Software Craftsmanship – Letters from the Road #1

I’m based in Los Angeles, but tonight I’m on a hotel balcony during a beautiful October evening in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ve been staring at a blank text box for a long time tonight — longer than usual. I want to start writing regularly about craftsmanship in software development, especially in the enterprise, because I don’t hear enough about it in my day job.

I’m staring at the screen because I’m not really sure where to start. Craftsmanship in software is both a huge topic and a tiny one. Even just thinking about it means I’m considering broad issues of developer culture one moment and the Zen of a developer’s solitary experience in refactoring a single variable name in another moment.

And I’ve come up short looking to the web for a consistent source of unique thinking on the subject. For example, I set up a Google alert on software craftsmanship over a month ago. After a few weeks of coming up with few hits and very little worth reading, I started ignoring the emails. Alternatively, I guess I could regurgitate Uncle Bob’s Clean Code or follow the lead of some of the software craftsmanship authors, but I think that would just perpetuate the digital echo chamber.

So last night I started reading Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn. He’s a woodworker. He turned his back on professions like law and medicine in the 1960s to find meaning in day to day work and found it with woodworking. Why didn’t I have that kind of mission when I was in my twenties? I doubt I’ve ever worked with anyone who took up software development for the same purpose. While I’ve met people with varying levels of intensity (is it always passion, or is it sometimes just intensity?) in the world of software development, no one has ever struck me as doing it for the craft — let alone announced it.

I’m only a few chapters in, and what I’m reading is touching in places and moving in others. But I’m torn between the often high speed demands of software development (especially so-called agile processes with drop dead dates) and the creative destruction that happens in those cycles with the individual needs of developers (including me) who do care about their craft.

By the way, a few months ago I started a Meetup group called Los Angeles Software Craftsmanship. Come join us. We can figure it out together.

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