Pain is temporary, failure lasts forever

Lean, agile living for the running mother of Peter


Bright lights in a sea of darkness -are bright developers really so rare?

Yesterday, Mark Levison posted a very interesting blog post on the less productive developers. His post is as always thought worthy and I was already planning on writing about it today. He stresses the importance not starting the blaming game directly but looking at the reasons for someone not performing as expected.

This morning I also read two other posts on the subject of under performers, but from another point of view. They discuss the bad programmers. The bad developers might be productive, but what they produce is garbage. Jay Fields and Soon Hui both gives a rather dark picture of the state of software development. The good developers are like the bright light in the picture; few and shining in a sea of darkness. Is it really true that only 20 percent of developers can be considered good and the rest is crap? I hope not.

In a time of recession, the demands will increase the stress on teams and these issues can be the killer of a team, a project and a company. But before labelling someone as bad, consider reading Levison's blog first.



Blogger Wilhelm Svenselius said...

I think it is a fair assessment that only 20% of all developers are "good". Then again, I like to consider myself one of the good ones. :P

Problem is, how do you tell if a developer is good or bad? His boss sure can't, because his boss is probably not a developer himself. It takes a good developer to determine if a developer is good, which leads to a chicken-and-egg situation - you need a known-good developer to start off with, and unfortunately references from other companies aren't very good indicators.

So, suppose you're on a team with a "bad" developer. If you're not his boss (and you probably aren't) then what can you do? Telling him he sucks (regardless of how diplomatically you put it) might get him angry. Talking to your boss about it might help, but if the bad developer has spent the last 6 months sucking up, it won't. Besides in Sweden we have idiotic laws like LAS which will keep even the most incompetent idiots employed indefinitely.

I don't know of a good solution to this, but I'd rather go self-employed than work in a company where the good developers (if any) were outmanned and outmanoeuvred by the bad ones. I think most good developers feel this way, which is why developers of a kind tend to flock together.

January 8, 2009 at 12:31 PM  
Blogger Anna Forss said...

And you know I think you are very skilled as a developer!

And yes, I agree that bad developers on a team can result in the good ones leaving. But I think Mark has a good point that you should first try to understand why a developer is "bad". Perhaps it's not the coding skills but something else.

LAS is a problem but not in this context. If it takes you more than 6 months to act on a poorly performing employee upon hiring, you are a lousy manager. And you have the option of test employments in Sweden (provanställning) which gives you an opportunity to end the employment without considering LAS. If a manager don't use that when hiring, then it's his problem. And if an employee is afraid of that solution, perhaps he knows he's not that good after all.

January 8, 2009 at 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Brian H. Madsen said...

This was certainly an interesting post - however, i'm not entirely sure if i'm lucky or ??

I'm currently working for one of the largest IT Service providers in the world as a Snr. App. Specialist and are running a team of 7 at a client site as the technical lead. on the project itself i'm the solutions architect.

This team is a mix of client staff and resources brought in from the company i work at. I did an initial interview with the resources from our side of the fence, but had no say in the staff at the client.

The 7 members of the team are all phenomenal people, highly skilled and diverse. I couldn't point to any of the members, ever, and deem them to be "below standards". Now, of course it could be argued that the "standards" must be terribly low then - but i doubt it. We run a high tech, technically challenging and complex framework/architecture for the solution and if any of the members were to fall short it would have shown up immediately.

This is pretty much a reflection of the people i've been working with for the last 5-8 years and i think i could only think of 1, possibly 2, people that's had problems (eg. technically challenged).

So, in short, i don't quite agree with the percentages of good vs. bad developers. Sure, there's "bad apples" in the basket out there - but they soon get "found out" so to speak and generally leave on their own account.

As i said, i'm not sure if this is a true reflection of the industry or if i'm just one of those lucky buggers.

Lastly - i honestly wouldn't even know what to do if i had a "bad" developer in the batch - haven't had that much exposure to "bad" ones that i can draw from experience.

January 28, 2009 at 11:20 PM  
Blogger Anna Forss said...

Good to hear. Be sure to get updated on my latest post on the subject. I've moved my blog to another site!4467ACC01C1EC5B7!179.entry?&_c02_vws=1

And I think that is interesting: how you can get people to do their best. I guess the best potential developer can be the worst one on a team if things turn sour.

Thanks for commenting!

January 29, 2009 at 8:41 PM  

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