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Accuracy, performance, and maintainability of software systems

Premise: The relative importance of three key qualities of software systems – accuracy, performance, and maintainability – depends on context.

Problem: Many (most?) software developers have a rigid opinion regarding the relative importance of certain characteristics of software systems. Some will insist that performance is always a priority, and that all types of software must execute as fast as is technically possible. Others will insist a system must always produce accurate results, and there is never a margin for error. Others will demand that any software system be designed with maintainability in mind, regardless of context.

Solution: Understand the factors in a system’s operational context that influence the relative importance of accuracy, performance, and maintainability. Apply this understanding when making design choices.

To illustrate how context influences the relative importance of these qualities of a system, here are a few archetypical or actual examples of different contexts in which software is used.
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Every agile scaling framework in the world

More and more frameworks for scaling “agile” software delivery have been appearing in recent years. The proponents of each are adamant that their framework is superior to the others. Yet, customers have difficulty understanding the differences.

This is because all such frameworks are based on the same general ideas, broadly speaking. Proponents insist there are deep differences because they are all competing for the same customers.

Here is a generalized version of conversations that might occur between a salesperson and a prospect looking for help with scaling “agile” delivery.
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Using programming problems to screen technical candidates

For some reason, the majority of technical interviews consist only of talking. Sometimes there’s a written quiz of some sort. Rarely, there’s a programming challenge; typically the candidate is free to complete the challenge on their own, in any amount of time whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever, with no opportunity for the interviewer to observe the candidate’s thought process or methods.

And yet, there’s general agreement that professional software development is a team sport involving collaboration skills as well as technical knowledge, and that software isn’t written once and discarded, but rather must be “habitable” for many years into the future. Weak screening methods don’t separate people who can handle that kind of work from those who can’t.
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