Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The loss of magic

I recently watched (on YouTube) Linus Torvald's Google Talk on Git, the version control system he developed. If you are any kind of programmer, it is well worth watching. Doing some research on Git (I use Subversion, and so fall into the category of people Linus reccomends be committed to a mental asylum.) I found the following statistic very impressive.

(From Wikipedia)
"The development of Git began on April 3, 2005. The project was announced on April 6, and became self-hosting as of April 7. The first merge of multiple branches was done on April 18.Torvalds achieved his performance goals; on April 29, the nascent Git was benchmarked recording patches to the Linux kernel tree at the rate of 6.7 per second. On June 16, the kernel 2.6.12 release was managed by Git."

That is *fast* development of a very complicated piece of software and serves to remind me how much of a gap there is between the best programmers and the rest of us.

I've been (re)reading "Masters of Doom" (a very nice read, whether you are a programmer or not - the book seems to be out of print and if you can't get a used copy a search of the internetz will yield a scanned pdf) and the part I find fascinating is how John Carmack grows and develops as a programmer. Working full time on enterprisey code, especially in India, serves to obscure the magic (and magicians) of programming. Which is a little odd given that most good programmers get into programming for the magic, and then end up building fugly enterprise systems for the rest of their lives!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Satyam and Nemesis

from Live Mint,

"What separated Satyam from rivals such as a Tata Consultancy Services Ltd or an Infosys Technologies Ltd was Raju’s preference for executives and associates who spoke the same language he did: Telugu.
“For Raju, family, caste and those who could speak Telugu came first. I am not saying he was not a professional, but other things being equal, he would look at things in that order,” said a former employee of Satyam Infoway Ltd,"

Any moron who'd run a company this way (and I've heard some horror stories fromSatyam including that of a high level manager who'd always conduct a meeting in Telugu, irresepctive of if the attendees spoke Telugu or not. India has about 22 official languages and over 2000 dialects) deserves everything he gets.

Why would anyone want to work for morons like this? fwiw, My headhunter friends tell me they are seeing a flood of resumes from Satyam.

Christianity and Rome

"Christianity didn't conquer Rome, Rome took over Christianity" - this is what MegaCorp is beginning to feel like.

The initial mandate from the CxO folks was to run [the division I work in] like a startup and damn the corporate bureaucracy. In the last few weeks, however the walls have been closing in and I feel more and more like I am in a division in a large and slow moving company.

Today is my birthday and I took some time off to think about what is important in life. Some of the key factors I came up with was working with good people and systems. The former holds good in MegaCorp (surprisingly enough) but the latter is very classical dysfunctional corporat-ey. Tomorrow (Monday) I'm having a discussion with the powers that be and if certain things aren't fixable, I'm going back to my startup-y/ consulting y life style, where I can focus on providing customer value and pursuing technical excellence.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

One Strength at a Time

An earlier version of MegaCorp (let's call it Avalon) had extremely strong technical skills and moved very fast. Customer Focus was mediocre and this had deleterious effects. The present version (let's call it Valhalla) has very strong customer focus (it is almost religion) but extremely poor technical capabilities (to the point where the code bases and management structures are very dilbertian and would have given Avalonians heart attacks) and moves very slowly.

Avalon had almost zero politics. Valhalla is very political. Both have good people though the "goodness" is focussed differently.

I wish somewhere someone would combine technical and managerial excellence and customer focus. That said my "I am here to build good products and politics be damned" mental shield seems to serve me well, though it is beginning to fray at the edges and I find myself occasionally asking if I should be doing something else.

I'll give it some time and then do a rethink.