Thursday, January 7, 2010

Coding is just the tip of the iceberg

[This was originally posted at]

I love coding. The more I do software engineering, the more I realize that coding is just the tip of the iceberg. Consider tasks besides coding that are required for a successful project:

  • Identifying a business problem such that business sponsors are willing to pay for the product
  • Recruit the team to build the project
  • Provide the team the tools to develop the app (hardware & software)
  • Collecting business requirements
  • Coordinating with business partners, such as those providing data that the product will use
  • Designing a functional spec
  • Creating the architectural and technical designs
  • Decide on build vs. acquire (buy, open-source)
  • Outsource part of the project
  • Managing the project
  • Procuring the physical infrastructure that the app is deployed on
  • QA testing the app (functional, integration, user-acceptance, performance, etc...)
  • Deploying the app
  • Write training manuals for the app
  • Training support staff and users
  • Marketing the app such that people actually use it
  • Supporting the app

From start to finish, actually coding for a project may only be 5% - 10% of the total effort. That means that there's a huge portion of the project that is non-coding, and that huge portion can often overcome difficult coding tasks.

For example, say there is a component that is just difficult to program (it's complex, it's big, it occurs outside your expertise, etc...) You could possibly get around coding it yourself by maybe:

  • Buying or open-sourcing it (example: use an open-source tool or class library from CodePlex instead of writing it yourself)
  • Training the internal end users around using that feature ("we know the website has a bug, but just don't click the browser back button")
  • Using project management to get it punted, or out of scope
  • Convincing the business sponsor that the feature is not needed ("we don't need to invest all that time making a dancing paper clip assistant")
  • Better hardware (example, upgrading hardware for better performance)

The stars who keep delivering successful projects are familiar with this, and they are constantly mitigating challenges in one task by giving up something that doesn't matter from another task.

Sometimes you can solve hard coding problems by just sheer skill and coding right through it. But it's good to be aware of other techniques to work around the problem altogether.

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