Software engineering is one of the world’s most challenging professions. It requires a questioning brain. While those who “get it” find it relatively easy to get started, they also find it impossible to master. Requiring highly abstract thought, at times, it’s impossible to describe. It’s part art, part craft, part science, part fiction. Requiring endless patience, creativity and structure. It provides a unique challenge to the millions of those of us who call it a job.
Software is more than just a challenging profession. It’s a competitive advantage. Software is everywhere, and the need for it to be better, faster, safer and more reliable has never been greater. As the phrase has it: “Software has eaten the world.”
But what happens to people when software goes wrong? Software issues increasingly have real-world impact. The news is full of stories like the fallout from the UK’s recent Horizon software scandal to the Boeing 737 max software disasters. Bad software and bad software projects can cost people their livelihoods or, worse, their lives.
With lives and finances at stake, how much pressure do we place on those who develop and support software solutions?
That was the question that inspired me to write this book.
Exploring the human cost of software development
Inspired by a lifetime of working in software development, I wanted to write a book which has, at its heart, the visceral human experience of building, maintaining and supporting software. Software development has unique pressures that change those that it affects. Our profession creates critical thinkers. It’s a job that encourages you to keep learning, but it’s also where you can easily stand still and just do the work. The quality of software is often difficult to define and hard to prove.
Like so many others in my profession, I was moved by the fictional stories of The Phoenix Project and The Unicorn Project. When I read them, I finally felt that my experiences had been heard and were valued.
Inspired, I wanted to explore further the difficulties and travails that building and supporting world-class software puts on individuals and families. I wanted to examine the interactions that happen both inside and outside our software teams in more detail. More than that I didn’t want to come up with neat conclusions and necessarily a happy ending. Software development is hard so where are the books that celebrate that for itself, allow us to live with it without attempting to come up with a solution for it?
Consequently, in 2023, I decided to start writing a book in which I could safely explore some of the themes around motivation, expectation and team dynamics.
Meet Bethany Walters
Bethany is a lead platform developer for the UK subsidiary of US-based Gerbach Inc. She lives in Sandpoort, Kent with her husband, David and their kids, Maddie and Eric.
Bethany has worked at Gerbach for the last 12 years and loves her job. However, she is increasingly getting tired of the middle-of-the-night support calls, the endless meetings, the new managers, the revolving door of staff, new technologies, and the increasing pressure to deliver more features, faster and more accurately.
She feels like she’s losing touch with her career and losing touch with her family. Sometimes, she wishes she could do the job and not care so much. Can’t she do a job well without having to progress? Can’t she just be left alone to do her work like it was in the ‘old days’?
Through Bethany, her family, friends and colleagues, we explore the dynamics of real-world software development in a cloud-first, always-on world where a single mistake literally means life or death.
About the author
Richard Bown was born in the 1970s and raised in the southeast of the UK. As a child, he was drawn to programming, music and maths. He first wrote software for his parents’ business, played and wrote games, and loved to correspond to other programming enthusiasts nationwide via snail mail. He studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at university before pursuing a lifelong career in software engineering. As a software engineer, system administrator, product owner and engineering leader he’s had a diverse career working with dozens of the world’s multinational banks, insurers, energy companies, retailers, manufacturers and telecoms companies. His work has taken him worldwide, from leading a successful open-source music project to creating reverse engineering tools, mobile games, Internet of Things infrastructure, and 3D software. He was also briefly a freelance writer for Linux User magazine in the early 2000s.
In 2007, he moved to the Netherlands and continued his career as a software contractor, entrepreneur, consultant and engineering manager before beginning his research and writing in 2022. He blogs regularly, occasionally hosts a podcast and speaks infrequently at tech conferences across Europe. He’s also a Team Topologies Advocate and a fan of Conway’s Law.
He’s married and lives with his wife and three children just outside Amsterdan in the Netherlands.