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Software at Altitude
Our Software, Our Selves
by Sue Spielman
June 18, 2003
The process we use to develop software also helps us develop ourselves.


The development methodologies and tools we use to build software can also be applied to the way we do other things in our lives. Software development literally becomes part of who we are. How many times have you been around a table of folks (who are not involved in the high tech industry) and someone asks you what you do for a living? As you start to explain how you create software that can be used in all sorts of business systems, you can see their eyes gloss over with a ‘that’s nice’ kind of look. However, even if the technical details of our professional are elusive to others, how we live our lives becomes a reflection of our work. And visa versa.

For example, I’m about to take off on a 550 mile, 7-day bicycle tour. Some might think that mileage is on the crazy side, but I literally think of it as 27 (ok 27.5) x 20-mile rides. Ok, so I’m in denial, but that seems like a much more manageable number. This is the same scenario we apply when using XP or Test-Driven Development (TDD). We take a complicated problem and break it down into its most basic parts, and then work iteratively from there. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where all of the basic parts equal the more complex scenarios. If you want to take a look at how XP and/or TDD actually is used (and works), check out the agile alliance where you’ll find plenty of pointers and resources.

I find myself injecting software development process into many aspects of my life without even realizing it. I frequently speak with Dave Thomas at various conferences, and have listened to him talk about the broken window theory. While this is a theory that was applied in a social-economic environment, it fits into the software lifecycle as well. Nobody wants to be the engineer who takes the nice, neat, clean, tested code and breaks the window. I actually applied the broken window theory to another part of my life to see if I could keep my closet neat. This has been an on-going project since I’ve been about 5. I thought if I keep everything folded, then by magic they would stay folded, and new laundry would fold itself. By and large it really works. I’m going on about 6 months now of actually being able to find the shirt in my closet I’m looking for and it is (relatively) wrinkle free. Six months is a personal-best record for me. The point (and I’m pretty sure I had one) is that we can apply facets of our work to our lives, and how we live our lives to our work.

So I’d like to thank Dave for helping me keep my closet neat. If only my mother was able to locate him when I was 5.

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About the Blogger

Sue Spielman is President and Senior Consulting Engineer for Switchback Software LLC (, elevation 10,000 ft. Switchback Software provides a full range of software consulting services and development of enterprise business, web, and wireless applications for companies large and small. She frequently speaks at industry conferences on all sorts of topics, writes for a variety of publications, and is the author of a number of books including: 'The Struts Framework: Practical Guide for Java Programmers', 'JSTL: Practical Guide for JSP Programmers', and 'The Web Conferencing Book'. When she isn't coding, writing or speaking, she can be found traveling around the world or riding her bike through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2003 Sue Spielman. All rights reserved.

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