23 February 2008
A good place to buy media centre PCs
Guide to Codecs in Vista Media Center
19 February 2008
Deploying maven snapshots to a remote repository
The altDeploymentRepository argument specifies an alternative repository to deploy snapshots to with format id::layout::url
16 February 2008
Flushing the DNS cache in Windows Vista
1. Click the Microsoft Vista Start logo in the bottom left corner of the screen
2. Click All Programs
3. Click Accessories
4. Right-click on Command Prompt
5. Select Run As Administrator
6. In the command window type the following and then hit enter: ipconfig /flushdns
15 February 2008
11 February 2008
Show me the money, Martin Fowler explains why good developers are worth a lot more
One of the commonly accepted beliefs in the software world is that talented programmers are more productive. Since we CannotMeasureProductivity this is a belief that cannot be proven, but it seems reasonable. After all just about every human endeavor shows some people better than others, often markedly so. It's also commonly observed by programmers themselves, although it always seems to be remarked on by those who consider themselves to be in the better talented category.
Naturally better programmers cost more, either as full-time hires or in contracting. But the interesting question is, despite this, are more expensive programmers actually cheaper?
On the face of it, this seems a silly question. How can a more expensive resource end up being cheaper? The trick, as it is so often, is to think about the broader picture of cost and value.
Although the technorati generally agree that talented programmers are more productive than the average, the impossibility of measurement means they cannot come up with an actual figure. So let's invent one for argument sake: 2. If you can find a factor-2 talented programmer for less than twice of the salary of an average programmer - then that programmer ends up being cheaper. To state this more generally: If the cost premium for a more productive developer is less than the higher productivity of that developer, then it's cheaper to hire the more expensive developer. The cheaper talent hypothesis is that the cost premium is indeed less, and thus it's cheaper to hire more productive developers even if they are more expensive.
In case anyone hasn't noticed this hypothesis is a key part of our philosophy at ThoughtWorks and is one of the main reasons why I ended up switching from an independent consultant to join. We believe we actually end up cheaper for our clients, even though our rates were higher. Of course, we do have difficulty persuading many clients that this is true - that lack of objective productivity measures strikes again. I still remember a meeting with one prospective client complaining about how our rates were higher than a company who had made a previous, failed, attempt at the system we were bidding on. We had to politely point out that paying less rates for a project that delivered no value was hardly a financially prudent strategy.
There are some notable consequences to the the cheaper talent hypothesis. Most notably is one that it actually follows a positive scaling effect - the bigger the team the bigger the benefits of cheaper talent. Let's assume we actually have put together a team of ten talented developers to run a project in some alternative universe where we have actually measures that they are twice as productive as the average - and thus do cost exactly twice as much to hire. In this case you might naturally assume that a rival team of average programmers would be a team of twenty.
The trouble is that that assumption assumes productivity scales linearly with team size, which again observation indicates isn't the case. Software development depends very much on communication between team members. The biggest issue on software teams is making sure everyone understands what everyone else is doing. As a result productivity scales a good bit less than linearly with team size. As usual we have no clear measure, but I'm inclined to guess at it being closer to the square root. If we use my evidence-free guess as the basis then to get double the productivity we need to quadruple the team size. So our average talent team needs to have forty people to match our ten talented people - at which point it costs twice as much.
Another factor that plays a role here is time-to-market. Let's assume two teams of four people, one talented and one average. To stack the deck of our argument against our talented team, discount the previous paragraphs, and assume the talented team is only twice as productive as the average team. If the talented team charges twice as much then can we assume that it doesn't matter financially which team we pick?
I'm afraid the talented team wins again. They'll complete the project in half of the time of the average team, which means that the customer will start yielding value from the delivered software earlier. This earlier value, compounded by the time value of money, represents a financial gain for picking the talented team, even thought their cost per output is the same.
Agile development further accelerates this effect. A talented team has a faster cycle time than an average team. This allows the full team to explore options faster: building, evaluating, optimizing. This accelerates producing better software, thus generating higher value. This compounds the time-to-market effect. (And it's natural to assume that a talented team is more likely to produce better software in any case.)
Faster cycle time leads to a better external product, but perhaps the greatest contribution a talented team can make is to produce software with greater internal quality. It strikes to me that the productivity difference between a talented programmer and an average programmer is probably less than the productivity difference between a good code-base and an average code-base. Since talented programmer tend to produce good code-bases, this implies that the productivity advantages compound over time due to internal quality too.
All this sounds, at least to me, like a highly compelling argument. It's also one that's widely accepted (at least by programmers who consider themselves talented). But it's far off being accepted by the software industry as a whole. We can tell this because the premium for talented developers (in terms of salary/contracting fees) is less than the productivity difference. Probably the major reason for this the inability to objectively measure productivity. A hirer cannot have objective proof that a more expensive programmer is actually more productive. Only the higher cost is objective. As a result a hirer has to match a subjective judgment of higher value against an objective higher cost. Many hirers, even if they believe the talented programmer is worthwhile personally, isn't prepared to justify the full higher cost to managers, HR, and purchasing.
This effect is compounded by the difficulty in making even a subjective assessment. At ThoughtWorks we rely on peer assessment - developers abilities are assessed by fellow team members. The result is hardly pinpoint precision, but it's the best anyone can do.
Which all points out that hiring and retaining talented programmers is hard work. Hiring and assessment is hard work. You have to deal with people with very individual desires, which are even more important to track as they are effectively underpaid. So a hirer is faced with certain extra work and higher costs versus only a judgment call for higher productivity.
So I understand the situation but don't accept it. I believe that if the software industry is to fulfill its potential it needs to recognize the cheaper talent hypothesis and close the gap between high productivity and higher compensation.
04 February 2008
Write less code
So, how can we mitigate this issue? The obvious way is to write less code! Now, I'm not saying that you should be lazy and start programming less, I am saying that every time you add code to your application you should do so consciously. While you are adding code you should be conscious of whether you are repeating functionality, because any time that you can reduce the amount of code you are better off. Just slow down and think about what you are doing. In the software world our schedules can be crazy and in the haste to get the code written and the application out the door we can cut short the parts of software development that actually lead to good applications.
Another thing you can do is to constantly look for code to refactor in order to shorten, simplify, or completely remove it. Constantly ask yourself if a piece of code needs to be there or not. Refactoring can be troublesome though, and if you do not have sufficient tests to check your refactorings then you may end up introducing more bugs than you are avoiding.
One last thing you can do is to avoid large or complex methods and classes. You may think that bugs are distributed evenly around an application, but that just isn't true. According to Steve McConnell one study found that "Eighty percent of the errors are found in 20 percent of a project's classes or routines" and another found that "Fifty percent of the errors are found in 5 percent of a project's classes". The more large and complex a method or routine is, the more likely it is to contain errors and the harder those errors will be to fix.
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