It’s the People Stupid!

Jeff Atwood recently posted the table of contents of “Facts and Fallacies in Software Engineering.” I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the the section on “People” is first:

People

The most important factor in software work is the quality of the programmers.
The best programmers are up to 28 times better than the worst programmers.
Adding people to a late project makes it later.
The working environment has a profound impact on productivity and quality.

I wish more people understood these four facts. In 24 years, I’ve watched upper management pretend these things weren’t true over and over again with disasterous results. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to work with great people in a well-run organization and also suffered the misfortune of working with talentless people in a poorly run enterprise, you know that it’s the people stupid! You can’t make up for bad people with “good” process or methodology. The rest of the 50 item list is interesting and useful, but you could go a long way with just these first four “facts.”

I’ve often said that the best programmers are 10 times better than the worst, but I can easily believe 28 — I’ve never actually tried to measure. The sad part is that be it 10 or 28 times, you never see the best programmers making 10 times the worst — at least not in my experience.

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