Monday, September 28, 2009

A Whole Roll of Duct Tape

Jamie Zawinsky reponds to Joel Spolsky's comment on him as a Duct Tape programmer in which he adds his own somewhat Ad Hominem, damning both Spolsky and some of the other commentors:
It's such a strange article, in that it's mostly favorable to my point of view but with such a breathless amazement to it, like he's just discovered an actual unicorn or something.
In a lot of the commentary surrounding his article elsewhere, I saw all the usual chestnuts being trotted out by people misunderstanding the context of our discussions: A) the incredible time pressure we were under and B) that it was 1994. People always want to get in fights over the specifics like "what's wrong with templates?" without realizing the historical context. Guess what, you young punks, templates didn't work in 1994.
And Peter Seibel, the interviewer has his own response, in which he thanks Spolsky for generating controversy (which JS is good at) and thus book sales:
Could they have made a different trade-off in the old “fast, good, cheap—pick two” space? Possibly. But history certainly testifies that they produced a product quickly enough that no one beat them to the punch and good enough that they changed the history of the web.
I think Seibel is misunderstanding the "good" part of fast, good or cheap. Good refers, as we understand it, to the quality of the code, not in its ability to perfectly fit the market need. Based on the text of his own book it seems that Zawinsky is clear that the code was anything but good.

Still, Seibel gives a more nuanced discussion of the trade offs that Zawinsky and others were making inside of Netscape at the time.
Seibel: After this relentless pace, at some point that has to start to catch up with you in terms of the quality of the code. How did you guys deal with that?
Zawinski: Well, the way we dealt with that was badly. There’s never a time to start over and rewrite it. And it’s never a good idea to start over and rewrite it.
So in this case at least, fast (and presumably cheap) won Round 1. Possibly the need, or the desire, to make it good caused them to lose Round 2. And losing Round 2 meant they were out of the race. Whether the rewrite was needed -- making at least a case for Good, or was a terrible mistake -- making a continued case for fast, is important from a corporate standpoint.

But the initial race, and the vast sums that Clark, Andressen, their fellow employees and early investors were able to take to the bank were victories for Fast.

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