Dead Parrots, Dead Dogs, and a Tit

Recently some blogger of importance insufficient to warrant looking up and referencing tried to answer criticism that the “Agile” methodologies of software development are ‘micromanagement by another name’. Unable to produce any counter-argument – because that is what Agile is – he was forced to agree up-front that Agile developers are indeed micro-managed but, he implied, “by choice” and, he added as if to draw attention to that all-important illusion of empowerment, “by themselves”.

I shall not address his side-bar argument that Agile methodologies can be used to explain the creation of the Universe as I feel that to be the subject of an altogether different discussion entirely unrelated to software development. Neither would I encourage readers to seek out, let alone read such dangerous drivel. Without further ado we go to his conclusion, in his own mealy-mouthed words:

“Thus, though Agile is all about micromanagement, the difference is that the team is doing it”

Whoopee!

What ever happened to IT that such a tit could ever be regarded by anybody other than himself as an industry thought-leader? A veritable Tom Friedman of the Software Development Blogosphere, championing the corporate cause. Some background reading for our cult-like Agilista here might include Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods, an appropriately titled tale in which an “empowered” team of Nubian slaves take to administering the whip to their own backs as necessary to maintain motivation for their back-breaking work.

When something, be it the whip or micro-management, is known to inculcate a poor working environment, does it really matter who is wielding it? And just how many of those Agile developers actually did make the choice themselves and convinced their employers to change to Agile? As opposed, say, to how many were informed that if they expected to keep their jobs they would henceforth be Agile.

Do you want to micro-manage yourself from now on and make daily reports justifying your continued employment with the firm, or do you wish to join the unemployment lines right away?

Technically that is a freedom to choose – balancing the threat-of-dismissal stick is the enticing corporate carrot for whomever steps forward first will have special responsibility for minor clerical tasks of a post-it sticking nature, and, gets to be called Scrum Master!

Twenty years ago IT promised us many things. It was going to change the way we work. We would be able to login from anywhere, anytime, do our jobs the best way we know how, and live better lives as a result. Then along come a bunch of swaggering drunkards telling employers exactly what they want to hear – that the only way to work with IT is to be in the office at 9:00AM every morning and stand up and explain to everybody exactly what you worked on yesterday and give a detailed account of how you plan to ensure you are working for every hour of the coming day. Making daily reports akin to the disciplinary measures handed down to truants and insubordinate military recruits. So much for remote working. So much for Maslow. Roll over Herzberg. Motivation is out, ritual humiliation is in.

It gets worse. We make systems that we say are going to help people organize and present their information. How do we explain to our customers who ask why we have to organize and present our own information by sticking post-it notes all over the wall? Do car sales staff ride bicycles at work? Do telephone operators communicate with each other by sending letters in the post? Was IT not introduced specifically so that nevermore would we have to “organize” our data by sticking hand-written notes all over the place? Should our dissatisfied customers be all that surprised to discover that their software doesn’t work very well, in spite of the “Beautiful plumage!” of its eye-pleasing user interface? ¨That as a consequence their own walls are going to become similarly plastered as they are forced by dysfunctional IT systems to adopt the same steinzeit methodologies of software development itself?

“Agile is inherently bugged in itself, since it fails to take account of the physical fact that a number less than 100% of post-it notes will remain stuck. Inevitably some of them will come unstuck get lost and entire software features – potentially safety-critical features – will not get developed as a result.”

But Agile is just one particular disease in the IT industry and largely confined to hapless software developers. In Agile’s case the disease enters the industry carried by smooth-talking consultants whose ability to dress-to-impress more than compensates for their appalling lack of education. Other afflictions of IT are introduced by undemanding customers who only want flattery, and bean-counting business budgeteers more concerned with their own bonus payments and their precious job titles than anything else.

The internet was going to enrich us with facts and contacts. But it never lived up to the promise either. The Internet has become the greatest combined advertising and surveilance platform ever created. Most of the people who use it only do so to visit the websites of their favourite TV channels, gossip about celebrities, tell you what they had for breakfast this morning, and whose dog died during the night. Earth-shattering news. Politicians love it since it allows them to restrict their communications with the suckers who voted them in to one-liners of 140 characters or less. Initially portrayed as a first update, such “tweets” soon become the final words of wisdom on the matter through such evasions as, “I refer you to the answer I gave before”, or, “I answered that already it’s time to move on”.

Take spam for example of what IT is really about: When private corporations started using email, laws against email spam were enacted very shortly afterwards. Run an independent blog like this and the price you pay for allowing people to speak on it is a tsunami of comment-spam ten times worse than you ever got in email with no redress. A complete free-for-all in which the only legal principle is that the blog owner will be held responsible.

So-called “social networking”, which in fact is all about doing business, is another joke not worth retelling to those who already know it, and lost on those who have been suckered in by the patently false promise of fame and fortune. You got two-hundred likes? Charlie Manson got two million. You can’t even talk to social-networkers anymore to the extent that you might conclude that after joining a social-network one loses the ability to engage in conversation.

You can only text social-networkers even if they happen to be sitting right next to you. But there isn’t any point doing so because if you mention anything they have heard about in the past then you’ll simply be told that they’ve reddit, been there, and got the T-shirt. It’s time to move on. But, should you happen to mention anything they don’t already think they know all about they will not ask you to go on or to tell them more, or indeed contribute anything further of themselves. They will pause the conversation while they consult with their mobiles to google what they believe to be the key words and you end up talking to a web-page through a human-proxy.

You never get to find out what a social-networker thinks about anything, possibly because they don’t.

If you’re mobile connected there is no longer any need to know anything about any subject whatsoever. You can simply google the right answer or find the opinion with the most likes on fb and become a Master of the subject on the spot.

There is no need to share information anymore, just share links and save yourself time – time that can be better spent gossiping about celebrities, debating the latest must-have features for phones, and mourning dead dogs.

In computer-gaming, a moribund sub-sector that in happier times drove the introduction of computers to the home, mega-publishing companies now control the market and refuse point-blank to sell gaming software. They’ve changed the rules of the game whereby now one purchases a license to use the software when and only when connected to the publisher’s servers with no guarantee of server availability. Even if you play solo. They say this is good for mobile gamers since your save-game is “in the cloud“, as if that’s the only place you’d ever want it to be. It also means they have taken ownership of the rights inherent in your save-games – your own creations – and of course it gives games publishers the ideal opportunity to deactivate their servers and force you to upgrade. Prior to IT, industrialists had to bribe politicians in order to be able to abuse their market position, nowadays they’ve got it fully automated and only have to hit the profit-button. Ripping-off customers has never been easier.

If you use a computer nowadays, the corporate world is trying to take ownership of every key you press and every mouse movement you make. Because you happen to use something sold by them, they feel they have the right to know exactly what you do with it, when you do it, where, and with whom. Why isn’t really all that important in business, so long as there is money to be made.

And just what do you think is behind all these ads you constantly see online to “cartoonify”, or otherwise post pictures of, yourself? A commercial service? Certainly, there’s a lot of money in building extensive dossiers on positively-identified individuals, and I’m sure such information will only ever be used benignly so that we consumers get the best possible prices and the highest quality goods and services tailored to pamper our personal needs.

What happened to the promise of working from the beach or the mountain top? We go to the beach or mountain top now and we find our mobiles get a signal, text messages will welcome us back and draw our attention to today’s mountain-top shopping opportunities, reminders that the beach remains a possibility will arrive, and of course all major credit cards will be accepted.

On one project I know it is forbidden to work from home and daily presence in the office is mandatory – except when you are signed off sick by a doctor. Then they will rush a company laptop equipped with webcam and microphone to your sick-bed. It’s a health-care company as well, as if that doesn’t take the biscuit. Sometimes the sick have leg injuries leading to the bizarre sight of a supposedly “agile” developer needing crutches to make the stand-up, or even worse sitting down.