Thursday, October 18, 2007

But Thats How It Was When I Got Here

Companies typically let their build system go to shit.

Why is that? Does anyone have an answer to this? The first thing I ever do on new projects is make sure I have a consistent build process. ThoughtWorks was the same way. The first thing I look at when joining a new company is the build process, and how to fix it. Why don't most companies do this themselves? I have some ideas, here they are:
  • They don't know how.
  • They somehow (wrongly) think its not as valuable as developing the next features
  • They get comfortable with the fact that it takes an hour to build, because it works
  • They suffer from "But Thats How It Was When I Got Here" syndrome
All of these are BAD BAD BAD reasons, and all make me very offended. Those might not be the only reasons, and they might not be the best reasons, but regardless, I'm going to tear them apart. My intention is not to make my coworkers feel bad, but to wake them up to the reality that theres a lot of new technology out there that they need to be learning and leveraging.

They don't know how.

If you don't know how to do something entirely modern, then you need to start learning. Everyone knows this, but so few people do it. Why? (Topic for a whole new blog posting). If you don't do it you're going to be passed by. This will occur first on the individual level, people will start to pass you making more money and you'll wonder why. Well, knowledge is why.

Worse though, if this is somehow your corporate culture, not learning new technology, eventually your whole company is going to stagnate. I refuse to let this happen at my group. Fortunately we have some great people who are eager to learn.

They somehow (wrongly) think its not as valuable as developing the next features

If you think its not valuable, you're dead wrong. If you don't have a repeatable build process someone will end up making a mistake and you'll deliver something broken to a client. Maybe that never happens, but you WILL end up slowly adding to your awful build process until you get something that is a total pile of nonsense. With this pile, any change takes days or weeks to figure out. You have to figure out all the side effects, you have to somehow verify that a updated build process produces the same results as the old process.

They get comfortable with the fact that it takes an hour to build, because it works

Believe it or not, if you are comfortable with your build process this is actually a sign that something might be wrong. I am never comfortable with my build process. I'm always tweaking it, trying to make it run faster, trying to remove duplication from it, trying this trying that...I think a good build should be less than 5 minutes. Some people say ten. I don't agree. If you have an hour build, you're likely doing a bunch of manual steps and will run into the problems I pointed out in the last step. If you have an hour long build and its completely automated then you have other issues that aren't quite as serious, but are still very bad.

But Thats How It Was When I Got Here

This one is troublesome to me. I HATE legacy software. I feel like. I don't know, some kind of Vigilante on a mission to KILL it. Unfortunately, even I find myself saying, "But thats how it was when I got here" from time to time. This is not a good excuse. If you're saying that now, you'll probably go on saying this until you end up in a situation like the last two items. This is almost an excuse for all the other items rolled up into one. Its like saying, "Yeah I know its bad, but what can you do?" And on top of that, its like, a way out, a way of saying, "I'm not going to deal with that problem." Well, guess what? You are going to deal with it, the hard way.

So is this all avoidable? Of course. "But how?" One simple way, READ. DAMN YOU. READ MORE. Thats it. Really. Just read what people are writing and you'll learn how to do things right. Now, if only we could get everyone to read. I smell a post.

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