Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Measurable quality

Whilst boring a (City-based) friend with my thoughts he pointed out that in the City the highest paid people are often not the bosses, but the star traders. So now we have another models to investigate – the bonus culture, where workers are openly rewarded according their contribution. Either way, it’s possible to earn a (very) decent living by continuing to practice the very thing that made you successful in the first place, with the business “management” being taken care of by people trained in their own way to do just that. (And having no greater status than those doing the work.)

The most successful lawyers continue to practice the law, and the most successful traders continue to trade. One could argue that this is because what they do generates enough money to make this an attractive proposition, whereas software development does not. And yet… software is surely the biggest growth industry in the last 25 years – it has literally appeared out of thin air, and yet it’s created some of the largest personal fortunes every seen. An article I read a couple of years ago (wish I could find it) had some statistics about billionaires that included a summary of those who could “program a computer”; let’s just say that there were more computer programmers in the list than lawyers or accountants. So what gives?

Back in the real world, most software programmers are neither billionaires, nor working for billionaires, but the question of how to make a respectable living still exists. Of course, the great advantage that City traders have is that their contribution is measured in numbers* – which can be ranked and rated. Which begs the question, how do you evaluate a developer’s contribution to a company’s success?

If you started a company that became SAP (as did one of the programmers in the list), and therefore had both money to spend, and the ability to recognise technical talent, how would you measure it? Do you even bother – is one person’s line of code the same as another’s?

Everyone is not equal, we all know that, but how do you prove it; if it’s not possible to prove it objectively, does that make software development art and not science?

* They also have the huge advantage of having “make more money” as the sole focus of their job.

No comments: