As a software developer, I came to realize that one of the most important things (after being paid) is to create software that we really enjoy.
During those years, it has become really easy to see the kind of software valued by programmers: editors, compilers, interpreters, and all kinds of little tools that are useful only by other software professionals.
And the reason these programs are written, I came to understand, is not just that we need them. I believe that one of the main reasons this kind of software is so popular is exactly that, to write it, there is no need for external users!
When we create software for ourselves, the obvious advantage it that there is not formal need to elicit requirements.
The Easiest Software to Write?
Writing software for programmers is easy in an important sense: you just need listening to yourself. Writing software for the needs of real users is not so easy: first one needs to interview one, and understand the hidden requirements — what really needs to be done.
Next, you need to worry about user interface… Why bother with this when everything could be solved with a couple of command line arguments?
Just continue thinking like this, and UNIX is reborn. That is right, classical UNIX is the ultimate dream of most programmers: a system that needs no real interface other than the command line.
Who is to Blame?
Programmers are notable for writing this kind of software. And who is to complain? It is much easier to write programs when we don’t need to worry about real requirements. Integration with existing environments is another pain for business software writers: just say no.
Our culture has found the perfect solution for such problems in writing programming tools. No wonder why there are so many computer languages, compilers, editors, and web frameworks. They are fun to write, have challenges that are mostly intellectual, and can be shared among other programmers as a trophy.
Here are some example areas if you are looking for something exciting to write:
- Programming language implementation: C, Python, Lisp, TeX;
- Experimental operating systems based on UNIX;
- Games (most games still are just the implementation of an abstract concept);
- Web frameworks
So, if you want to improve your software development skills, maybe you should spend some of your time developing code that you like, after all.
Avoid dealing with user requirements during your creative breaks. At least stay away from things such as: interfacing with legacy code; interfacing with existing databases; using existing UI standards; and using mainstream business libraries…
Most of these factors don’t help in improving the quality of a product after all (and sometimes it is just the opposite), and takes time and energy from developers.
It may be a good exercise to practice programming without such worries. And if you do it really well, you could end up with something useful, which could even become your next “real” job.