The war cannot be won, yet still we must fight our little battles

I’ve only half jokingly referred to 2015 as the year I declare war on the software industry.

You could make a David and Goliath analogy here, but the thing is that instead of my felling the giant with my plucky shepherd’s weapon, what’s actually going to happen is that Goliath is going to put his hand on my forehead, hold me out at arm’s length, and laugh as I struggle ineffectually against his vastly superior strength and size.

But maybe, just maybe, if I struggle hard enough and push with all my might, I can get Goliath to take a single step back.

Hypothesis was my opening volley, as an attempt to raise the benchmark for quality – if I make it easy enough to find your bugs, maybe you’ll fix them?

As an opening volley, it’s a pretty weak one. Most of the reason why software is bad isn’t because it’s too hard to write tests, it’s because of social reasons – people are so conditioned to bad software at this point that it’s just not that much of a problem to release broken software into the world because people will use it anyway.

But maybe if we make it easier for the people who care to write quality software on time and on budget, we can start to change the norms. If you can choose between two equally shiny and feature-full pieces of software except that one actually works properly, perhaps you’ll start to care more about software quality, and if your customers start to desert you for the software that actually works, maybe you’ll really start to care about software quality.

Hypothesis alone will never achieve this, but each tool gives Goliath a nudge in the right direction.

Then, tired of the burden of free labour we put on people as an industry, I wrote it’s OK for your open source software to be a bit shitty.

Will it change minds? Maybe a few. The responses on the corresponding reddit thread were really a lot higher quality than I would generally expect of reddit. It certainly seemed to help a whole bunch of people who were concerned about the quality of their own open source work, and hopefully it has given people a weapon to defend themselves when dealing with people who feel entitled to their free labour.

Then I wrote the Two Day Manifesto, an attempt to attack the problem from the other end. If the problem is that companies are built on free labour, maybe they could contribute some paid labour back?

Probably not, but again maybe we can nudge Goliath in the right direction.

Because ultimately all of these efforts are mostly there in the hope that I’ll find just the right way to push the giant, or that I will manage to push at the same time as enough other people, and that maybe he will take just a single step back.

And then someone else, or more likely some other group, will make him take another step back.

And over time he will retreat to the horizon, and we will follow, still pushing.

The horizon retreats ever into the distance, but we can look over our shoulders and see how much territory we’ve reclaimed from the giant, and we will redouble our efforts and push further.

And maybe, maybe, one day we will circle the world, and come back to where we started, and he will meet our forces on the other side and discover he no longer has anywhere to go.

But that day is far in the future. We will never see it, nor will the next generation. We will not win this war, and perhaps we never will.

But we’re still going to push.

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