24 Sep

The Lie of Certainty : What Developers and Scumbag Politicians Have in Common

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Have you noticed how comforting it feels to be certain of something? Certain that your spouse will make it home safely tonight, that your job will be there next Monday morning, or that your car will start when you turn the key? Those things feel nice, don?t they? That feeling is why we want certainty in life. It makes us feel safe.

We want to be sure that our software will be delivered on time, that it has no known defects, and that it works as the customer wants. We want to be sure that the feature we committed to completing by Friday gets done, that all the tests will pass, and that we are done in time to go home for dinner.

That?s a lot to want.

When complexity is high, as it so often is in software development, is it really reasonable to insist upon the certainty that we so desperately crave? I heard some politicians on the radio asserting that, ?Americans want to be certain that their taxes won?t go up, that their jobs won?t go away, and that their homes won?t be foreclosed upon.? He further stated that it was the job of congress to provide this certainty.

Well, tough.

And we all know it.

We simply can?t depend on these things, as so many variables are outside of our control. Just like congress trying to pass some legislation to increase certainty, software development teams try to control variables in our development processes to increase certainty with varying degrees of success. The good news is that I finally found a profession that lies more about certainty than software developers (although I suppose most politicians learned that behavior while working as attorneys).


  • Politicians understand that humans want certainty, so they pretend they can provide it.
  • Software development teams understand that humans want certainty, so we pretend we can provide it.

You know how you roll your eyes when you hear some jackass politician make promises we all know he or she can?t keep? That?s how customers have felt about us software folks for years, too.

Yep, drink it in!

And that extra time you spent adding a cool new technology that wasn?t really needed or wanted? That?s pork-barrel spending .

So, you know what the Agile Manifesto really was? It was an apology that we?d been lying and producing crap while acting like a-holes for the first 60 years of software development. Stop being so surprised that it is taking time to get our constituents to trust us again. You wouldn?t trust us if you weren?t one of us, either.

The good news is software development isn?t in nearly as bad a shape as congress Smile.

Cheers, and have a good day.

5 thoughts on “The Lie of Certainty : What Developers and Scumbag Politicians Have in Common

  1. Nice post! I am afraid that you are right about the most of the stated in this post. I just do not see how I can use this information. Could you instead try to come up with some solutions? I guess you want us all to stop lying. The problem is that we ourselves believe in the lie? Or at least we want it to be true.

  2. Simply recognizing something is a great start. From awareness we can do further investigation. What I want us to do as a profession is to find concrete ways to help people understand there is no certainty when creating something new from scratch.

    Professionals will never guarantee certainty, yet work tirelessly to increase it. 

  3. Software development is not bad but it’s not that easy to deal with. Sometimes eventhough a software is fully being developed, the problem keeps on arising on a usage and this is a stage where developers feels a real headache.

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