Professionals and The Enterprise

Professionals and the enterprise

Under threat of divorce if I didn't hang my Christmas lights this past Christmas I braved the elements and managed to put them on the trees. Of course this wasn’t sufficient to prevent the impending separation – only lights on the top eves of the house would be a sufficient sacrifice to stave off a divorce lawyer.

At great peril, a very kind neighbor and I attempted the feat. As each roof clip drew us closer to the two story eves and we had to climb higher on the roof it became clear that we would have to abort the attempt or die.

I don’t like death so we quit.

My wife didn’t really like our style of ‘safe’ decorating where the only lights were the ones we could reach so I called someone – a “professional.” I figured that a bunch of guys with safety harnesses and ladders certified by OSA would show up wearing helmets and other such gear.

Two guys showed up with a ladder, climbed up on my roof and scaled the eves learning perilously over the edge clipping Christmas lights to the shingles. They did the exact same thing we failed at. It was just as dangerous. It just wasn’t as dangerous for my buddy or me.

Now you might assume the moral of this event is that I am a wuss, but you would be wrong. That’s not the point at all so if that’s what you are thinking then you can just stick it where the sun don’t shine.

The point is that the title ‘professional’ is frequently bestowed upon an individual based on the fact that they are being paid for the task not based on how well equipped or trained they are. The two guys that came to my house were no safer than my friend and I, nor did they have any technique or skill that we lacked but they were ‘professionals.’

I write software for a living. Many businesses want ‘enterprise’ software a label bestowed as lightly as ‘professional’. The label helps the investors sleep at night or something but it doesn’t really help get the job done. However, that label builds trust and keeps the dollars rolling.

So what makes something ‘enterprise’ worthy?

Professionals build enterprise software. This means a poor schmuck is paid to sit in a cubicle at a large boring company where he cranks out a few lines of code per day while wondering if he’ll make it through the next layoffs. He is the guy hanging from the edge of the roof clipping Christmas lights.

Big companies build enterprise software. Microsoft is a big company. IBM is a big company. SAP is a big company. Sun is a big company. You really have to have a lot of people working for you whose job is to tell the guy hanging the Christmas lights that he is too close to the edge, that he ladder should be moved a few inches to the left, that they need a process in place for decided which lights go where and that before they hang any lights they really should have a committee get together and analyze the situation.

Enterprise software takes a long time to build. Microsoft proves this with each release taking approximately three years. I live dangerously so I run edge Rails. In any given day there are multiple updates. You have to be careful about writing tests but at the end of the day I get the same code that the guys at 37signals gets and I don’t have to sign anything that says I am a big boy and so I can run software that hasn’t been stamped with an official release. See above where you have a committee to analyze the lights and you will know why it takes a long time to build enterprise software.

Enterprise software is well tested. Code is then passed to a ‘professional’ QA department consisting of individuals still hung over from the weekend and the latest meeting where the manager made sure to use the words ‘agile’, ‘process’, and enterprise-worthy at least 20 times each. I guess my Christmas light hanging buddies could implement this. They would model my house in a wind tunnel then hang lights using various clips and methods. After that they would come to my house with big fans to make sure the wind didn’t take down my lights. They could setup a test model home etc etc.

Enterprise software is well marketed. This is true. Through millions of dollars of advertising and smoozing the label of ‘enterprise’ is bestowed. It costs a lot of money for rounds of golf and booze for the marketing guys. Note that this process takes several years during which time smaller non-enterprise teams have evolved with the market and now offer something Ruby on Rails that actually meets the needs of developers.