Wed 3 Oct 2007
Some years ago, I worked on software used by a separate department within the company. It was a great program, but it ran behind an ugly console interface. Myself and the other programmers proposed a windowed interface which made a world of difference to the program’s workflow. “It’s not going to happen,” said our manager. In less than thirty seconds, our great ideas fell to pieces. “They’ve used that console interface for 15 years now, it’s just the way it’s done here.”
I’d heard that before; resistance to change for fear of change. It’s like being told, “because I said so,” by your parents for lack of a good reason. I always saw that guy as being an obstacle in our software development, more interested in not rocking the boat than improving the process.
6 years later…
When I started at SlickEdit, I was introduced to a lot of firsts. I’m a Microsoft programmer [ducks behind cube wall]. I’ve been programming with Microsoft’s APIs, toolkits, libraries, IDEs, etc for a long time. When it comes to Microsoft technology, I’ve done a lot, and it’s a world that I feel completely at home in.
My first assignment here was to test SlickEdit on AIX, having never used SlickEdit before and with virtually no UNIX background. I tried my best to learn my way around, but I never shook that feeling of being hopelessly lost. To make things worse, everyone else was using it at the Jedi Knight level. All of my creature comforts were gone during this testing cycle. As an experienced programmer, it’s humbling and flat out embarrassing to have to ask questions like, “How do I install this program?”, “Where is my personal directory?” and “How do I build with GCC?”
When I got to work on Tools, and got back to Visual Studio and Windows, I felt like I was back home. I knew where everything was; I knew which step was the creaky step, I knew how to use all the buttons on the TV remote control, I was completely familiar with my surroundings. This isn’t at all to say that Visual Studio is better than SlickEdit, because in a lot of ways, it’s not. The same could be said about Windows vs. UNIX or Linux.
After so many years, I’ve become a creature of habit, and I recognize that. Not because the task of learning a new OS or code editor is too difficult, but because I really hate the feeling of being lost. Even worse is thinking about the wasted hours learning to do the same thing I could do in my comfort space in five minutes. Most horrible of all is just feeling stupid about not knowing how to do the simplest things.
After all this time, I feel like I’ve gained a little perspective from my old manager’s side of the fence. “Don’t take away their console interface… they don’t want to learn, they just want to get their job done,” was what he was really trying to say. Starting from square one and leaving your areas of proficiency behind is scary. I’m always happy to learn new things, but it’s always nice to come back home. Now I see his point of view.