Monday, December 7, 2009

everybody wants to work, but not for free

It's fun to code something new or challenging. It's not fun to code a boring piece of glue just to simplify some mundane task like deployment, rollback, authorization or peer-review. That stuff doesn't have a real "payback" in terms of emotional satisfaction with completing a project. Design a new file transfer tool and protocol? That's sexy. Making a QA tool to handle code changes or deployments before they hit a live site? Not so sexy.

So we do this work for our companies as part of the job. We write our little wrappers and snippets of code, push it out and let the company retain this hack to keep things running smoothly. But you'll notice nobody really designs open-source enterprise code/web-app management systems. That's not sexy and not relevant to an open-source hacker's dreams of getting the tools they want completed and in the hands of developers and admins world-wide. The end result is reinventing the wheel.

How many times has a complicated deployment system been crafted at a large company, only ever to be used there by a handful of developers? What's the gain by keeping this internal tool locked up? What are you really gaining by spending these man-hours and seeing it go unmaintained and undeveloped? Shouldn't we perhaps be exploring every opportunity to expose our internal tools to the world so that they may be flushed out, improved upon and eventually re-used by ourselves and others?

But many of these tools aren't suitable for a general purpose. We don't want to write a deployment system that works in any site in the world, so we make it work for us. This'll work for svn but not necessarily git. That'll work for Apache and mod_perl but not with Tomcat and java. You may need to tar up your work and keep it in a repository while i'll use a quick interface to my filer's snapshots and source code to manage rollbacks. Don't even ask about change management.

When is the focus going to shift from the latest, coolest language and framework to the gritty glue that keeps it all flowing? To make a site that really works you need it to be well-oiled, not just in form but in function. I'd love to get paid just to make tools that work with any site, anywhere, any time, one single way. But that will never happen. I'll get paid to make it just work, and that's what i'll end up implementing. I find it a waste to spend your time polishing a grommet when you've got the operation of a whole machine to see to. Some day perhaps we can identify what we lack and knock it out bit by bit. In the meantime i'm just reinventing the wheel.

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