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On Being a Software Person

Mike's Mum.On Wednesday I spoke at Qcon London, about “Mobile App Security and Privacy: You’re Doing It Wrong (and so am I)” as part of @akosma’s track on iOS and Android. The whole track was full of win: particularly, if you ever get the opportunity to hear @fraserspeirs talk about how his school is using iPads to change the way they teach, please do take the opportunity. You will find out a lot about how to write apps that people can (and will) use.

Thursday, I was part of a London iPhone Developer Group panel, alongside @akosma and @bmf, where we talked about $5 Xcode, when iOS and Mac OS X will finally converge, why you can’t sell software to an Android user. Oh, and we prototyped the UI for Photoshop for iPad.

Seriously, we did that. Why? Because there was sentiment in the discussion group that desktops couldn’t die because it was impossible to do Photoshop on an iPad. This is annoying. In order to show the group that doing Photoshop on the iPad might be possible, I made us do it. Now it turns out that once you have done it, it is possible.

[Update: @akosma since pointed out that Adobe has already done PhotoShop on iOS, and that this whole conversation was redundant before we began.]

What this really shows us is that in order to be a Software Person, you need to take seriously the idea that writing software might be possible. It often is possible, and if you try it you’re more likely to get a useful (and, of course, saleable) app out the end than if you don’t try it.

Conveniently, this is compatible with a meme that I started in my Qcon talk, which goes like this:

If you do not know x, then you cannot be a software engineer.

So, if you do not know tenacity, then you cannot be a software engineer. Conversely, you must also know when discretion is the better part of valour, and it is time to give up. No-one likes a death march project, when the cost of development has gone way beyond any likely return, or when the software you’re writing is no longer relevant.

The following is a list of things that you must know (or be able to hire someone to know for you) in order to be a software engineer. It is not exhaustive: these are merely the ones that I either came up with in my talk, or that Mike and I talked about while learning about evolution.

  • Tenacity
  • Discretion
  • Marketing
  • User experience
  • Estimation
  • Humility
  • When to be a dick
  • Testing
  • Human nature
  • Why phishing is successful
  • Requirements engineering
  • Why you would want to be a software engineer

Some people also add a task called “coding” to this list. Please add your own in the comments.