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Chapter 8. An Obsolete Culture > Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game

One strong cultural determinant of software engineering is that it is done alone. Programmers sit alone. Only one programmer can type in code at one time. Code is largely invisible inside a computer, and it is almost never read. Reading someone else's code is less like reading a book than it is like reading someone's lecture notes, written in a private, inscrutable shorthand. Programming is so complex that it takes single-minded focus and lots of uninterrupted time. Programmers have a strong sense of this insularity and of what it implies. Nobody can have significant control over what a programmer does inside his own program. Programmers know that the quality of their code is largely a matter of their own conscientiousness. The boss can demand quality, but the boss isn't going to invest the time and effort required to verify that such quality exists. It can take more time to decipher a programmer's code than it took to write it. Programmers know this, and they know that their personal decisions and actions have more leverage on the final product and the user's satisfaction than any other consideration. Ultimately, they will personally hold the bag for the product's success. They know that they have a lot of skin in the game.

The lonely work of the programmer gives him a strong sense of his power. Some programmers are uncomfortable with the sense of power, but they are even more uncomfortable delegating authority to others with less skin in the game. When marketers, managers, or designers give advice to them, programmers regard the suggestions with a healthy dose of skepticism. If they take the advice and it turns out to be bad, they know the advisor will be long gone and that the blame will fall squarely on the programmer.


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