Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sarah and Joe Write Features

I wrote a question for the twitterverse:

Give that question a moment's thought and tell me what you think as a knee-jerk reaction.

About Joe and Sarah

Of course Joe and Sarah are fictional characters.

No this isn't a gender question. I thought it would be wrong of me to pick two female names or two male names. I figured that there is really no way that I am going to get out of this without answering to questions (or charges) of gender bias no matter what I do, and so I decided to pick two names roughly at random.

It didn't dawn on me that they're both European/American kinds of names until later -- so bias is probably real there. But what if one was an Indian name and the other Chinese? I can see that having all kinds of issues too. So I have two names, and please forgive me for not being able to include everyone in that. If it makes you better, put "Li" at the end of one and "Kuthrupali" at the end of the other.

The Conversation

But I picked this question because it tickles the right parts of the brain to make an interesting exchange about value and ability and respect.
Tom Eskeli picked up on it quickly.

No. Joe's program is more valuable to the company, but that does not mean he is the better programmer.
I tried to (good-naturedly, I promise) push him into a bit of a corner, but he wisely held his ground.

Michael Bolton also spoke up:

No. To say Yes would be to confuse value with revenue. For instance: Joe's feature may have needed Sarah's to work.
To which George Dinwiddie replied:
Joe's feature may increase margin from existing customers, while Sarah's may open up a new market. 
M. Bolton:
Yes; when was revenue evaluated? 
At this point I considered the party to be in full swing.

The discussion was suddenly one of systems and short- v. long-term measurement and interconnectedness of parts. It became rich.

In the richness of the conversation, some angles were uncovered that I'd not considered when I phrased it.  You see, I'm not a puppet master controlling the stage and giving people roles to act. I ask a question because I think it's interesting fodder for thinking. People volunteer their depth and experience and wisdom.

The Punch Line

Finally I had to give away my punch line, which is that in the initial question I stated that Joe and Sarah had been assigned their work.

They had no say in what the feature was and no control over how much money it would make. To assume value from participation in assigned work based on the value the work is perceived to have generated really does not reflect on the programmers.

Joe may have been a brilliant programmer or a lousy hack. He may have TDD-ed or not. He may have taken weeks or hours to write it. It may have had no bugs or dozens. Nothing is said about his process or the metrics and observations about the story's trip from concept to deployment.

Likewise, nothing here gives us any insight whatsoever into the efficiency, quality, or effectiveness of Sarah's work.

Those who are disciples or casual readers of Deming will realize that I have given a version of the "Red Bead Experiment" and found the twitterverse ready. Deming taught us something crucial about compensation/recognition within systems:

Excellent answers Michael, George, and Tom.

If you don't know these people, do look them up and give them a follow.

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