13 June, 2009

Enforcing the Software Engineer Archetype & Related Principles

It is hard to believe I've been engineering software for the past 14 years, mainly because that isn't reality. I started off like most others, as a programmer/developer and grew personally and professionally over time. As time progresses in our studies and experiences in design, development and deployment we change. This change is more oft than not, for the best.

When I was growing up, I looked towards getting a CS degree so as to become the aptly named "Computer Scientist". What I've found over the years via practical and situational based circumstances is that Computer Science isn't my primary interest. While it is true that there are pieces of the CS realm which have always garnered my attention, such as Artificial Intelligence, it doesn't ring true as a whole.

Today reminded me just how much I would like to think I have changed both in my focus, overall goals and discipline pertaining to the whole process of building software systems. Now the example I'm going to loosely reference is centered around phase one of a much larger long term project. This first phase was somewhat of a rush job as per the client due to botched (i.e. prematurely advertised) promotions for said application's 'live-date'.

I knew that taking this on such short notice would require a very strict set of time guidelines and clearly defined checkpoints and milestones if all was going to be implemented in a proper manner, one supporting a proper holistic software lifecycle approach. This of course required the initial overview of the phase being clarified, the requirements gathering phase, the initial layout with timeline estimates and expectations being put forth and finally said estimates being agreed upon with a little 'wiggle' room so as to allow for human error in the previous steps.

Well, here's what happened today which precipitated this posting. This project has a launch date of 15-Jun-09 and today being the last business day prior to that date, one could say that the end was almost upon me/us at the time. Weekends are out because as an adult and a family person with children, I value my personal and family time very highly, much higher than that of my professional work. That being said, I am indeed an experience professional and know how to accurately plan work into a give time frame clearly stating what can and cannot be realistically expected within a given time schema.

Today approximately one hour before the weekend officially arrived thus signaling the end of this phase of the project, both the designer and the overall project coordinator (not on the Software Engineer side mind you) started throwing out 'new' items for this existing phase almost completed. It is at moments such as these where the undisciplined and junior level individuals panic and ultimately sacrifice their own time for the sake of someone else's lack of professionalism by agreeing to make the changes.

I did the opposite. I made the correct move by stated clearly to all parties that we had agreed upon timelines and that they have been kept. The idea of introducing new components not part of the original design at such a late stage of the phase was outright idiocy. I pride myself in my completeness of the whole process and will not let a failure to plan on someone else's behalf negatively affect the quality work I strive so hard to ensure. Any changes need to be reviewed to ascertain what side-effects might be caused by their inclusion (especially into a more mature codebase at this point) and not to mention the quality/testing cycle which obviously wouldn't be possible due to time constraints.

What I am trying to get at is that I learned that for the sake of professionalism, quality and ethics, one must have the ability to say "No" when others fail in their planning/design. After all, the requirements gathering phase is when a competent Software Engineer brings to light questions that would hopefully coax such ideas from the requirements 'givers' if you will. It is our duty and creed to help our clients both internal and external to bring clarity to their actual needs as many times they are unsure of the specifics until discussed with others.

So I say unto aspiring Software Engineers of the future: People look to us for accountability, and part of that equation is keeping the other variables in the equation (team members, requirement providers, planners, designers and what not) accountable to the process, even if it means telling someone 'No'. Provide your reasons, and hold steadfast as these software engineering processes exist for the benefit of our projects' quality and overall success, not for the sake of being friendly or 'helping out' someone who failed to do their part in the overall planning and execution of a project and/phase thereof.