Who Updates Your Software?

Tuesday 11 March, 2014

One click is all it takes. Sometimes two if you have to accept the new terms and conditions (which you do blindly and with the exasperation of an extra, unnecessary step.) That is all you do and the update flows into your machine, to be absorbed into your current system without any further thought or action. In the worst cases, you have to reboot your device, which is easy to put off for a while but you can’t delay it forever because eventually your software will stop working.

I used to work for a software company and I observed with fascination the differences between the stages of product development and the contrasting groups involved. There were the sales people, busy talking to clients and making promises they weren’t even sure they could keep. By the time they reached the product managers, those promises had become requests, even demands, easily justified by those on the front line who considered themselves at the top of the natural hierarchy of business. It was then down to the product managers to translate the requests into software requirements clear enough for the programmers to work with.

And of course there were the programmers themselves: software developers who were happy if they never met a client and who even kept colleagues at a distance by wearing headphones all day. It was seen by them as an unintended bonus if people left them alone, because the real reason they wore such protection was to allow them to focus fully on what made them come alive: their code. They spent hours every day of their lives writing, analysing and enhancing thousands upon thousands of lines of code. Continuous improvement.

We had one developer in particular who, I was told, was the best we had. Not only was he good, he was elegant. To the untrained eye his code was just unintelligible lines on a screen, but to him (and to other programmers), it was elegantly written and produced elegant results. As an observer, it seemed to me to be all about using the minimum amount of code for the maximum effect. Simple beauty. And if a programmer annotated his code with explanatory notes for future reference or foreign eyes, all the better.

Next time you update or upgrade your software, know that there are people behind the scenes staring intently into the heart of how it all works, spending all their time looking for possibilities to improve the whole experience for you in the most elegant and beautiful ways imaginable.

But this begs a most obvious question: What are you doing about your own software – that unique code which makes you who you are? When was your last update, who are you relying on for forthcoming changes, and how are you planning your next upgrade? It’s worth thinking about because you are your own developer. It’s your code and it’s up to you to maintain it, question it and improve it in the most elegant way you can. It takes more than just a mouse click.


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