Spolsky loses his cool


Today I stumbled across Joel Spolsky's article "The Duct Tape Programmer". Essentially it's a thousand word rant to make this simple point:

A 50%-good solution that people actually have solves more problems and survives longer than a 99% solution that nobody has because it’s in your lab where you’re endlessly polishing the damn thing. Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.

Of course he's right - however, his post is ten agonising paragraphs wherein he rants about design patterns, extended C++ features such as template classes (wait, they've been around for a while now - can we still call them "extended" features), and multi-threading (!!!), and finally one succinct paragraph in which he makes his point (most of which I have quoted above). Now don't get me wrong - I am by no means criticising his writing style ("people in glass houses..." and all that) - all I'm suggesting is that someone with Joel's reputation may wish to think a little harder before posting this sort of tripe online, lest he tarnish his otherwise good reputation. Let me give an example:

One principle duct tape programmers understand well is that any kind of coding technique that’s even slightly complicated is going to doom your project. Duct tape programmers tend to avoid C++, templates, multiple inheritance, multithreading, COM, CORBA, and a host of other technologies that are all totally reasonable, when you think long and hard about them, but are, honestly, just a little bit too hard for the human brain.
So Joel Spolsky is seriously suggesting that C++, templates, multiple inheritance and multi-threading are invariably going to "doom your project"? Come on. Multi-threading is critical to the success of many projects - without it, or something similar, a huge portion of applications simply wouldn't exist, or at least would be a lot more complicated. I challenge Joel to write a print spooler as part of an interactive application in a single thread. I challenge Joel to write a tool for scientific analysis that must process lots (gigabytes? exabytes?) of data while maintaining an interactive user interface.

As I mentioned earlier, Joel has a point - however, instead of suggesting that any slightly-complicated technology be banned outright, I'll instead suggest that any slightly complicated technology had better be understood by your programmers before you use it in your project. Don't use multi-threading because it sounds cool, use it because it's the right tool for the job.


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