Saturday, December 13, 2008


So, I'm taking over the technical management of a web service. One of the first things I did was talk to everyone, mostly to check the temperature. The kinds of questions I asked were basic. If you ask a basic question, you get a better answer. And one of those questions was What can we do better? The one unanimous issue was that we needed better documentation.

Great. Only two problems with this.
  1. Most of the team doesn't write well.
  2. In the past, nobody has gone out of their way to really make documentation happen.
Why I point this out: most teams probably think that this is just a scheduling problem. As if you just added some time for Documentation, the problem is solved. I think if you just added more time for documentation, people will just half-ass some crap on the wall and probably spend the rest of the time you slated for documentation surfing the intertubes.

I need a strategy. I need a system that will help bad writers get better incrementally. Which means that everything must be painfully obvious. The first pieces of the puzzle are the stuff that actually exists, which are the most important parts, anyway.
  • Code/API Documentation — What does your code do? Especially, what side effects are there?
  • Adminsitration Guide — How do we run the system?
  • Users Guide — How do users run the system?
The other part is planning. Essentially, you need to identify groups of features, and then answer two big questions for each feature set. One, what's the business value here? Or, how do we get paid? Two, how is this thing going to work?

I'm not sure I've not forgotten about something completely hugemongous.

Women Are Out of The IT Compartment

Why do we create stupid compartments for everything? At first, I thought it was just Americans with their shared cultural stupidity:
  • You can be black, or white. Or maybe brown or yellow, but those aren't really used. But I've actually checked White on forms in school.
  • Red state means religious conservative Republican, blue state means agnostic liberal Democrat.
But you know what? When it comes to programming, the whole world shares another category:
  • Programmer - a guy who likes tech. Pretty geeky, usually.
It's a shame, really. And it's everyone's fault. Another blog flipped a switch about the little ways we help permeate the chicks don't do IT thing. In the article, it was shopping, where a salesman kept ansering the brother, instead of the sister who asked the questions.
The entire time we were in the store, despite the fact that it was my sister asking the questions, despite the fact that I only answered questions that she asked of me directly (in other words, I was there to help her, not to help the sales guy sell to her), almost the entire conversation was spent with the sales guy talking to me, even if he was answering her question. His body language was unquestionably that of, "She's clearly not capable of making this decision herself", and addressed everything to me, despite her repeated attempts to catch his eye and have him talk to her, the actual purchaser with the question.
My concern is that this is a kind of "shared cultural discrimination". You stick a saleswoman in there answering questions, and most of the time, I think you'd get the same result. I don't think this is a "boy's club" sort of situation, but a general acceptance that women just aren't interested and don't really know about this sort of stuff.