Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board


There's a show on I think the Life network here in Canada called "Holmes on Homes" (, and it basically involves a uber man-of-all-trades who goes into botched contract jobs and points out everything that they've done wrong, and then proceeds to rip it all up and redo it. While occasionally I think he sounds a little too critical about other people's work, and has a propensity to redo everything like those software developers who simply must re-write everything, it is an interesting show and is enjoyable to watch.

Having said that, when the show first came on the air it seemed to be an advertisement for licensed contractors - the "lesson" from each episode, doled out directly, was "hire a licensed contractor and avoid fly by night operations". As the episodes went on this changed as more and more of the botched jobs WERE licensed contractors - now the lesson he doles out is "if you want to hire a contractor, make sure they've been in business for X years and give you a list of 20 references which you must check".

I found that fascinating, and interesting as applied to the recent discussions.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, October 20, 2003

>> "if you want to hire a contractor, make sure they've been in business for X years and give you a list of 20 references which you must check"

In my experience, experience doesn't matter.  I've seen people with 10+ years of experience who code like shit and have bad attitudes and don't even understand basic things like ASCII and UNICODE.  I've also seen people just out of school who code like a dream and know WTF they are talking about.  Experience is fickle.

Most references are just as fickle.  Would you ever give a reference to someone who is going to speak poorly of you?  Of course not.

It all depends on the person and the situation.  You simply can't stop people from doing bad work if they're say, in a bad mood.

All this talk of liscencening, experience and references make me sick.  People will hire/employ people they know.  People will be who they are and their work will reflect that personality.  That's all there is to it.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I actually with you, and believe that any stance that controlling the personelle is the key to quality is brutally flawed at the outset - quality is derived by checks and balances and process, not by loading up on annoited ones.

The show is actually hilarious because it has actually made me paranoid of hiring _anyone_ to do anything in my house. I'm more prone to doing it myself now (thankfully that's legal in Canada), or if I do hire someone I check over their work like a hawk, and make sure I'm an informed consumer and know what should and shouldn't be done. If they do good work then there is no problem and everyone is happy, but if they do crap work they can't point to their tradesman certificate and proclaim themselves infalliable.

Dennis Forbes
Monday, October 20, 2003

Welcome to the "just good enough" society. In terms of building projects, houses are built decent enough, but not nearly as solid as those built one hundred years ago (in terms of material and possibly crafstmanship). Software is also built to be just good enough. If given the time, many programmers would craft a solid piece of software. Look at the Unix systems. They have been around for many decades and have a mature, rich set of tools.

Monday, October 20, 2003

In the UK they have at least two programs where they invent a problem and then, after hiding cameras in the house, call in builders or plumbers or whatever, nearly all of which then proceed either to rip the customer off with unnecessary work, which sometimes they don't even do, or nearly bring the house down, literally, by mind-boggling incompetence.

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 20, 2003

---"In terms of building projects, houses are built decent enough, but not nearly as solid as those built one hundred years ago "----

Are you sure about this, or are you comparing all houses built now with the subset of houses built a hundred years ago that haven't fallen down in the meantime.

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 20, 2003

Anyway, Corporate Media will sell you any bottom line which they think sounds reasonable enough. It really doesn't matter if it's true (as in truth) or not.

Yes, I am being serious about this.

Johnny Bravo
Monday, October 20, 2003

Stephen, Yes, very good point. I will concede that I cannot compare with a good sampling of houses from that era. I will however say when I look at the construction methods of houses surviving and compare it to other houses I have seen built in the last twenty years, I have yet to see something equivalent to the older house. To be specific, I am talking of houses, not commercial properties (or churches or such). I will reevaluate this when, God willing, I am in my late 90's. :)

Monday, October 20, 2003

Guys, a question - does anyone think that an empirical and objective criteria for "IT professional certification" is just about hopeless? IE, tests, grandfathering based upon years doing nominal IT jobs, etc are all corruptible, fallible and inadequate to quantify someone's ability to do work.

I am thinking (out loud) that perhaps the only reasonable way to create a certification mechanism might be to establish a network or web of trust of "established senior practitioners", that emanates from publicly known IT personalities. Kind of a public and non-scholastic PHD committee system.  IE: a laundry list of people such as Linus Torvalds, Bjarne Stroustroup, er uh some well known forum owners :-), etc would "bless" a set of judges or ombuds who would in turn "bless" regional judges. The judges at the "leaf" level would confer certifications to individuals based upon personal interviews, examples of code, products in the marketplace, design problems solved or worked through on demand, etc.

Also there would need to be a feedback system to allow clients and employers to rate the accuracy of the certifications granted.

The "web of trust" of sites like comes to mind, where you can ascertain the validity of reviews based upon the number of people of high trustworthiness themselves who have voted that a given review is helpful.

This is only a rough concept, and I have not thought through the many practical issues yet. Thoughts?

Bored Bystander
Monday, October 20, 2003


To give you a specific example of "just good enough".
In my area of the Midwest, many of the farmhouses of 100+ years ago were built on wooden foundations. They're all gone now, of course. Termites ate them all. My 100 year old farmhouse, on the other hand; my father lovingly refers to it as "the fortress". So I'd say you definitely get a lot of survivorship bias when it comes to housing...

Rob VH
Monday, October 20, 2003


That's the worst idea I've ever heard.  Way too many chances for discrimination (based on most anything) and corruption.  I can see it now...

Monday, October 20, 2003

I'm still laughing at it... ROFL... "web of trust" ... ROFL ... Tell me dude are you smoking crack or something?

Monday, October 20, 2003

there already is a "web of trust." however it is usually called "recommendations from previous employers."

I agree with demarco in that the main reason people want certifications is to de-certify all those boobs who make more money than I do doing a bad job. Those damn sloppy visual basic programmers! It is an affront to my dignity that they could possibly be making as much money as I. I have an ENGINEERING DEGREE!

The other reason programmers whine about this type of thing, is they want to live in an imaginary world where everything is merit based. Sort of like applying to college. 1600 on your SATs, 3.8 are in at Berkeley. Unfortunately outside of applying to college, there is no industry that works this way.

Even doctors have to do a bit of schmoozing and working the system to get the job they want. If you are just finishing up med school in North Dakota, and want to do a residency in Manhattan, good luck finding an opening unless one of your parents knows someone at the hospital you want to work at.

I think certain engineer types are wired in such a way that they find schmoozing, social networking, and sales completely abhorrent. They really would rather just be able to take an aptitude test to get a job, or get the next raise.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Well in fairness, for many jobs sales is a complete non-issue once you get the job. Which is why it's ridiculous you're expected to sell yourself to get the job in the first place ...

The hiring process itself ensures you're hiring based on the wrong attributes.

But what can you do? I don't know.

Sum Dum Gai
Monday, October 20, 2003

On a thread like this, we need to define whether we're talking about licencing in the sense of supposedly enforcing a minimum standard of competence, or licencing in the sense of excluding competition from those who haven't put in the years or investment.

All serious occupations do the latter, while pretending it's the former.

So it would be useful if comments addressed this distinction.

Training to be a plumber
Monday, October 20, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home