Old Age

I recently turned 40. I don’t feel a day over 20, at least from my mentality. Sure, I’m a cranky curmudgeon, but I think I’ve always been that way. In fact, I think I’m far more mellow now.

Some people are 40 the day they turn 20. And they stay that way. So certain of their viewpoints and knowledge, anything else someone suggests to them is a quickly-dismissed challenge.

If there’s one thing that’s most frustrating about the software development industry, it’s that there are so many people that just “know everything.” The mentality needed to build software often suits a sharp, independent, but stubborn mind. Once something works for them, no matter how well it works, developers often have a tough time accepting the fact that something else could work equally as well or better.

Building a successful software team is about finding the right mix of people, and the people with the right attitude. If the team members learn to question themselves as often as they question each other, you’ll probably be fine. If you have “questioning strata,” success will be difficult–it’s hard to get the self-assured down from that upper rock.

When hiring, get rid of your three-and-four-letter acronym laundry lists. Instead, you’re looking for an equal balance of smarts and humility. As far as the “smarts” side of things, check out Joel on Software’s “The Guerilla Guide to Interviewing” for some interesting ideas on how to interview candidates.

As far as the humility measure? It’s tough to ferret it out in an interview, for the goal of an interviewee is to promote self-confidence and success. I like to first ask questions about the things that people enjoy doing, and what gets them riled up. Try pushing a few buttons–it’s not too hard to get the superego to emerge. But the best way to find out is to sit down and try solving a few coding or design problems together. See how enthusiastic your candidate is about explaining things to you. The more important thing than them knowing everything is for them to be able to patiently explain the things they do know.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is an absolutely true phrase–just remember that old dogs often come in new stripes.

Dumb Mistakes

When creating an executable jar (one that can be kicked off with -jar), make sure that the Main-Class entry ends with a line separator. If you accidentally type a space after the class name, it won’t work; you’ll get a NoClassDefFoundError when trying to execute against the jar.

Shades of makefile spaces instead of tabs problems. Developers that build space-specific code should be shot. If you want to make your code whitespace-specific, you should have to write it in the Whitespace language.