05 August 2005

More like writing a book than building a bridge

Joel Spolsky has an article up which should be read by everyone who manages programmers. In it, he discusses the little-known fact that the productivity difference between programmers is extraordinarily wide. I have heard it estimated that for most professions, the best performers get about twice as much done as the worst; in programming, the difference is a factor of 10. What's more, the time spent on a project is almost completely uncorrelated with the quality of the work done.

But Spolsky goes further than that. He goes on to say that some things can only be done by some programmers; most will never accomplish some tasks, no matter how much time they are given. And it doesn't help to hire more people:
Five Antonio Salieris won't produce Mozart's Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years.
Better programmers produce better programs, which work better, are more desirable, and which require less support. In the end, there's an uncomfortable conclusion to be drawn: to reduce software costs, hire better programmers, who are likely to cost more.

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