Jeremy Miller on trust

In a post from May 2007, Jeremy Miller, a well-known .Net developer and architect, records his thoughts from a conference he had just attended. Here are a couple of selections I found thought-provoking, applicable to our situation, and worthy of consideration (and as usual for Jeremy’s writing, bland and devoid of passion :) :

By the way, there *IS* a Silver Bullet

After the first day I started to count how many conversations boiled down to an issue of safety versus power. […]

It comes down to a choice of:

  1. Enabling developers with the maximum in language and technical power and trusting them to do the right thing
  2. Making development “safe” for lesser skilled developers by taking choices away from developers

I read recently an argument that choice #2 does far more to hamper the efforts of your best developers than it does to make weaker developers more productive. I agree. So wrapping this whole stream of dialogue up, I’ll say that there is a silver bullet(s), it’s:

Skill. Knowledge. Experience. Passion. Discipline.

In other words, it’s the people stupid! We need to invest much more in our people and the general skill level of the people doing the work instead of wasting so much energy on newer and newer forms of governance. We pay a very high price in productivity by not doing a better job of creating strong developers.

Why can’t you trust your developers?

Since this came up soooo many times, I have to ask — Why can’t you trust your developers to do the right thing? If you don’t trust the developers, what can you do about it? The hiring process is an obvious first step, but you’ve largely got the people that you’ve got. Can you work with them? Communicate better? And how do you know that the fault isn’t with you? What is it that made you trustworthy? Can it be repeated for another person? Do you really think you’re that special?

Or is the general population of developers so bad that this is hopeless and we really do need to worry about better and better ways to wring usefulness out of bad developers? I hope this isn’t true, but it seems to be the prevailing opinion of the majority of people I’ve spoken to in the last year or so.

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  1. #1 by David on August 21, 2008 - 2:08 pm

    I recently started a Coding Standards Project, and I asked my fellow developers if we couldn’t just publish the standards and trust other developers to read them and conform to them. The answer was a unanimous No. They recognized that they couldn’t even trust themselves to double check that their own code was standards compliant. They wanted an automated standards checker to protect them from themselves. I think trust may not be the real issue, anyway. I don’t think anyone *wants* to write bad code, introduce bugs, or break standards, it’s just that they don’t want to spend the majority of their time doing mindless things. Automated tools helps with this and provides more consistency across the code base.

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