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How Much Longer Until It's Good?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008
Posted in leadership

I have a bit of an insecurity obsession with the quality of my code given how long I’ve been at this programming thing. I know that must seem like an awfully vain thing to wonder about, the technological equivalent of thinking about every passerby “Am I hotter than that guy?”

That’s not quite it though. Rather than blather on about it for paragraphs before getting to my point, I’ll let Ira Glass (definitely hotter than me) explain in this wonderful video passed to me via my dear friend Nwokedi

Ira may be talking about storytelling, but I think it definitely applies to nearly any endeavor you care about. I’m at a point where I can recognize the qualities of good code, but the code I’m writing isn’t at all legendary, and I think a good number of junior-to-mid level developers have much this same problem.

It’s made worse in software since many of our heroes are chaps like Linus Torvalds and Sergey Brin - people who were extremely good right away, who seem like “naturals” to us mortals. We read things like Great Hackers and get the impression that if we haven’t developed groundbreaking technology by the time we’ve left college, we’re doomed to obscurity and mediocrity.

It’s no small comfort then to know that Ira was still churning out less-than-stellar copy after 8 years of making radio professionally.

Does this really apply to software development, though? Facts are hard to come by, not least because “Man develops amazing software after 15 years in the industry” doesn’t make for as great a headline as “Kid Doctor Can’t Buy Beer… Can Prescribe Drugs.” So rather than do all that horrible research and come up with a nice general overview, let’s just blow one example out of proportion: SubSonic lead developer and .Net guru Rob Conery.

It just so happens that Rob posted a brief bit about his programming background recently. Thanks to a bit of back-of-the-napkin math, Rob must have been programming for a living around 7-10 years before he first publicly released SubSonic to the world. That seems about right for a bright and motivated person, even quite a bit ahead of the “Ira curve,” if you’ll allow me to compare software to NPR stories.

By that metric, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. I’m not writing any earth shattering code at the moment, but I’ll get there.

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