What do software developers need to know about busines


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What do software developers need to know about busines

  1. 1. Editor in Chief ■ from the editor Wa r r e n H a r r i s o n ■ P o r t l a n d S t a t e U n i v. ■ w a r r e n . h a r r i s o n @ c o m p u t e r. o r gWhat Do SoftwareDevelopers Need toKnow about Business? Warren Harrison recent discussion I had with colleagues So, whenever I hear someone talk about ei- A from my university’s business school and computer science department fo- cused on identifying the most critical knowledge for software developers. My computer science colleagues’ per- spective was quite interesting. They acknowl- edged that once a software developer has man- aged to climb into a second- or third-level management posi- ther business or computing issues as things to be “picked up on the job,” I can’t help but wonder whether the person is “type a” or “type b.” That’s not to say that someone can’t learn ma- terial from either discipline through self- study—but it requires a serious application of discipline and effort. Understanding the context tion, maybe an MBA wouldn’t I’m less concerned about those who have be such a bad idea. But for the chosen to pursue a management career path. most part, they held the strong Over time, I’ve come to believe there’s a real belief that anyone smart enough need for the average software developer to un- to be a computer science gradu- derstand and appreciate the economic context ate must be able to easily pick in which their company operates. up this “business stuff” on the Without a thorough understanding of the side. business context, we tend to operate in a fog, believing things happen arbitrarily by chance Type a or type b? and can’t be predicted. Primitive cultures’ lack I felt the same quick surge of irritation that I of understanding of physical phenomena led to usually get when dealing with students who want a belief that people became ill, soldiers won or to bypass prerequisite courses and enroll directly lost battles, and storms devastated villages be- into an upper-division software engineering cause of angry “gods.” Individuals felt a loss of course. They seem to think that software engi- control over their daily lives and resorted to il- neering can’t be all that difficult compared to the logical attempts to placate these “gods” mysteries of homomorphisms and context-free through sacrifice and the construction of grand grammars. It’s either (a) the height of conceit or temples. (b) the height of ignorance about the depth of the I’ve observed developers’ bitter resentment field to suggest that, without serious study, some- when they try to come to grips with senior one could pick up a field that has taken others management’s seemingly illogical decisions and years to master. Over the years, I’ve come to re- actions. Often, as in ancient mythology, they alize that (b) is more common than (a). attribute these actions to angry “gods” who ar-0740-7459/05/$20.00 © 2005 IEEE September/October 2005 IEEE SOFTWARE 5
  2. 2. FROM THE EDITOR bitrarily cancel projects, cut staff, and even factor in risk premiums to reflect enforce technical mandates. the investment’s risks and opportunity D E PA R T M E N T E D I T O R S The fact is, modern, multinational costs. Bookshelf: Warren Keuffel, businesses operate within a set of well- Most business people I know think in wkeuffel@computer.org understood phenomena. If you don’t un- terms of risk-adjusted present value. As a Design: Martin Fowler, derstand discounted cash flow, hurdle result, long-term initiatives with even fowler@acm.org rate, or amortization of intangibles, moderately uncertain payoffs quickly Loyal Opposition: Robert Glass, rglass@indiana.edu many management decisions inflicted on lose their attractiveness. This is espe- Open Source: Christof Ebert, you might appear to be mere rolls of the cially true when other investment oppor- christof.ebert@alcatel.com dice or the wrath of angry “gods.” Here tunities exist. Quality Time: Nancy Eickelmann, are a few principles that can help put nancy.eickelmann@motorola.com, and Jane Hayes, hayes@cs.uky.edu management decisions into a clearer Capital budgeting Requirements: Neil Maiden, context. I’ve endured more than one meeting N.A.M.Maiden@city.ac.uk in which technical people propose proj- Tools of the Trade: Diomidis Spinellis, An investment is simply an investment dds@aueb.gr ects with seemingly no clue that the Many professions require a certain money spent developing a software STAFF amount of detachment from events. product could just as easily be invested Senior Lead Editor For example, scientists are renowned in a bank, gold bullion, or opening a Dale C. Strok for their ability to unemotionally view Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. You dstrok@computer.org and record phenomena that would can usually identify these naive champi- Group Managing Editor have lay people running for cover. The ons right away: they’re the ones with a Crystal Shif journalist’s credo is to never get per- laundry list of poorly quantified, intan- Senior Editors Shani Murray, Dennis Taylor, Linda World sonally involved with the story. Police gible “benefits” that will accrue if only Staff Editor Editorial Assistants officers quickly learn to detach them- management would open that squeaky Rita Scanlan Brooke Miner and Molly Mraz selves emotionally from grisly murders purse and toss out a few million. Magazine Assistant and deadly traffic accidents. Of course, these unfortunate souls Hilda Hosillos, software@computer.org If I had to put my finger on the sin- usually try to dress up their presenta- Art Director Toni Van Buskirk gle thing of most value that I received tions with “business speak.” I once Technical Illustrator from my years studying for an account- heard someone speak glowingly of the Alex Torres ing degree, it would be the ability to ROI expected from a project he was Production Artist view investments as just that—invest- proposing. It quickly became clear that Carmen Flores-Garvey ments. Nowhere is this better exempli- he didn’t understand what ROI stood Executive Director David Hennage fied than in the concept of sunk cost for when his slides started displaying Publisher that’s mercilessly hammered into cost- ROI figures in terms of months. It Angela Burgess accounting students. This might be the turned out that he had simply plugged aburgess@computer.org Associate Publisher hardest concept for laypeople to under- some numbers into a textbook equation Dick Price stand. “But we’ve already invested so without understanding what he was do- Membership/Circulation Marketing Manager much money into this project” is a ing. Subsequently, he and his team were Georgann Carter common lament among software devel- aghast when the tight-fisted spawn of Business Development Manager Sandra Brown opers when they hear that their project Ebenezer Scrooge turned down the Senior Production Coordinator has been cut. proposal. Marian Anderson From the savvy business person’s per- If you don’t know what your com- spective, costs that have been expended pany’s hurdle rate is (or worse yet, if CONTRIBUTING EDITORS in the past have no role in planning for you don’t know what a hurdle rate is), Robert Glass, costs in the future. do your homework before you make Keri Schreiner your pitch to the suits. At the very least, Editorial: All submissions are subject to editing for clarity, Tomorrow’s dollar is worth (far) less you’ll impress the decision makers. At style, and space. Unless otherwise stated, bylined articles than today’s the very worst, you’ll avoid making a and departments, as well as product and service descrip- tions, reflect the author’s or firm’s opinion. Inclusion in Most of us are vaguely aware that fool of yourself proposing a project IEEE Software does not necessarily constitute endorsement getting money now is better than having that will take two years to yield the by the IEEE or the IEEE Computer Society. to wait for it, but we seldom go to the same returns you can get at the local To Submit: Access the IEEE Computer Society’s trouble of quantifying exactly how Savings and Loan. Web-based system, Manuscript Central, at http://cs-ieee. manuscriptcentral.com/index.html. Be sure to select the much better. Business runs on the con- Oh, and don’t forget, ROI stands right manuscript type when submitting. Articles must be cept of quantified present value—the for return on investment, which is not original and not exceed 5,400 words including figures and tables, which count for 200 words each. value of a sum received in the future, the same thing as IRR (internal rate of measured in “today’s dollars.” We can return) or payback period.6 IEEE SOFTWARE w w w . c o m p u t e r. o r g / s o f t w a r e
  3. 3. EDITOR IN CHIEF FROM THE EDITOR Warren HarrisonSo what can we do about it? years of experience) came into the class 10662 Los Vaqueros Circle Many years ago, when I was in grad- with a lack of exposure to economic Los Alamitos, CA 90720-1314 warren.harrison@computer.orguate school (1978–1984), it seemed that and financial topics, a misunderstand- EDITOR IN CHIEF EMERITUS:one person could know a little bit about ing of the concepts of time value of Steve McConnell, Construx Softwarealmost every aspect of computer science. money, and little knowledge of pricing stevemcc@construx.comThe body of knowledge was simply that strategies. A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R S I N C H I E Fsmall. Nowadays, with more and more