SQLServerCentral Editorial

Corporate Programming Sucks


Yale University

Over the break I read an interesting series from Joel Spolsky from a speech he gave at Yale University (You can read Parts I, II, and III). He talks a lot about his career, his company Fog Creek, and what he's learned, as well as what applied from his education at Yale nearly 20 years ago.

It's interesting reading and if you're in the software business, meaning selling shrink wrapped software, then I'd encourage you to read what Joel writes. He's smart, funny, and he does a good job running his company. He's also fairly transparent, it seems, with what works and doesn't work for him.

However I want to take an issue with him on one sentence: "...why does it suck to be an in house programmer."

I'm not taking this out of context, he really thinks that it would suck to be a corporate programmer. And he's speaking to people at Yale, who are already some of the top students in the US, so they might think it sucks as well. If anyone out there is a Yale grad, or works with one, then let me know.

Joel gives some reasons why it sucks, mainly because you are limited in what you can do and you don't get to improve or build the "cool stuff" because there's no return on additional investment in applications that work. Drab, grey buttons work as well as well thought out colorful ones in corporate systems, so no one wants to pay any extra money to make things better.

I've been a corporate programmer, and I somewhat can agree. We don't necessarily do the coolest stuff. Instead we stick with the easiest, quickest way to get things done because we need to be effective and efficient and there is no ROI for cool, elegant, or higher quality.

That doesn't mean we need to produce junk, but it doesn't have to be any better than bare bones. Or at least our bosses don't think so.

I've never worked for a company building software to sell. At least not in the groups building the software. I worked for JD Edwards, an ERP company, but I was an operational guy, just keeping things running. However I can imagine that there is probably more of a buzz and excitement if you're producing something that other people choose to buy and aren't forced to use.

The exception I'd take, however, is that every programmer wants this in their lives. I'm sure it's fun, but for many of us this is a job and we have more important things like family, hobbies, or baseball :), that occupy our time. We'd just as soon go home and not have something nagging at us because it might produce more revenue.

For the record, I'm a UVA graduate, one of the "supposedly" top schools in the country, producing some very successful business people, politicians, and other "movers and shakers". And I like production work. Checking logs, keeping the servers running and making sure the backups (and restores) work.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA


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