Ten years ago, I works as private consultant for five years, more or less. We built software from scratch, that means we gathers the requirements, create the database, create prototype, doing demo, fixing, re-factoring, until our clients satisfied. During that time, we have six clients and eight projects. Six projects built with Java, one with PHP, and one with Python. Three projects using Oracle database, three in PostgreSQL, two in MySQL, and one in Microsoft SQL Server.
In all of those projects, did they ever ask us to review the code? How the database is normalized? What framework did we use? No. There are projects that require specific programming language and specific database because the system administrator or the IT department already has experienced with one of them and/or they already have contract with the database vendor. Beyond that, technically, they trust us, specifically its all on us.
What they pay attention mostly is how to use the application and the documentation. Is the generated report format correct? Is the input form can be understood enough by user? How can we edit or delete the data? Where I can see the latest input? And all that jazz. They don’t care how hard it is to optimize joining four tables to generate one report. They don’t understand that how uneasy to align two or more input fields horizontally with buttons, or showing the calculation of all inputs before save. All they care is how to use the application that can be used by their users with less hassle as possible.
From all that experiences, we, as a team, kinda understand what most people needs and what we needs when building software. What clients needs is a simple and ready to use application. What we needs as developers is some code that is understandable by all of us and easy to adapt, in case the requirements changes or new features added in the middle of project. In this journal, I would like to discuss the later; the but.
When a team of software developers has been working on several projects several times with the same programming language, they kind of develop a pattern. If the first project take one year, the second projects may take 6-8 months, the third projects may take four or six months. Of course, this depends on how big the projects are, but once we have develop the pattern, the rest is just connecting the dot. For example, developing and implementing user accounts and authentication pretty much is the same. Once we have implement account management in the first project, the second and the next project just following the same pattern, much like copy-and-paste.
We learn how to optimize the database, how to talk with the language, what kind of library to use for specific case, things that we should avoid, part of code that we should keep loose to allow future changes, how to fix the library or error when there is bugs in application, and so on. All of this take times and experiences.
Things become disoriented when new project require new programming language.
A new database on new project, does not have that much issues, because we have an SQL standard. Basically the create, insert, update, and delete statements in MySQL and SQL Server have the same syntax, the rest of statements, when it can not be executed can be solved by reading their documentation, but the concept is nearly identical.
So, what makes the programming language different?
Programming language has different syntax, different way to use. Even as simple as creating a variable is different between them. Once, we figure it out how to create variable, a function or class, and doing looping; the next task is to figuring which library to use for specific task, for example, what library to use for database, a library for HTTP server, a library for reading and writing file, and so on. Each of those tasks require trial and error.
That just the beginning.
Maybe in the middle of project we found out that we use the wrong directory structure, the library does not support specific feature that we need and we must replace them, or figuring it out how to deploy the application, how to incrementally migrate the database, until we can do the first demo to client.
* * *
Before this start-up things and internet become omnipresence, technology adoption (in my country) is really slow. I don’t know if its because people reluctant to changes (if its not broken, do not change it) or we have some great filters in between United States/Europe and South East Asia, where new technologies battle tested until it is adopted widespread and used by most of corporations here. For example, I have never seen any application written with Perl, Python, or Ruby on Rails here, despite how booming they are couple of years ago in the internet.
Probably, they are some that I did not know —couple years after I leave the freelances works— or has been replaced because no one can maintenance them, or still alive but no one can touch them.
Like any other things, if no one (can) maintenance it, the software will became obsolete, unused, and/or replaced. But unlike other things, software is never finished. Name three software, open or closed source, that you use ten years ago, never updated but still active and in use by people today.
If you have problems with your house or car, any house contractor or car mechanics with long, good experiences probably can fix it, because the building blocks of house or car mostly identical, the hardest part probably finding the spare parts to replace them. (I am not saying that I am an expert on building house or expert on car mechanics, but I believe you know what I means)
In software, first you need to find the person that can read the code, specific to the programming language which the application is written. Second, before they can find where the issue is lying, they need to understand how it works. Each software is unique, works and written differently. Fixing the program blindly without knowing how the input and output processed, may cause another issues in another parts of the application. The more complex the software is, the more time needed to fix it.
And believe it or not, after working for one or two months reading the code, the fix sometimes one or ten lines, sometime.