Although such a class clearly can’tsubfields sprouting up, it’s hard for stu- turn students into experts in any of these Education and Training: Don Bagert, Rose-Hulman Inst. of Technology; don.bagert@rose-hulman.edudents to know even what all the areas areas, it can provide them with the tools Design: Philippe Kruchten, University ofare, much less a little bit about each one. to better understand the business aspects British Columbia; kruchten@ieee.orgSo, it’s difficult to justify a large number of developing software and how deci- Requirements: Roel Wieringa, University of Twente; roelw@cs.utwente.nlof nontechnical courses simply to “gain sions are made at the executive levels of Management: Don Reifer, Reifer Consultants;context.” Luckily, software developers their organizations. Such a course can go dreifer@earthlink.net Quality: Stan Rifkin, Master Systems;can get by with far less—after all, the a long way toward preparing students sr@master-systems.comidea is to establish a context, not to turn for a career in software development and Experience Reports: Wolfgang Strigel, QA Labs; strigel@qalabs.comout investment analysts. is likely to be far more valuable than Several years ago, Bruce Schafer many of the traditional undergraduate EDITORIAL BOARD(founder of PC-Kwik, for you old-timers) requirements such as differential equa- Christof Ebert, Alcateland I put together a course for the Ore- tions, linear algebra, or physics. Nancy Eickelmann, Motorola Labsgon Master of Software Engineering Martin Fowler, ThoughtWorks Jane Hayes, University of Kentuckyprogram called “Understanding the Soft- Feedback welcome Warren Keuffel, independent consultantware Business.” This class undertook What do you think? Have you had Neil Maiden, City University, London Diomidis Spinellis, Athens Univ. ofthe Herculean task of introducing stu- any experiences dealing with executive- Economics and Businessdents to the marketing, financial, and level management at work? Do you Richard H. Thayer, Calif. State Univ. Sacramentolegal aspects of the software industry in find that your company uses formal Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, Wirfs-Brock Associates10 weeks. It involved general pricing capital-budgeting techniques in evalu- ADVISORY BOARDstrategies, basic macroeconomic con- ating projects? If you have training in Stephen Mellor, Mentor Graphics (chair)cepts, capital budgeting issues, and in- business, economics, or finance, have Maarten Boasson, Quaerendo Invenietistellectual property. you found that it has benefited you in Robert Cochran, Catalyst Software Annie Kuntzmann-Combelles, Q-Labs We found that students (all profes- your role as a developer? Please write me David Dorenbos, Motorola Labssional software developers with several at warren.harrison@computer.org. Juliana Herbert, ESICenter UNISINOS Dehua Ju, ASTI Shanghai Gargi Keeni, Tata Consultancy Services Karen Mackey, Cisco Systems Tomoo Matsubara, Matsubara Consulting Dorothy McKinney, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Next Issue Bret Michael, Naval Postgraduate School Susan Mickel, Lockheed Martin Ann Miller, University of Missouri, Rolla Predictor Models in Software Engineering Deependra Moitra, Infosys Technologies, India Melissa Murphy, Sandia National Laboratories Suzanne Robertson, Atlantic Systems Guild Grant Rule, Software Measurement Services Girish Seshagiri, Advanced Information Services Software engineering is a decision-intensive discipline. Can we build models Martyn Thomas, Praxis Rob Thomsett, The Thomsett Company that make explicit the knowledge hidden in software resources? Can we Laurence Tratt, King’s College London use models to make better decisions? Can we assess those models? Do Jeffrey Voas, SAIC John Vu, The Boeing Company different researchers working on the same data arrive at similar models? Simon Wright, SymTech Are there better, faster, cheaper ways to build software engineering models? C S P U B L I C AT I O N S B O A R D Many predictor models already exist but information about them is Michael R. Williams (chair), Michael R. Blaha, proprietary, so model calibration in different development environments is Mark Christensen, Roger U. Fujii, Sorel Reisman, John Rokne, Bill Schilit, Linda Shafer, difficult. This issue will look at how to build predictor models and what Steven L. Tanimoto, Anand Tripathi we’ve learned from open source data sets. MAGAZINE OPERATIONS COMMITTEE Bill Schilit (chair), Jean Bacon, Pradip Bose, Visit our Editorial Calendar at Doris L. Carver, Norman Chonacky, George Cybenko, John C. Dill, Frank E. Ferrante, www.computer.org/software/edcal.htm Robert E. Filman, Forouzan Golshani, David Alan Grier, Rajesh Gupta, Warren Harrison, James Hendler, M. Satyanarayanan September/October 2005 IEEE SOFTWARE 7