October 13, 2017
Time for the Chief Software Developer?A blog post by Extreme Programming co-creator Kent Beck about ageism in software development has set me thinking again about this whole issue.
As 50 looms on the horizon, I'm becoming only too aware of this predilection employers have for younger - cheaper - developers. "Do you think they might be a little old?" is a question I routinely hear from hiring managers in start-ups in particular.
The net effect of this - aside from throwing great talent and experience on the scrapheap - is we're a profession of perpetual beginners. Young people entering software development are very lucky if they're exposed to industry veterans in any practical way.
So insights about refactoring, say, that date back to the 1980s have to be rediscovered and reinvented year after year. The upshot is that most developers can't refactor code. So most code suffers from a severe lack of maintainability. By the time developers have learned to write better code, our industry dictates that they move away from the code-face. And around we go.
My solution to the "How come you're not a CTO yet?" question that inevitably comes up with someone of my vintage has been to sidestep it. As a developer, I'm getting too old and too expensive for most employers. But as a trainer and coach, 25 years of professional experience is a distinct advantage. So I code every day, and work with other developers on actual software, instead of sitting in meetings or being a PowerPoint jockey.
But sidestepping the job shouldn't be necessary. There should be a viable career path for people who want to stay hands-on. They're both necessary and valuable, especially to technology companies.
I maintain that there should be such a thing as a Chief Software Developer, who sits on the board like a CTO or CIO, but writes code on a day-to-day basis. They would be there to defend the reality of writing software from the uninformed "optimism" of bosses who think it's easy, and who just want everything yesterday, at half the price, and hang the consequences for the business.
I can think of many, many start-ups who could have avoided The Hell of A Thousand Complete Rewrites had such a person had one hand on the wheel. Indeed, I can think of a few very large companies who'd still be trading today if someone with genuine authority had said "No, let's do this right".
I'm a realist, though. I appreciate that history teaches us such authority is rarely given freely. Development teams need to take it. Perhaps one way teams could pave the way would be to identify who in their team would be a Chief Software Developer, and then just start calling them that. After a few years of many teams in many businesses doing it, the drip-drip-drip effect might just make it an officially acknowledged reality.
Who would be your Chief Software Developer?
Posted 2 years, 10 months ago on October 13, 2017