High Notes

Great article by Joel (he does that a lot) where he explains is theory of high notes. Many reasons to like his take. First, he’s right. Second, it addresses a problem often faced and not always easy to get out of; throwing bodies at messed up timelines. You can’t add an infinite number of people to infinetely shrink a timeline. There’s a minimum time required to do anything, especially to do it well and multiplying the number of coders playing around in the same lines certainly doesn’t go in the right direction.

Third, you gotta love a software engineering article that uses Mozart, Angelina Jolie, Seinfeld and iPods as comparison points. He explains that not only is it important to not simply add programmers but that great ones can hit high notes that average ones never will, they may try but it’s just not in them. Use the greatest people you can find and let them build cool stuff. A few choice bits:

Five Jim Davis’s—creator of that unfunny cartoon cat, where 20% of the jokes are about how Monday sucks and the rest are about how much the cat likes lasagna (and those are the punchlines!) … five Jim Davis’s could spend the rest of their lives writing comedy and never, ever produce the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld.

The Creative Zen team could spend years refining their ugly iPod knockoffs and never produce as beautiful, satisfying, and elegant a player as the Apple iPod. And they’re not going to make a dent in Apple’s market share because the magical design talent is just not there. They don’t have it.

If you threw a bunch of extra programmers onto the Windows Media Player team, would they ever hit that high note? Never in a thousand years. Because the more people you added to that team, the more likely they would be to have one real grump who thought it was unprofessional and immature to write “Most things actually work” on your website.

…The iPod is the most seamless piece of consumer electronics I have ever seen. It’s beautiful. It feels beautiful, like a smooth river stone. One battery latch can blow the whole river stone effect. (emphasis mine)

Read the whole thing. Funny and spot on.