Friday, August 21, 2009

Tightening screws

Kinda funny how everyone was talking about web developers sucking / not sucking, and then someone pointed to this on Reddit: Guido basically giving up on CSS.

I read a comment by Josh Powell on this article that was resonated with me:

Whenever I hear people insult web developers, I remember the time when I was in the workforce for only one year and some java developers came up to me and said "we can't get this whitespace to go away in ie, but it isn't there in netscape" I went over and took 30 seconds to fix it, and afterwards they said "We spent hours on that! How did you know how to fix it!?!" All their knowledge of garbage collectors, destructors, compilers, etc, didn't help them remove the spaces between the last character on the line and the start of the ending td tag.

You may not think that's a big deal, but trust me, lots of real world clients could care less about what gc algorithm you use, but they will have your neck if you can't get their site looking like they want it in IE.

The whole thing reminds me of this one tale:

Once upon a time, there was company that had a big expensive machine that was critical to their business. One day, without much explanation, the machine buzzed and ground to a halt. They tried to restart it, they tried all the usual maintenance protocol. Nothing was making it start again. Management grew nervous. They were losing money for every minute the machine was down. They frantically searched high and low for anyone who could fix it.

After a long week, they finally found one technician who specialized in fixing that particular machine. They rushed him in to the corner of the factory, all the high executives trailing anxiously behind him.

The technician calmly opened a shaft, and looked at the unimaginably complex circuitry for 5 minutes. He reached into his toolbox and grabbed a tiny screwdriver, and then, without much effort, tightened a single screw. "Ok, turn it on, boys", he declared.

The executives looked at each other, a mix of hope and disbelief in their eyes. If the machine was down for a few more days, they'd literally go bankrupt. The workers powered the machine and, stunningly, it started working as if not had ever happened. Everyone rejoyced. With one flick of his wrist, the technician had saved the company. "I'll be on my way then", the technician said, humbly.

The next week, the company got the invoice for the technician's fix. It looked like a ordinary invoice printed in ordinary paper, except for one detail: the amount payable on the invoice was $10,000. A bit disconcerted, the managers called him to get some clarification.

"We believe you made a mistake on your invoice. We were all there when you fixed it and we saw that all you did was tighten one screw."

"You are correct that I only tightened one screw, but you're mistaken about one thing. I don't charge for tightening screws. Anyone can do that. I charge for knowing which screw to tighten."

Obviously not everyone is an unsung hero, but I think the world sure would be a nicer place if people stopped the whole holier-than-thou crapola.

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