in-house programming's an awful lot like in-house design

in a recent post from Joel on Software, he describes the life of an in-house programmer. i'll let you notice the parallels between programming and designing, all on your own.

"New York was the first place I got to see what most computer programmers do for a living. It’s this scary thing called “in house software.” It’s terrifying. You never want to do in house software. You’re a programmer for a big corporation that makes, oh, I don’t know, aluminum cans, and there’s nothing quite available off the shelf which does the exact kind of aluminum can processing that they need, so they have these in-house programmers, or they hire companies like Accenture and IBM to send them overpriced programmers, to write this software. And there are two reasons this is so frightening: one, because it’s not a very fulfilling career if you’re a programmer, for a list of reasons which I’ll enumerate in a moment, but two, it’s frightening because this is what probably 80% of programming jobs are like, and if you’re not very, very careful when you graduate, you might find yourself working on in-house software, by accident, and let me tell you, it can drain the life out of you.

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OK, so, why does it suck to be an in house programmer.

Number one. You never get to do things the right way. You always have to do things the expedient way. It costs so much money to hire these programmers—typically a company like Accenture or IBM would charge $300 an hour for the services of some recent Yale PoliSci grad who took a 6 week course in dot net programming, and who is earning $47,000 a year and hoping that it’ll provide enough experience to get into business school—anyway, it costs so much to hire these programmers that you’re not going to allowed to build things with Ruby on Rails no matter how cool Ruby is and no matter how spiffy the Ajax is going to be. You’re going into Visual Studio, you’re going to click on the wizard, you’re going to drag the little Grid control onto the page, you’re going to hook it up to the database, and presto, you’re done. It’s good enough. Get out of there and onto the next thing. That’s the second reason these jobs suck: as soon as your program gets good enough, you have to stop working on it. Once the core functionality is there, the main problem is solved, there is absolutely no return-on-investment, no business reason to make the software any better. So all of these in house programs look like a dog’s breakfast: because it’s just not worth a penny to make them look nice. Forget any pride in workmanship or craftsmanship you learned in CS323. You’re going to churn out embarrassing junk, and then, you’re going to rush off to patch up last year’s embarrassing junk which is starting to break down because it wasn’t done right in the first place, twenty-seven years of that and you get a gold watch. Oh, and they don’t give gold watches any more. 27 years and you get carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, at a product company, for example, if you’re a software developer working on a software product or even an online product like Google or Facebook, the better you make the product, the better it sells. The key point about in-house development is that once it’s “good enough,” you stop. When you’re working on products, you can keep refining and polishing and refactoring and improving, and if you work for Facebook, you can spend a whole month optimizing the Ajax name-choosing gizmo so that it’s really fast and really cool, and all that effort is worthwhile because it makes your product better than the competition. So, the number two reason product work is better than in-house work is that you get to make beautiful things."

there's a reason why i've nicknamed this place Saltmine U. several, actually, and they deserve a longer post, which i'll write today in-between patching up junk.