Jack of all trades

One of the first things I noticed when applying for a job Down Under was that where in Europe they recruit specialists, down here, they primarily recruit the ‘jacks of all trade’

Probably because there is a huge lack of really good software engineers (they are here, but there’s not enough of them). Where in Europe, the roles ‘analyst’, ‘developer’ and ‘tester’ are strictly different roles.

Think of it like  the ‘Trias Politica’, where you differ between the power that defines law (politicians), the power that upholds law (police) and the power that checks if the other two are operating within the law (judges).

The same actually does go for software development projects. You’ve got (business) analyst (they who describe what is to be made), the developers (they who make what is described) and testers (they who check if what has been described is actually made).

As a developer in Europe, I’ve fought many battles with the analysts. Mostly about the ‘why’. I’ve fought many battles with the testers, mostly about the ‘how’. Although, we all agreed on the ‘what’, in my opinion, it’s great to work with a team that separates these powers.

Down here the rules seem to be completely different, if you are a ‘software specialist’, you are analyst, developer and tester in one. I can see the market value of a jack of all trades, but let me give you some examples why this isn’t working.

Analyst can go on forever. It’s in their job description to never stop wondering about the why, analyse it, break it down into measurable entities. These generally are people with a huge fear of failure. If they didn’t capture it, millions of lives will be dependant. That’s why analysts want to capture each and every aspect of anything, all the time.

Developers are inherently lazy, well, not all of them, but the better ones are. Developers love to cut corners, to do in one line what others do in 20, their laziness defines their efficiency. You do things once, maybe twice, but if you have to do them a third time? You write a program to do it for you. You never know when you have to do it a fourth time.

Testers are nitpicking bastards, developers are confronted with each and every corner they cut, but the testers caught them. It’s an ever ongoing war between the ‘can do’ mind of the developer and the ‘but you missed this’ mindset of the tester. Actually, there are no more roles so cut out for each other than testers and developers. The tester has to sign off what the developer made. Developers hate testers, but good developers hate not having testers even more. They are their conscience. I personally love testers who are capable of detecting my latest mischievous hack. And in the end, when developers age, with all their experience, they probably become the testers. But right now, they are probably too creative to even think about that fate.

As a developer, I hate analysts because they specify things I can’t build, I hate testers because they interpret the analysis in a different way. I love the analysts because they translate what the business needs, and I love the testers because they provide the security that I actually wrote what the users wants. And if it is a good team, we understand that we need each other. They probably hate me for seeing things too binary (‘it either is or isn’t damnit! there is no magic in computers!’)

Hence the Trias Politica, each working in a team, to obtain the same goals, but looking at the project with different angles. Where things start going wrong is where management thinks either of these roles can be performed by the other. Developers doing analysis or testing, or testers doing analysis. And beware of the day analysts start development.

Sadly enough, down here, it seems more common than I’ve been used to. There seems to be a common feeling that ‘everything with a computer’ can be done by ‘someone who does stuff with computers’. It’s like your parents asking you where the button for ‘bold’ is, because ‘you design chips, so you know everything about computers’

How do you tell them that knowing everything about bits and accumulators and registers doesn’t make you the same guy that knows how to underline or how to use italics in their word processor? Some of us may know how to do 2048 bits encryption, but we just may lack the knowledge of how to add 1 and 1 in an excel sheet.

There simply is no Jack of all Trades, and there never will be. In a computer science world, that has been a station passed. I can only hope that one day I will convince the people down here that you really need the 3 of us and that there simply isn’t one that is all 3.