The Fountainhead and Software Engineering

Summary

Howard Roark is a great model for how programmers and other professionals should work. He knows how to do his job, and if you hire him, then you get out of the way and let him do his job.

Kind of like Kimi Raikkonen saying, “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing”.

How does the Roark example translate to software development?

Strong ownership by programmers. A programmer’s area of responsibility is not a democracy, the person working on that code is in charge, and they are responsible for everything from understanding what the customer wants to writing the code to deploying the code.

No committees deciding on how to do things. Let best practices emerge organically.

Say no to clients and projects that clash with your professional vision

Reaction

I’m a huge Howard Roark fan, so I’m immediately predisposed to like this article which uses Roark as a role-model.

I’ve literally told my bosses that the best management style for me is if they respect it when I say, “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing”, but they pay lip service to placate me and then go ahead micromanaging me anyway.

This is how I always treat tattooers, I say, “you’re the professional, do it how you want”. I say the same to barbers. And really, any professionals I encounter. I like trusting people and I feel like people always do a better job when you give them all of the authority and responsibility.

Just like in the “Small Tasks” essay, this way of working depends on competency from both management and programmers. If everyone is intelligent and has integrity, then things work out. Too bad people are lazy and would rather spend a ton of effort making up for a lack of integrity and competence, instead of just doing the hard work up front of becoming better people and better workers. I see the same kind of laziness in product design and system design. Instead of doing the difficult work upfront of having a real vision that actually motivates a project, people will start with a bullshit vision and just keep adding stupid features that don’t quite fit, or doing whatever they can to appear busy and make it appear like the project is moving forward, but it’s all lipstick on a pig. The foundation is broken, good foundations need integrity.

It’s easy to find examples of businesses doing this: they want to serve too many masters, they want to make too many people happy. The foundation is divided in too many directions. This makes it impossible for the company to have integrity, it’s impossible for the products to have integrity. Organizations need a strong, single-minded vision. Otherwise they cannot benefit from the Howard Roarks of the world.

Peter Keating organizations advised by Ellsworth Tooheys, not Howard Roark organizations.