Stainless Steel Rats

Stainless Steel Rats

From time to time I step back from the frontline of better software, and write a post trying to put things in a broader context. This is one of those posts.

Managers Don’t Want Software

Managers in companies making and selling products and services don’t want software. It’s a PITA to manage, costly, and troublesome. If someone came along and showed them how to get along without software, most would jump at the chance without a moment’s hesitation. (But one of the many reasons for my support for #NoSoftware, btw). The perceived link from software to revenues is tenuous at best. And most managers don’t even give a hoot about revenues or profits. The way the world of work works encourages us all to satisfy our own personal egos, pockets, and other needs.

Companies Don’t Want Long Term

Senior managers and executives are under all kinds of pressure to deliver short terms results. Shareholders and the markets are largely aligned to short-term wins.  And all have little incentive to take a longer-term view. Most KPIs and OKRs focus on the next quarter or year. Getting good at anything seems like a distraction from “making the numbers”. Getting good at tricky, complicated and complex things like software development holds even less appeal. Most senior folks don’t expect to be in post beyond a couple of years, and most expect their present companies to live short, frenetic lives. (The numbers on that largely reinforce that expectation).

Customers Don’t Want Software

They want their needs attended-to – and, preferably, met. The great majority couldn’t give a rat’s arse whether software is involved in that or not. And given the pain they perceive as arising from the software components of many commercial services they have to use, they’d like to see the back of software, too.

Our Bubble

We practitioners live in a software bubble, imagining that the world sees software like we do. Shiny, glitzy, awesome, useful, cool. This just ain’t so. And for the conscientious practitioners, there’s the need to master our trade / craft / profession / discipline. No one else needs us to do this. And few outside the bubble are interested in indulging us in seeing that need met.

The Bottom Line

It’s my considered opinion that software development, “broken” for the past fifty years, remains just as broken today – because almost no one needs it to be any better. What to do then? Is there no hope for us conscientious practitioners?

Little hope, I’d say, excepting doggedly pursuing our dreams of a better world. Finding joy where we can, like stainless steel rats in the wainscoting of business and society. Banding together for mutual support. Seizing each fleeting opportunity to see our needs for better ways of working attended-to, if not always met.

And talking with people outside the bubble. Listening to them. Trying to understand their needs. And seeing if there’s any chance of alignment between what they each need, and our own dreams.

– Bob

1 comment
  1. I used to work in a similarly Cinderella-like industry, public utilities (specifically, water and sewerage). It was, like software, essential to the proper functioning of almost everything else you could think of (perhaps even more so, but that’s another argument), the majority of consumers took no notice of it as long as it was working right, mostly they paid not too much money for it (though even then, many thought it ought to be provided for nothing “because God sends the water to fall on us for nothing”), but there were good and talented and dedicated people working within the industry to make it work as well as they could with the resources at their disposal.

    The trouble was that (here in the UK), water prices were pegged and under political oversight, so investment decisions were based on what could be afforded, not on what needed doing. And there were some smaller water companies that were at risk of going bust inside five years or so, with no provision to keep water flowing if they did. Those that were left were subject to a range of issues over water quality, which was not being monitored on any regular basis, with the risk of water-borne contaminants (mainly from run-off from agricultural land) getting into the supply.

    The Government’s answer was to privatise it, and to put in place a regulatory regime. Prices rose, but people began to take more notice of their water and sewerage services. (For a while at least, whilst it was news.) The new regulatory regime had impact because suddenly there were experts looking at the industry and making recommendations and decisions. Pricing was taken out of the political arena. Water quality began being monitored. Overall, the effects were beneficial, though not without cost or controversy.Costs to consumers went up, but quality improved across a range of different metrics. (Not that anyone really noticed.)

    How does that help software, especially under the circumstances you’ve described? Well, in a way it would help if people had to pay more for it. So much software nowadays is free, or bundled, or part of the deal with a particular machine. And it’s invisible to the end user, because for 90% of them, there’s no difference between a hardware and a software fault – it’s just “the computer’s down”. If people paid more for their software, and more visibly, then there’d be consumer pressure to make sure it worked. There would, of course, have to be instances of bad software getting panned in the public eye, and possibly some high-profile software companies going visibly bust in a messy way.

    How that would translate further is another matter, especially given the preponderance of a couple of mega-sized players in the business who take up all the oxygen of publicity and absorb so many apps under a couple of high-profile names. I think there would be complaints if consumers started to have to pay up front for all their apps again even though they might at least then find that they felt they had real consumer choice over the apps they bought and issues of quality might just begin to matter to them more. Instead, even when consumers (or some consumers) make that buying decision, it’s normally down to a handful of players for any given app. So the problem is, how to make consumers care about software?

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