How hard can it be?

There are two types of people in the world:

  1. People who assume jobs they haven’t done and don’t understand are hard
  2. People who assume jobs they haven’t done and don’t understand are easy
  3. People who try to divide the world into overly simple two item lists

Joking aside, there’s definitely a spectrum of attitudes in terms of how you regard jobs you don’t understand.

Developers seem very much to cluster around the “jobs I don’t understand are easy” end (“Not all developers” you say? Sure. Agreed. But it seems to be the dominant attitude, and as such it drives a lot of the discourse). It may be that this isn’t just developers but everyone. It seems especially prevalent amongst developers, but that may just be because I’m a developer so this is where I see it. At any rate, this is about the bits that I have observed directly, not the bits that I haven’t, and about the specific way it manifests amongst developers.

I think this manifests in several interesting ways. Here are two of the main ones:

Contempt for associated jobs

Have you noticed how a lot of devs regard ops as “beneath them”? I mean it just involves scripting a couple of things. How hard is it to write a bash script that rsyncs some files to a server and then restarts Apache?? (Note: If your deployment actually looks like this, sad face).

What seems to happen with devs and ops people is that the devs go “The bits where our jobs overlap are easy. The bits where our jobs do not I don’t understand, therefore they can’t be important”.

The thing about ops is that their job isn’t just writing the software that does deployment and similar. It’s asking questions like “Hey, so, this process that runs arbitrary code passed to it over the network…. could it maybe not do that? Also if it has to do that perhaps we shouldn’t be running it as root” (Lets just pretend this is a hypothetical example that none of us have ever seen in the wild).

The result is that when developers try and do ops, it’s by and large a disaster. Because they think that the bits of ops they don’t understand must be easy, they don’t understand that they are doing ops badly. 

The same happens with front-end development. Back-end developers will generally regard front-end as a trivial task that less intelligent people have to do. “Just make it look pretty while I do the real work”. The result is much the same as ops: It’s very obvious when a site was put together by a back-end developer.

I think to some degree the same happens with front-end developers and designers, but I don’t have much experience of that part of the pipeline so I won’t say anything further in that regard.

(Note: I am not able to do the job of an ops person or the job of a front-end person either. The difference is not that I know that their job is hard therefore I can do it. The difference is that I know that their job is hard so I don’t con myself into thinking that I can do it as well as they can. The solution is to ask for help, or at least if you don’t don’t pretend that you’ve done a good job).

Buzzword jobs

There seems to be a growing category of jobs that are basically defined by developers going “Job X: How hard can it be?” and creating a whole category out of doing that job like a developer. Sometimes this genuinely does achieve interesting things: Cross-fertilisation between domains is a genuinely useful thing that should happen more often.

But often when this happens it’s at the expense of the actual job the developers are trying to replace being done badly, and a lot of the things that were important about the job are lost.


  1. “Dev-ops engineer” – Ops: how hard can it be? (Note: There’s a lot of legit stuff that also gets described as dev-ops. That tends to be more under the heading of cross-fertilisation than devs doing ops. But a lot of the time dev-ops ends up as devs doing ops badly)
  2. “Data scientist” – Statistics: How hard can it be?
  3. “Growth hacker” – Marketing: How hard can it be? (actually I’m not sure this one is devs’ fault, but it seems to fit into the same sort of problem)

People are literally creating entire job categories out of the assumption that the people who already do those jobs don’t really know what they’re doing and aren’t worth learning from. This isn’t going to end well.


The main thing I want people to take from this is “This is a dick move. Don’t do it”. Although I’m sure there are plenty of jobs that are not actually all that hard, most jobs are done by people because they are hard enough that they need someone dedicated to doing them. Respect that.

If you really think that another profession could benefit from a developer insight because they’re doing things inefficiently and wouldn’t this be so much better with software then talk to them. Put in the effort to find out what their job involves. Talk to them about the problems they face. Offer them solutions to their actual problems and learn what’s important. It’s harder than just assuming you know better than them, but it has the advantage of being both the right thing to do and way less likely to result in a complete disaster.

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One thought on “How hard can it be?

  1. Ivo

    And there’s a bit of Rumsfeld and Dunning-Kruger in there: it’s that you haven’t done a job, don’t understand the job, but don’t realize you don’t understand the job.

    I’ve always viewed this from a slightly different angle. From that angle there are two kinds of jobs that seem easy: the ones that really are easy and the ones that you haven’t given sufficiently serious thought to. Where the main problems are:
    1) deciding when you have given a problem sufficient thought to be reliably able to conclude it really is easy
    2) the fact that giving sufficient thought to a problem tends to problems much easier. So you thought it was easy and after having given it thought it has become easy, but there was a short intermediate period where you realized the problem was actually far from trivial.
    3) not minding the distinction between simple and easy

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