Software Engineer Life cycle

One would not be too much off the mark if one were to say Narayanamurthy was the best thing that happened to the country after Mahatma Gandhi. IT industry has served to galvanize a nation in paralysis and capture the imagination of the country's youth. I was also one of those who jumped on to the IT bandwagon leaving behind my core branch. I share some of my observations from my years in the industry.

One of the early concepts one is introduced to in the software industry is 'Software Life cycle'. In my time, the software life cycle was mostly based on the waterfall model. The term 'Waterfall Model' might give the uninitiated wrong ideas. But then this is the industry of Narayanmurthy and not Vijay Mallya. So one can be sure we are not talking of a semi clad lady posing for a calender in front of a waterfall. Exciting or otherwise, every IT consultant will attest to the fact that software life cycle lies at the heart of any IT project. But what about the life cycle of the engineer who makes the software?

It seems God created various animals and offered different life spans to them. He gave 20 years to the human, 50 years to the donkey, 30 years to the dog and 20 years to the monkey. The animals felt their lifespan was too long. So the donkey had its lifespan cut by 30 years, the dog by 15 years and the monkey by 10. But the man felt his life span was too short and asked to live the years of life the animals had refused. God immediately granted his wish. So from then on, Man lived the original 20 years given as an intelligent being, dominating the planet. The next 30 years he lived the life of a donkey, bearing the burden of family and work. Then he went on to live that of a dog for 15 years ferociously guarding his family and fortunes. The final 10 years were spent in senility, giving way to frivolity like a monkey. No wonder love makes a man a donkey; nature’s way of preparing him for his life of hard toil.

Professional life in the software industry follows a similar cycle. Just that the order of the phases is a bit different. When a developer enters a software company, he starts as a donkey. He is given all kinds of odd jobs. All that is expected is hard work. For instance one of the persons was given the task of finding a word and replacing it throughout millions of lines of code for his first 6 months. Morning to evening he toiled away industriously proud to be working in one of India’s leading IT powerhouses. The ‘donkey’ phase come to an end with a rude shock when your manager tells you during your fourth or fifth mid-year appraisal that it is not enough to do what you’re told but you need to take up initiatives of your own. It is the time for soul searching when you realize that one does not live a donkeys years doing just donkey work.

This brings on the onset of the ‘monkey’ phase. You begin to try various initiatives like a monkey jumping from branch to branch. At one time you are doing defect prevention, at other time configuration control. Then you suddenly decide to develop a tool to automate some process. Developing tools for automation is a really popular initiative among the bosses. It hardly matters that setting up your tool and giving input to it, interpreting its output and manually correcting the problems caused by it is going to end up taking more time than the original process. For only the tool’s running time is counted against the old process time. Other than winning you your manager’s favor, “I developed a tool that improved productivity by 50%” sounds impressive on one’s curriculum vitae (CV). Another popular initiative is creating ‘knowledge assets’. It is of course besides the point that even your girl friend in the same company is unlikely to read what you have written. What matters is that you are enriching the company’s body of knowledge. Also the confidence that no one is going to read what you have written gives you a freedom to express yourself freely. There was this friend of mine who, armed with a similar confidence, thought it interesting to fill up the comments section in his programs with lines from the songs of Pink Floyd. How else was he supposed to satisfy the quality guideline that comments must contribute 50% of the code delivered to the customer? Probably Pink Floyd’s lyrics made a much more interesting read than long drawn, verbose and often boring explanation of some obvious program logic which anyway no one was ever going to read.

This is also the time when people jump across companies running after higher pay scales and promised onsite opportunities like monkeys chasing bananas. By the way, talking of monkeys, I remember seeing an article that monkeys have shown ability to write visual basic programs. A few days after publication of the article, a sudden splurge in the monkey population on campus sparked off a rumor that the company had taken the article too seriously and was trying to hire monkeys as a latest cost cutting initiative.

As I mentioned earlier, usually appraisals bring on the winds of change. When you find your manager starting to talk about your lack of leadership qualities, you should realize that it is time to stop monkeying around. At last the time has come for you to enter the dog eat dog world, the world of management. As a project manager, you need to be barking at the people below you all the time to get work done and reserve your bite for the appraisals. If you’re a kind soul, hopefully your bark would be worse than your bite. If it’s the other way round, God save the poor developers. When it comes to handling customers, the project managers and delivery mangers need to run around clients wagging their tails for getting business. This phase dogs on much longer than the previous phases. With time you grow bigger. But even though you become a top dog, as they say  after all 'a dog is a dog is a dog'.

And then the human phase? Well, any guess why such a large number of software engineers appear for MBA entrance exams? Whether doing a MBA is really going to make things much better or not is a different questions all together.

Related Post : The MBA and the CEO

16 comments:

priya said...

A good read, as usual. Had I been a publisher, I would have made an offer. :)

curdriceaurora said...

requests a title change for post. no love or allusion to such a concept.

Cris said...

(Cursing Blogger for deciding to go refresh itself just when I am done typing! Hmph.)
So repeating...
Yaaaiiii you have brought humor back!!! Or maybe I just started following better. Enjoyed reading.

Was reminded of the time when one of these expected-to-be-unread knowledge assets caused trouble when a Manager from another DC called up and asked if I could serve as helpdesk for her project which handled the dreaded topic I chose to write on (read: chose to creatively compose like your Pink-Floyd-friend)

The Fool said...

@Priya - Thanks. I am glad of your continued support.

@cudrice - Patience, dude, patience. Love takes time to blossom.

@cris - Glad you find the return of humour. So it turns out people actually do read these knowledge assets, eh? Must be a laterally hired new manager who took all the KM presentations too seriously.

book said...

Minor correction buddy.. 2nd para 3rd line.. you mentioned 20 humans, 50 donkey, 30 donkey, 20 monkey... one of the 2 donkeys should be dog I believe, as you mentioned it in the later part of post. :) Anyways, the concept is interesting.
Waiting for next episode. :)

The Fool said...

Thanks book. Coorected that.

Seems like there is enough support to atleast write the next episode.

Varun said...

nice work! couldn't get parts of it,I'll read earlier posts and try to make sense of it,but whatever I got,I liked :)

Deepti Chourasia said...

Enjoyed reading ur posts...was humourous at the same time realistic....you really write well..

The Fool said...

Thanks, Deepthi.

Megha said...

LOL...you invented a new theory...life cycle of a software engg :D

Nice read :)

The Fool said...

Thanks Medha. Sorry for replying late. Noticed your comment now only.

Abhishek said...

LOL nice post. SO you gonna do MBA? Me IV year mech, I study in a place in south india called sastra university. TCS took 1400/2000 students who sat for placements. The remaining 600 were the people who dint get placed or who got placed in other companies. There was no aptitude exam and in the interview dance and voice auditions were conducted :D :D :D :D

TCS - Takes Care of Sastra :D :D :D

Try a job in writing career. It wont pay as much but atleast you will do what you love... :)

The Fool said...

Thanks for your comments, Abhishek. I am a very old chap compared to you. Have worked donkey's years in software and then did MBA and then been through post MBA jobs for quite some time too. Would like to make a career in writing. But it should at least pay for bread and butter.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. You can publish your writings at: http://www.indilink.co.in it is an ezine for new young authors/bloggers.

Pritesh said...

a nice read..... and all of the above a Truth....

I have tried to show a similar thing with the help of best language of expression "Hindi" ....

http://priteshdubey.blogspot.in/2012/12/it-serviceman.html

The Fool said...

Thanks, Pritesh, Will check it out.

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