The Free & The Damned

I sometimes wonder if I worked in a company that made software for others, instead of a company that makes software for itself, whether I would be a better: programmer, ventroliquist and lover. Ok, scratch the bit about the lover.

There are many potential reasons why this might be so but I want to focus on just two.

  1. When the software is the company’s business then as a developer you are closer to that business with all the benefits that brings. Essentially it’s the difference between supporting the business and being the business
  2. The second point is the related point that when software is the business, rather than for internal use, it is necessarily of a higher standard.

Item #2 is because your internal users pay for their software only indirectly. They don’t sign a EULA, and the cheques that they do sign are for salaries and aren’t budgeted in quite the same way. Our internal users will put up with sub-standard sofrware that people who have to sign a EULA and pay hard-green for will not.

The thing is that working for a company that doesn’t produce software as its primary function is still great fun. For much of what I’ve been doing for that last few years the business area I work in is only tangentially computer related. That is computers & technology are critical to the business because of the level of automation they provide not for any other reason. This makes the technology they use the means and not the ends.

This is both liberating and damning all at once. It’s liberating because I’m free to ignore decades of good software engineering practice if it is profitable and expedient to do so. Put trivially, if my software could directly generate revenues then time spent making it compile without warnings is time that it could be accumulating wealth. It’s damning because all those unfixed warnings are going to make an expensive mistake one day. I, as the programmer, have to choose where to draw the line.

Good quality software should be well-designed on very many levels: interaction, architecture, performance, etc. Anyone who buys software should demand good quality software or their money back. Therefore I would think (obviously I don’t know :-)) that being both free & damned isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. At least you’ll get the chance to make a bit of lucre while you’re free and when you’re in hell you’ll always have a job refactoring.