Monday, June 5, 2017

How Software Development Reminds Me of the Things I Learned in the Military

A long time ago (seems like just a few years but the calendar says a few decades) I was in the military. I was very young when I joined, seventeen and freshly graduated high school. My time in the military has defined everything that came after. There were some great lessons there that I chuckle about when I consider my career in software development. Here are some of my favorites.

There is the right way, the wrong way and the Army way.
When on software projects you will see a lot of things that are good and bad. You may try and change them and people may or may not listen. At the end of the day you are still part of a project and you have to work as a team, even though that occasionally means doing things you know are not optimal. Tabs vs. spaces just isn't that big a deal, do what the team agrees on. Just running off and doing your own thing can be more harmful than the practice you dislike. Luckily, unlike the military, if you find the practices too poor and the project swirling the drain you can always leave a sinking ship.

Don't draw fire, it irritates those around you / don't be a blue falcon. 
Look we all mess up once in a while, but don't always be the guy who breaks the build or doesn't make his sprint commitments. Software development is portrayed as an industry of introverted loners but the reality of most our careers are far different. Well not the introvert part, that's true. But we are not loners. For the most part we work in teams and we have to depend on each other. You need to trust the people you work with and they need to trust you.

When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend.
Having the credentials and ability to deploy software to production is not something that should be treated casually. Sure it has great power but it's dangerous as heck. They have the power to do good things for your company but can also unleash great destruction and if you are not careful it will be your fault. Did I mention don't be a blue falcon?

Cluster bombing from B-52s are very, very accurate. The bombs are guaranteed to always hit the ground.
Everything you change in the code is going to have an effect. Many times it is hard to understand what that effect will be. That little refactoring you want to do right before the release because you can do it better? Be prepared for that to come back at you in some way you don't expect. You can be sure it will change something, just not perhaps what you think. Code changes are in many cases better done with a scalpel instead of wholesale, "well, while I'm here" type changes.

Weather forecasts are horoscopes with numbers.
And so are large project estimates. I don't think I need to go too far into this, but they are rarely right. Humans are horrible estimators of things we haven't done before and almost all truly custom software is doing things we have not done before. The larger the estimate the more likely it is to be underestimated.

Flashlights are tubular metal containers kept in a flight bag for the purpose of storing dead batteries.
All those backups you have and contingency plans are useless when you don't use them or test them. Your computer will crash or something is going to go wrong. The cloud has made things so much easier to make sure you don't loose everything. These days there is no excuse to be stuck with dead batteries. But once in a while you still will be. Expect that too and at the most inopportune time.

Mountain? Hell, it was flat on the map!
Code changes always seem easy when talking about them. How hard could it be. Well that is until you start and find out all the complexities hiding under the hood...

X Days and a wake up.
Sometimes you get on that one horrible project, the death march. No matter how crummy it is, it will come to an end (in one way or another). Your time in purgatory will be limited and one day you will be done with it.

If it ain't raining, it ain't training.
You will learn more when things are going bad than when they are going right, usually much more. When things are going badly it should prompt you to start thinking, what can I learn from this?

Go to the flight line and get some rotor wash.
You can figure this one out. Don't forget to have fun, don't take yourself too seriously and never hesitate to give the rest of your team a good natured hard time.

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