This is a post that has been sitting in the back of my mind for many months now. I originally conceived of writing this back in February of 2011 but decided that the time was not right for it and waited. Had I written it back then I suspect the text would have been quite a bit different.
I was part of the original development team that wrote “The Daily” for News Corp.
When “The Daily” was released, we expected some issues with it. Every developer should expect issues with a 1.0 release. We knew that it was written under a tight deadline and that there were most certainly sharp edges that we had not identified. The application was about as well received as we could expect from the user base. Some people do not like Rupert Murdoch. Some people do not like his teams slant on the news. That was expected. He is good at polarizing his readership.
The response we got from the developer community was a complete surprise.
Back In The Day
One of the things that originally attracted me to being a Mac/Cocoa developer was the community. I remember, fondly, watching two direct competitors sitting across a table from one another trading code solutions. Both knew that the other person was going to add it to their code base and they shared that information anyway. Both developers knew that it was the other developer that was driving them to make a better product. There can be no first place without a second place. Having a close competitor helps drive us forward.
Likewise, going to a CocoaHeads meeting you would see senior developers, developers who have been doing this for decades, sitting next to developers who are just now wrapping their heads around retain/release. They weren’t pained but instead looking upon the younger developer with the fondness of remembering what it was like when they started. Perhaps a bit of envy of all the exciting things this new young developer is about to learn.
Introducing The iPhone
When the iPhone was introduced we were all very excited to start working with it. Cocoa on a mobile platform! We could not wait to get our hands on it. The community embraced it immediately.
At first you had to hack your phone to write code for it but we quickly got an SDK. The community consumed that SDK with a hunger. The forums were active, the boards were active, the blogs were hot. Everyone wanted to share the new cool thing they learned or share the pain they just went through so that, hopefully, no one else had to go through that pain. The community was alive and prosperous.
I do remember many conversations about what would happen to the community with this sudden influx of developers. Many conversations started over what to do about these developers invading our platform. When I was involved in those discussions my response was always the same; we would welcome them to the community and teach them how we work. We would show them how great it is over here and that we share our toys. We would welcome them knowing that they would become part of us; not the other way around.
For the most part that is what happened. A large portion of these developers joined us. They shared; many new blogs started up, new books were written and our NSCoder nights and CocoaHeads meetings grew. The community became stronger with this influx of new developers.
A Disturbing Trend
More recently, perhaps within the last year, there has been a disturbing trend in the community. Surprisingly, sadly, this trend has not come from the new developers but from some of the older grey beards. There has been a trend to “piss on” things written by other developers. A new app comes out, good or bad, and the claws come out. People are quick to blast it; the more press it gets, the more it gets blasted.
A new photo sharing idea that got a lot of VC money? Blast it!
A new game concept? Kill it!
An old idea rehashed in a new way? Destroy it! Burn them!
He got more press than me? He must die in a fire!
I would almost expect this from new developers who just joined the community. However it is not the new members of this community that are all aflame. Most likely they are looking at these ideas and seeing how they can apply them or if there is anything to learn from them.
Sadly though, it is the older, established, members of the community that are turning so hostile. Gone is the sharing and the live/let live attitude that once made this community so great. Quite a few members are just full of piss and vinegar.
You can say what you want about me. I do not hold myself above others and know that my code sucks more often than not. I tend to share that opinion of my code often. I do not share what I have learned to gain glory but to just enjoy the act of sharing. Sharing makes me feel good.
What saddens me is this new desire to attack things that are either new or just in the media. Does the application suck? Maybe. But to curse the developers who wrote it? Not cool.
We as developer must remember that we are not the target for 99% of the software that is written. We are not the final judge on what will or will not work. If anything, we are the last people that should have an opinion on what is good or bad. We should be the ones that step back and watch what the “normals” do with it. They determine the success or failure; not us.
Some Thoughts From The Trenches
Not everyone who reads this blog is an independent developer. Not everyone who reads this blog writes code to fit someone else’s goals so I would like to share a few points from someone who is an independent developer and writes code to meet the expectations from others.
Deadlines are a bitch
Rarely do I have the opportunity to set my own deadlines. Companies who hire development shops almost always have a deadline in mind before the first line of code is ever written. More often than not, they have a deadline in mind before they have all of the requirements defined.
We, as developers, do not get to move those deadlines without massive and dire consequences. Usually our only opportunity to move them is at the beginning and then by saying “No, Thank You” to the project. Moving a deadline mid project usually has financial consequences.
Non-Developers Think This Is Easy
Non-developers see that one new feature as trivial. They see that crash as obvious and do not understand what the hell is taking so long. Business people are non-developers. The people who sign checks are business people.
To go along with my point about deadlines, getting paid involves meeting the requirements of the project within the deadline. These are almost always at odds with each other. The requirements are far greater than can be fit within the deadline. The response from the business team is “add more people, make it happen”. We as developers know that adding more people will actually slow things down.
The First 90% Is Easy
Developers frequently look at a problem and in their first blush say “oh I see how that works, that is simple“. That is a trap my friends. Everything looks easy at first. My favorite recent example is the carousel of The Daily. It is trivial right? No, there are a huge number of dependencies and features and bells and whistle and edge cases that all work their way into that piece of the application. The core of moving images around on the screen is trivial. Anyone can do it in a couple of hours. However to complete all of the requirements? Months of work. Personally I am still not completely happy with it. Maybe with 6 more months of polish it will get to where I would like to see it.
Never underestimate the requirements that go into a piece of functionality. Don’t assume that the developers are incompetent if it doesn’t work or perform the way you expect it to. Chances are that there are requirements that you as a user are unaware of.
Software Development Is Not The Only Cost
This is my one hostile point in this post. Whoever thought the iOS developers got paid $30 Million on “The Daily” is a moron.
“The Daily” is a lot bigger than just writing iOS code. There is a huge editorial staff, there is a server team, there is office space, hardware, travel, the list goes on and on. The actual iOS code was a small fraction of the huge effort that was put into creating a digital only daily newspaper; the first of its kind by the way.
Doing Something First Sucks
Unless you are trying to get into some record book, the person who does something first is rarely remembered. He who does it best is often remembered fondly. When you are the first to do something you rarely are the best at it. This is just a simple fact of life. When you are the first to do something you are making shit up as you go along. You are guessing. You have no clue what is going to happen when you release. The first MP3 player? Shit. First Tablet? Horrible.
Being first means that you are going to be superseded. Either by improving on your design or by being replaced by another team that took your idea and ran with it. The iPod blew away the first MP3 player. The iPad blew away the first Tablet. I look forward to seeing who becomes the greatest digital only daily newspaper on a tablet. Maybe that will be The Daily via iteration or maybe it will be someone else.
“Be excellent to each other” — Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
This should be the guiding principal of the Cocoa Developer Community in my not-so-humble opinion. It is one of the things that make it great. New people are welcomed and the older members are honored.
There is no reason to hate other development efforts. It does not matter if that developer is better or worse than you. It does not matter what that developer wrote. There is plenty of room for all of us.
Be excited by his or her success. His or her spotlight does not put you in darkness.
I look forward to seeing each of you next week in San Francisco. If you see me please feel free to say hi.
WWDC is once again upon us; be excellent to each other.