Software Engineering Curse Words

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Here lie terms frequently used in software development which I don’t particularly care for.

Programmer

Commercial software is as much about programming as building bridges is about installing steel I-beams. Writing actual code is only part of the engineering effort. When I see a job posting entitled “Java Programmer” I usually suspect that this is either (1) a low-level monkey position and/or (2) the person behind the post doesn’t really understand the scope of typical developer work.

Developers are required–much unlike the mechanical nature of an assembly line worker–to make decisions and assumptions about the external purpose and internal nature of their work, often part of a seemingly ingrokable ecosystem. Unless you have a micro managing boss or a heavy-weight process itemizing every last byte of work, you must personally exercise critical thinking, time management and interpersonal skills to balance your never ending stream of unclear and incompletely stated priorities. Being a successful programmer thus requires much more than programming knowledge.

The Point: The term “programmer” in an inaccurate trivialization of the real job. I prefer “Software Engineer” formally and “developer” in colloquial usage.

Senior

For HR purposes, “Senior” is a nice way of labeling someone as having a bit more knowledge, responsibility, general weight, and more income than a non-senior person. The problem is that both senior and non-senior developers tend to have very similar job duties; so aside from income, the criteria of senior personnel are inherently qualitative, subjective, relative to a particular domain (read: not necessarily guaranteed to transfer being projects), and/or effectively indistinguishable from non-senior status.

The effect is that, in a matrix organization, a new project may end up with n00bs who are senior, experts who are junior, and a pay structure which reflects an old project now completely irrelevant to the current situation. Senior and non-senior developers often work together as peers, and everybody quickly figures out who the real leaders are. And that’s frequently very different from the formal structure and correlating pay grade.

The Point: “Senior” tells me that you’re expecting to make more and are probably good at something, which may or may not be relevant to me. It’s not a global implication of elevated wisdom.

Architect

Most “software architects” I’ve met do far more operational and project management than architectural design work. This isn’t to say that they don’t or aren’t capable of making significant design contributions to the project, but that all the overhead of email and meetings between business/team/customer/whomever members sucks up so much time that lower level engineers have to either make the design decisions for the architect or block indefinitely as the architect plays Inbox-fu.

The Point: If you’re an “architect” who doesn’t have time to sit down with the engineers and talk about design, you’re really a technical manager who needs to officially delegate the design work to avoid becoming a bottleneck for the team.

Resource

I shudder whenever I hear or use this word, usually in a managerial, Mythical Man Monthian context trying to quantize everyone into tiny cube shaped units. I find it so important to account for individual character when planning and estimating that I consciously use the word “people” instead of “resources”; it’s a simple trick to force yourself into remembering the undeniable human individuality of the worker bee.

The Point: People aren’t Legos, so let’s not pretend they are.

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