Tag: Values

Quick thoughts about Seth Godin’s article “Our Software must get better”

I’m a long-time Seth Godin fan, so I read with interest his recent article about software quality.

With the examples he gives of inadequacy in software – iTunes user experience, the Macintosh’s built-in address book’s slowness and difficulty with importing and exporting data, and general unreliability and lack of Macintosh-compatibility of stamps.com – he’s focused mostly on the user experience aspects of software, which I think misses a key point. I think the biggest problems for software users these days are not slowness, confusion, frustration and extra clicks – though these can be real problems. The big issue for software users today, IMHO, is in the realm of data security, transparency and privacy.

Software in general is getting really good at collecting data profiles of the people who use it. I think this can be done in an ethical, transparent and generally secure way which generates value for the software’s creator in a fair and honest exchange for the user experience that consumers want. Is that what’s happening now? Not enough to satisfy European governments, who are taking action on this issue.

Seth Godin is smart enough and experienced enough to set up a kickstarter for a better Mac address book that is fast and can handle imports. But he would like software users to take ownership of the quality of the software that they use, by explicitly paying for what they use and by insisting on a user experience that meets their needs. On a large scale, that would be a pretty radical change, which would surely have a positive impact.

For the moment, most users either don’t know what “better” is or don’t care enough to pay for it. The trend among the giants of the software industry landscape seems to be that better means “smarter”, which means “knows what you want”, which is a problem in the aforementioned realm of data security, transparency and privacy. If you collect personal information, you must protect it forever and use it in a way which is ethical and transparent. If your smart assistant in the cloud knows that you have an appointment next Tuesday with Doctor So-and-so and the Such-and-such Clinic, who else will know that? The only data which is 100% guaranteed to be private is data which is never collected.

Ironically, the respect for privacy seems to be better in free software (Mozilla, Linux, etc.) than in software which people pay for. Godin alludes to this in his point “C” as to why software is mediocre.

Seth Godin would obviously like us, the software craftspeople of the world, to insist on better user experience, and, ideally, he’s right. It should be part of the software craftsperson’s ethics to improve the user experience. It’s not always clear, though, who should be responsible for defining what constitutes improvement or deciding what time and resources should be allocated for it.

At a minimum, we as developers can strive to create software which is easy enough to change that the user experience can be improved easily once we understand what improvements need to be made. We can also strive to treat the users’ personal data as a precious commodity to be protected, we can sanitize our inputs, and we can use the best encryption techniques available for passwords and other sensitive data.

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Care

With software craftsmanship there’s a lot to say about tools and methodologies, but if I had to sum up in only 1 word what you need to do to be a software craftsman or craftswoman it would be “care”.

As in:

  • care about the people (including your memory-challenged future self) who will have to work with the code you’re writing today – 6 months, 2 years or maybe even 10 years from now
  • care about the people who will be using the software you’re developing today
  • care about the people who have staked their reputation on the product you’re developing today (and about whatever promises you make to them)
  • care about learning to be better at what you do
  • care about what your fellow team members are working on and about being able to give them a hand if necessary
  • care about mentoring your fellow team members and others

Some cynical people think that Software Craftsmanship is a fad to sell training and consulting. There may or may not be a grain of truth to that, but there’s no certificate for caring – either you care, and the results will gradually become evident, or you don’t care, and the results of that will also be evident at some point to somebody. If you do care, there are many free resources, including this blog, which can help you learn about the methodologies and tools you need to become a software craftsman or craftswoman.