Good Enough

Eric Shrock wrote a great blog on Engineer Anti-Patterns. I, unfortunately, can admit I’ve probably been guilty of each and every one of these patterns at one time or another. When I think back to times these behaviors have crept in, the motivations always come back to what is really “good enough”.

For example, I’ve been “the talker” when I’ve seen a better solution to a problem and can’t let it go. The proposed solution was considered “good enough” but not to me. My perspective of what is good enough clashes with that of the team and I feel it necessary to argue my point. I wouldn’t say that my motives are wrong, but at some point, a programmer must understand when and how to let an argument go.

The quest to balance “good enough” with best practices is rarely a simple yes or no question. Financial requirements might force you to make poor engineering decisions in favor of losing money in that moment. There are times where a program hasn’t proven its value, therefore strong engineering practices aren’t as important as simply proving the software is worth being written. Many times, writing and releasing something, even if it is broken, is a better political decision in an organization.

I suspect that most of these anti-patterns are a function of fear, specifically, the fear of failing. All of the anti-patterns reflect a lack of confidence in a developer. It might be imposter syndrome creeping in or the feeling of reliving a bad experience in the past. In order to programmers to be more productive and effective, it is critical that effort is made to reduce fear. In doing so, a developer can try a solution that may be simply “good enough” as the programmer knows if it falls short, it is something to learn from rather than fear.

Our goals as software developers and as an industry should be to raise the bar of “good enough” to the point where we truly are making educated risk / reward decisions instead of rolling the dice that some software is “good enough”.

The first step is to reduce the fear of failure. An organization should take steps to provide an environment where developers can easily and incrementally release code. Having tests you run locally, then in CI, then in a staging environment before releasing to a staging environment and finally to production helps developers feel confident that pushing code is safe.

Similarly, an organization should make it easy to find failures. Tests are an obvious example here, but providing well known libraries for easy integration into your logging infrastructure and error reporting are critical. It should be easy for developers to poke around in the environment where things failed to see what went wrong. Adding new metrics and profiling to code should be documented and encouraged.

Finally, when failures do occur, they should not be a time to place blame. There should be blameless postmortems.

Many programmers and organizations fear spending time on basic tooling and consistent development environments. Some developers feel having more than on step between commit and release represents a movement towards perfection, the enemy of “good enough”. We need to stop thinking like this! Basic logging, error reporting, writing tests, basic release strategies are all critical pieces that have been written and rewritten over and over again at thousands of organizations. We need to stop avoiding basic tenants of software development under the guise being “good enough”.