Friday, 14 August 2015

If I start a software company

If I start a software company...
I actually want to rant against some stuff being done in software companies...but instead of just sounding negative, I thought about what I would do if I run my own software company.
I list my thoughts about the same - first the rant and then on what I will do...

I have always wondered about this. Executives would be given high-powered brand new Mac, but developers would be given a normal system with 2 GB RAM and a ok processor. Most of the work of executive is in his/her head - system is used mainly for mail access, documents, sheets and ppts. Isnt it?

I never really understood this. Particularly, being from a Java background, typically such systems require higher RAM. Usually, we will run the IDE, and also run the app server in our system along with a database too. I remember when working for a MNC, we got a system with 1 GB RAM and it would take ages to deploy. Request to upgrade to 2 GB RAM would go through a long bureaucratic route with the PM explaining the costs involved.

Isn't a good computer the most important tool for a developer? After the people themselves, it is the system where the most investment should go. And, if the people are the most important asset in software industry (as most companies claim), should we not give them the best tools to work with? Howmuchever you provide a fancy working place with good air conditioning, a good system is the most important thing for a developer - and should I mention that a slow unresponsive system is the most annoying thing for a developer.

So, my first priority would be to give the best system to my developers.

Email, attachments, sharing of files:
These are actually inter-related.

Yes, the most trivial one. But, the most important one too. In these days of everything-on-web, I just don't understand why companies spend to buy licenses for desktop mail clients. Why can't they just use OSS mail clients in that case? Wouldn't that save a lot of cost?
Or why not simply go for a solution like gmail for business? you just need a browser for that.

Attachments & File Sharing:
I have done this several times. Let's say we are working on an estimate and prepare a sheet. I will send this to my peer attaching the sheet. They will make changes, rename the file 'v2' and send back to me. I will again rename the file like file_ranga_v2.xls and take another copy. Very soon, there will be numerous copies of the file in my hard disk (not to mention the versions circulating in emails). If I were to revisit this a month later, I would struggle to find out which is the latest version. I will have to look at the modified date and find out. Ditto for docs, ppts. Also, imagine the size of these attachments circulating around filling up mail boxes. It soon becomes a pain.

I worked with Google sheets for some time with a client and I was amazed at how easy it was to share sheets. No hassles, no multiple versions and no sending around attachments wasting space and network bandwidth. On top of it, everything is on cloud and I could access it from my personal system or smart phone too. And, it makes our day-to-day operations easy to manage. Pretty simple, but, I still see many companies (even new ones) opting for say MS-Exchange and then buying license for MS-Outlook. Pray, why?
(Not to mention the license cost for MS-Office - I forgot about that)

Thinking about this, it also helps IS (Information Security) in a way - no data needs to be stored in individual machines.

Issue Tracking via Excel Sheets:
This is similar to the above one. This is actually ironical. Many companies use excel sheets to manage issue tracking, timesheets etc. I thought excel sheets were used 10 years back. Irony is that, we do write software for many customers where requirements go like: 'our folks are currently using excel sheets. we want to replace this with a system'!!
(I think the customers do not know that these companies actually use a excel sheet and not a system - if they come to know about it, they will actually think twice about awarding such projects!)

And imagine doing this in the above mentioned fashion - numerous versions circulating around in mail boxes. And, how do we derive metrics out of these? We will have to first identify the correct version and then gather data. Systems, on the other hand, generate reports with a click of a button. And are searchable too. And, you don't have to re-invent the wheel. Numerous OSS projects are available for such purposes in most technologies. In fact, we are spoilt for choices.

At the least, use something like Google sheets!!

Software and anti-OSS:
Some companies have a policy of no Open Source Software. Yes, it's true. However, you could see such companies using a lot of 'trail' software. I have seen many places where 'EditPlus' (a popular editor) being used - without license being bought. This particular software allows you to use it, but with an annoying warning window when it starts (which clearly states that you can use it only for 30 days). I don't get this. If it is so important for you, why don't you just buy a license. It is not just illegal to use software without buying a license. It is also unethical, unfair & disrespectful in my opinion - what these people are basically saying is: we earn money by writing software for our customer, but, we will not respect the other company/person who has spent lots of time developing this software. If you feel the cost is prohibitive and you won't make any margin, then, just don't take up such projects where there is dependency on high-cost licensed software.
Or, just use OSS and drop all pretensions about the same.

In my own company, I will make maximum use of OSS right from the Operating System. I have myself been using Ubuntu in my home machine for a few years and it is perfect for development - much much better than Windows - I don't have to restart my system after an install not to speak of the breeze to install stuff with apt-get. And, till date I have never seen a command equivalent to grep/egrep/find with  its unmatched speed - try searching for a file in Windows.
This covers all technologies except MicroSoft. Companies working on projects with MS technology should buy appropriate license(s).

I am a tools guy. I believe developers can be more productive using tools. I have seen many companies impose tools/IDE on developers - they call it a 'standard'. And, many companies also buy expensive software/IDE which is such a waste - when the same could be done with OSS tools.

If the build system is independent, why can't we allow the developers to use their favorite tools? And, the sheer number of tools available is very high.

In my own company, I will strive to choose the build system for the project which is based on command-line - this would allow the developers to use their favorite tool to write code. In fact, this is a must. This allows us to introduce CI which helps in achieving higher quality and follow agile.

In an earlier life where I worked at an MNC, I was given a desktop (yah, 1 GB RAM). And then, during conference calls, we would go over to a meeting room. I would need frequent access to my system to answer questions efficiently, but obviously, I can't carry my desktop to the meeting room. It used to be a pain. Some companies solve this problem by having a desktop in meeting rooms and doing a RDC to the developer's system.
I would rather provide laptops to all my developers (and not just managers, leads). The cost difference is not much these days. Only problem with laptops is that they have to be guarded against theft.

VOIP calls:
Of course, MNCs have the costly VOIP phones. I would prefer to use GTalk/Skype. I would also like my developer to take calls from home if need be - late evening or early morning calls. It is actually much more productive and helps in work-life balance.

I have tried to cover as much points in a random fashion. Of course, I have not said anything about getting projects. That is because I do not know anything about it. You might of course question me like, 'dude, you need projects to run a software company'. True. I have no idea how to do that. But, I do believe there are online avenues for these. Of course, it won't be easy.

The reason I have talked only about operational aspects is simply because - these are the ones that affect me on a day-to-day basis. And, I do strongly believe that, operational efficiency can make a major difference to an organization. You could ask about what is the USP of my software company. True, not much. But, operational efficiency can actually be the difference between success and failure of project(s). At least, that is what I think.

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