Monday, November 17, 2014

Transitioning to a professional software development role: part 3

In my first post in this series, Transitioning to a professional software development role: part 1, I started to outline some of the gaps I've seen in people's preparation for entering a career in the software development industry. I started off by focusing on what software development is not about.

In my second post in this seriesTransitioning to a professional software development role: part 2, I took a look at what software development IS about. In the final post in this series I'd like to talk about the tools available that make us more efficient.

Being a good software developer means understanding how to apply agile

For a long time developing software was very much like developing a product on an assembly line. Assembly lines are very rigid and not well suited to respond to change. They run on the assumption that what happens upstream in the assembly line can be built upon and won't change. The moment change is introduced most of the product on the assembly line is ruined and must be thrown away.

Software's assembly line is called Waterfall. Overtime we've come to understand the downfall of waterfall and it's major flaw is that it's very rigid to change. Rigidity to change was okay when the primary delivery mechanism for software was the compact disk. But as software has grown to allow near real time delivery of features and functionality Waterfalls rigidity to change has become a hindrance to delivering high quality software in smaller but more frequent updates and features.

That's where Agile come in. Agile software development is about being able to respond to change in a rapid manner. It teaches us to think about software in a less monolithic manner but instead as a group of features that can be delivered in small chunks frequently over time.

I wrote a post several months ago called Software Craftsmanship: Project Workflow. If you're new to agile it's a good introduction to the anatomy of a project and what I've found useful. While the project workflow I've outlined isn't something you'll see in official Agile books, it is something that I have found extremely useful.

Being a good software developer means understanding how to use Lean

The concept of Lean Manufacturing was invented at Toyota. The primary goal was to reduce waste in the manufacturing cycle. This was done by re-thinking the manufacturing process to identify and remove waste. On example of waste could is parts sitting in a queue waiting to be processed. Toyota was able to show that by re-engineering their manufacturing process they could improve quality, efficiency, and overall satisfaction of customers.

The concepts behind Lean Manufacturing can also be applied to software development. Unfortunately these concepts often are applied incorrectly and have lead to many misconceptions and misunderstandings of Lean Software development. I wrote a post several months ago which outlined common misunderstandings in applying Lean to software development

As a professional software developer it's important to understand Lean and how to apply it to developing software.

Being a good software developer means understanding how to make trade-offs 

The last area I want to briefly cover is understanding how to make trade-offs. As a professional software developer you're going to be asked to make trade-offs all the time. Sometimes it will come in the form of quality (a bad trade-off IMO). Other times it will come in terms of features.

The key to understanding how to make trade-offs is learning to ask a few questions.

  • What am I gaining by making this trade-off?
  • What do I not get that I would gotten if the trade-off was not made?
  • What downstream affects will this decision have on my long term strategy or road map?
  • What additional work will be required later as a result of this trade-off?
The ultimate goal in software development is to provide business value in every part of the process. Understanding how to make trade-offs will help you provide the right business value at each step in the process.

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