The right coding language, system architecture, or interface design will vary wildly from project to project. But there are characteristics particular to software that consistently cause traditional management practices to fail, while allowing small startups to succeed with a shoestring budget:
- Reusing good software is easy; it is what allows you to build good things quickly;
- Software is limited not by the amount of resources put into building it, but by how complex it can get before it breaks down; and
- The main value in software is not the code produced, but the knowledge accumulated by the people who produced it.
Understanding these characteristics may not guarantee good outcomes, but it does help clarify why so many projects produce bad outcomes. Furthermore, these lead to some core operating principles that can dramatically improve the chances of success:
- Start as simple as possible;
- Seek out problems and iterate; and
- Hire the best engineers you can.
A people’s history of copying, from art to software.
Designers copy. We steal like great artists. But when we see a copy of our work, we’re livid.
Ultimately, however, our decision to switch was driven by our difficulty in hiring new talent for $UNREMARKABLE_LANGUAGE, despite it being taught in dozens of universities across the United States. Our blog posts on $PRACTICAL_OPEN_SOURCE_FRAMEWORK seemed to get fewer upvotes when posted on Reddit as well, cementing our conviction that our technology stack was now legacy code.
This is all just mwah—chef’s kiss!—perfect:
Every metric that matters to us has increased substantially from the rewrite, and we even identified some that were no longer relevant to us, such as number of bugs, user frustration, and maintenance cost.
CSS only truly exists in a browser. As soon as we start writing CSS outside of the browser, we rely on guesses and memorization and an intimate understanding of the rules. A text editor will never be able to provide as much information as a browser can.
CSS is frustrating because you have to actually think of a website like a website and not an app. That mental model is what everyone finds so viscerally upsetting. And so engineers do what feels best to them; they try to make websites work like apps, like desktop software designed in the early naughts. Something that can be controlled.
A really nice open-source font-previewing tool for the Mac.
Lessons for web development from a home renovation project:
- Greenfield Projects Are Everyone’s Favorite
- The Last Person’s Work Is Always Bewildering
- It’s All About the Trade-Offs
- It ALWAYS Takes Longer Than You Think
- Communication, Communication, Communication!
And there’s this:
You know those old homes people love because they’re unique, have lasted for decades, and have all that character? In contrast, you have these modern subdivision homes that, while shiny and new, are often bland and identical (and sometimes shoddily built).
node_modulesis like the suburbia/subdivision of modern web development: it seems nice and fancy today, and most everyone is doing it, but in 30 years everyone will hate the idea. They’ll all need to be renovated or torn down. Meanwhile, the classical stuff that’s still standing from 100 years ago lives on but nobody seems to be building houses that way anymore for some reason. Similarly, the first website ever is still viewable in all modern web browsers. But many websites built last year on last year’s bleeding edge tech already won’t work in a browser.
I’ve really come to appreciate that performance isn’t just some property of a tool independent from its functionality or its feature set. Performance — in particular, being notably fast — is a feature in and of its own right, which fundamentally alters how a tool is used and perceived.
This is a fascinating look into how performance has knock-on effects beyond the obvious:
It’s probably fairly intuitive that users prefer faster software, and will have a better experience performing a given task if the tools are faster rather than slower.
What is perhaps less apparent is that having faster tools changes how users use a tool or perform a task.
This observation is particularly salient for web developers:
We have become accustomed to casually giving up factors of two or ten or more with our choices of tools and libraries, without asking if the benefits are worth it.
The transcript of David Heinemeier Hansson keynote from last year’s RailsConf is well worth reading. It’s ostensibily about open source software but it delves into much larger questions.
I want to deliver working, stable things. To do that, we need to understand what we are building, in and out, and that’s impossible to do in bloated, over-engineered systems.
This pairs nicely with Craig’s post on fast software.
Everyone is busy building stuff for right now, today, rarely for tomorrow. But it would be nice to also have stuff that lasts a little longer than that.
I just got a new laptop and I decided to go with fresh installs rather than a migration. This really resonates:
It just seems that nobody is interested in building quality, fast, efficient, lasting, foundational stuff anymore. Even when efficient solutions have been known for ages, we still struggle with the same problems: package management, build systems, compilers, language design, IDEs.
Worlds of scarcity are made out of things. Worlds of abundance are made out of dependencies. That’s the software playbook: find a system made of costly, redundant objects; and rearrange it into a fast, frictionless system made of logical dependencies. The delta in performance is irresistible, and dependencies are a compelling building block: they seem like just a piece of logic, with no cost and no friction. But they absolutely have a cost: the cost is complexity, outsourced agency, and brittleness. The cost of ownership is up front and visible; the cost of access is back-dated and hidden.
This looks like a nice way to get a blog up and running:
Blot turns a folder into a blog. Drag-and-drop ﬁles inside to publish. Images, text ﬁles, Word Documents, Markdown and more become blog posts automatically.
Brendan describes the software he’s using to get away from Adobe’s mafia business model.
Performance and accessibility aren’t features that can linger at the bottom of a Jira board to be considered later when it’s convenient.
Instead we must start to see inaccessible and slow websites for what they are: a form of cruelty. And if we want to build a web that is truly a World Wide Web, a place for all and everyone, a web that is accessible and fast for as many people as possible, and one that will outlive us all, then first we must make our websites something else altogether; we must make them kind.
Fast software is not always good software, but slow software is rarely able to rise to greatness. Fast software gives the user a chance to “meld” with its toolset. That is, not break flow.
Lots and lots of programming advice. I can’t attest to the veracity and efficacy of all of it, but this really rang true:
If you have no idea how to start, describe the flow of the application in high level, pure English/your language first. Then fill the spaces between comments with the code.
Blogging about your stupid solution is still better than being quiet.
You may feel “I’m not start enough to talk about this” or “This must be so stupid I shouldn’t talk about it”.
Create a blog. Post about your stupid solutions.