Did he seem to ignore you?  Did he dismiss your questions?  Did he answer everything you asked and perhaps ask some of his own?

Have you ever been apart of an open source project?  On a mail list with other eager users and developers?  How did you react the last time someone sent in a question or suggestion?  Did you give them feedback?  Did you bypass the email based on subject?  Did you request more from them, perhaps code or testing?  Did you taunt them with your superior knowledge?

A friend of mine and I were talking about doctors and we came to the conclusion that the best doctors were the ones that wanted your input on your care.  It felt like it was because they were passionate about their jobs.  It seemed to us that the doctors who weren't either had lost the spark, or were only interested in medicine for the prestige, money, or perhaps family history (my father and his father and his father's father, etc).  That somehow led us to talking about open source projects and our time on one.  I came to realize that my passion for the project and for my career affected my involvement with the project.

When I was a developer I loved to hear from everyone.  I read every email, I was always on IRC.  As I moved into a manager role I became more remote.  I was hardly on IRC, I usually ignored listserv email.  Tickets from users were no longer wonderful feedback but annoying things that they could have fixed themselves.  My attitude dropped as I moved from that which I'm passionate about to something that I'm not.  So, I've stopped managing that project and tried to go back to engaging and coding.  The passion, its coming back, a bit slowly but only time will tell.

So the moral of this story?  When you are dealing with some a-hole professional don't be quick to judge.  Perhaps he made a wrong turn and is in a position that he has no passion for.  Instead of cursing him, say a little pray hoping he'll find his way to a profession he is passionate about. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Engineer, Developer, Programmer, Analyst ... pick one?

I remember a while back my old boss mentioning he had chosen the working title of "Software Engineer" for positions at work because Engineers are not "web masters".  When I started this article I had been looking at positions on-line and I noticed a mix of definitions for the same work: Programmers, Software Developer, Software Engineer, Analyst.

  • Software Engineer - a person who designs and writes and tests computer programs 
  • Software Developer - No Definition
  • Analyst - a person who analyzes 
  • Programmer - a person who writes computer programs.
Researching this post has lead me to the following conclusion.  A Software Engineer and a Software Developer are modern terminology for Analysts and a Programmers as Software as a field gets older and understands itself better.

Long ago we compartmentalized the field.  Analysts analyzed the needs of the customer and came up with the design then handed it off to programmers who actually created the application.  As the field has matured we learned a little bit about ourselves, we all like to design but secretly need to create too.  Software Engineers and Developers have come to embody a unified process of design, development, and implementation.  As you go up the technical ladder you design and mentor more than you write and test, but those things do not go away absolutely.

What is the difference between engineers and developers?  At first glance an engineer is a highly exact individual from a school of engineering.  However, in reality the difference is field of work.  Web companies, business groups, and application centered hardware agnostic positions tend to be described as Software Developers.  Technology companies and hardware centered positions tend to be described as Software Engineers.  As members of the software field both have to design the application to the users specification, write the application, and develop tests of that system.  Its the nature of the field.