16 April 2013

Recently one of my posts made a bit of a stir on Hacker News. I really enjoyed the conversation that was had, and it got me thinking more about the whole development cycle and what we do as managers and development teams. I’ve worn just about every hat you can imagine in the web development world, from a junior dev on a larger team (i.e., pure code monkey) to being the technical co-founder of Goalee (i.e., if anything breaks it’s my neck on the line).

So, for both of you that care, here’s what I have learned:

  • Everything else held constant, faster deploys are preferable to delayed releases
  • Everything else held constant, it’s preferable to spend as little money as possible

Mind blowing, I know. But as someone who takes great pride in the code that I write, it can be easy to get so wrapped up in the purity of writing code that you lose sight of what the code is meant to do. And as much as it might pain you to admit it, and this is especially true if you’ve taken outside investment, the purpose of your code is to make money.

Every tool we use to write code should be looked at in this light. If not by the junior level grunt, then at least by those who profess to be managers. The purpose of management isn’t to process TPS reports, it’s to increase efficiency. Whether that’s breaking down barriers, dealing with investors, overseeing deployment schedules, or analyzing development procedures and requirements, successful managers are those that best help their development teams improve efficiency.

Let’s take the Rails framework as an example. I love Rails in all its omakase goodness. And why do I use Rails in most of my web projects? Because it improves efficiency. I’m not a homer; I recognize there are tradeoffs with a framework like Rails. But by and large it does a great job at helping me focus on those parts of our software that make us different than everyone else. It helps me do more with less.

I wrote about tests and I’m not interested in going down that rabbit hole again this week, but my views on testing might make more sense when understood in this light. I don’t hate tests, and I don’t hate TDD (and contrary to some in the Twitterverse, I do understand the difference between the two). But I would argue that the overhead incurred from TDD might decrease efficiency in the early stages of development when you have absolutely no freaking clue what your product/service will actually be when it grows up. It doesn’t bother me if other people have a different cost/benefit analysis, I just don’t feel beholden to the testing paradigm if I don’t think it is likely to be a positive NPV endeavor.

Why do people rave about the morning standup? Because it has helped breakdown barriers and improve the ability to get things done. Is the morning standup the only way to do that? No, and if you have a more efficient way of doing business then you should adjust accordingly. I honestly don’t love morning standups and have rarely used them as prescribed. This might get me flamed (again), but I’ve found other ways that work better for me and my teams to overcome the same barriers that the standup is meant to address. I have a near irrational hatred towards organized meetings (mostly as a result of being in so many that are absolute time-sinks). I get the morning standup, I love you for doing it, but I don’t use it. And I’m still going to sleep well tonight…

At the end of the day, all I really care about is getting stuff done. From the services I use (from Mixpanel to Geckoboard to Lighthouse to GitHub) to the development practices I enforce (peer-reviewed code and problem ownership) - what matters is getting the best return on our investment. For example, I really want to like GitHub Issues. I really want to be able use it as our team’s main ticketing agent for our private repo. But Lighthouse is still more effective for us because I can’t attach arbitrary files to GitHub. They just recently introduced image attachments, which is a great first step, but I need to be able to attach specs (like PSDs) to tickets as well. I could use Dropbox with links or some other hackery, or I could just use Lighthouse and be done with it. For now, I’ve determined that Lighthouse is more efficient for us, but if GitHub ever allows for arbitrary file attachment I’ll make the shift in a heartbeat.

There are some general industry best practices that are likely to help me be more efficient, but I don’t hold any of them as sacrosanct. Every team is different. Every manager is different. And as we’re all working on different projects, and we all have different abilities, it would seem logical that the optimal way for our disparate groups to achieve maximum efficiency would be diverse.

But even as a I say this, something inside of me cringes. I’m not one of those that believes in being different just to buck the status quo, and I fear being misconstrued for one of those types of people. I find those people obnoxious, almost more so than those who justify business decisions because “that’s how everyone is doing it.”

This is simply an open admission that the optimal way of solving problems on my team is likely to be different than the optimal way of solving problems on your team. The important part of life and business is making intentional and reasoned decisions regarding what actions you want to take. In the world of web development, that means sitting down and determining what’s the best way for you to get code out the door as cheaply as possible within an acceptable fault-tolerance variance.

I use a variety of tools, services, and development methodologies to help me get what I want; to get the highest return on my time and money as possible. I use them to get stuff done.

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