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Of Cockroaches and Kings

A recent toot on Mastodon reminded me of a phenomenon I believe is pretty common these days: An unusual event causes us to reconsider our habits and assumptions in some way.

The toot was this one from Benji Weber, posted on February 9, 2023:

The blog post he references is here: I Was Saved By Test Driven Development.

The toot and blog post explain what happened clearly enough; there’s no need to reiterate the details.

The angle I’d like to bring out is the pattern: We operate in domain X in a certain way based on our established habits and our assumptions about the best way to do X. Then something unexpected and/or unusual happens that causes our habitual way of doing X to be uncomfortable, clumsy, expensive, or unworkable. At that point we reconsider our habits and assumptions, and possibly change the way we do X.

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En casa del herrero, cuchillo de madera

I was reminded of that old saying when I was struggling to use one of the internal software tools we’re required to use at my current client. In this case, it was one of several time-tracking systems.

It led me to think about the difference in quality between the software the client creates to support customers, and the software they create for internal use. It seems to be a consistent pattern at many companies. They pay a great deal of attention to quality for customer-facing information systems, but when it comes to systems for internal use, they just throw something together quickly, and often carelessly.

The old saying, “In the blacksmith’s house, a wooden knife,” applies to our line of work. The question then becomes, Why?

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