February 2, 2020

Awful Code. Awful Circumstances.

  —With awful circumstances comes a terrible price--to people and the organization.

Sarah Mei has a tweet:

We think awful code is written by awful devs. But in reality its written by reasonable devs in awful circumstances.

A lot of the comments focus on developer ability. My favorite response is the truth table–surely done in jest.

Developer ability is a narrow view of the challenge here. People make mistakes, exercise poor judgement and create less than ideal outcomes. This happens under good circumstances as well.

I think Sarah’s point is that environment and constraints affect code quality. I asked her:

Am I correct that your notion of awful circumstances includes organizational (management, process, etc.) down through to the personal relationships between team members?

She responded:

Yeah. There is a very narrow slice of it that any of us has control over.

A narrow slice of control. I’m hopeful.

It’s important to recognize the socio-political environment and psychological elements.

  • Management support.
  • Team power structure.
  • Personal relationships.
  • Individual stress, burnout, frustration, capability and ability to contribute.

It starts with people. The narrow slice of control revolves around how people treat each other and the choices we make to respond to our challenges. The trick is to maximize the number of good choices we make.

I have hope that awful circumstances can be improved. I believe empowered people can make decisions that improve outcomes. The trick is to listen, act and repeat.

A narrow slice of control might be all you need.

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