Most people who undergo bypass surgery-are back for another one in just a few years-unless they die first of course.

Joe was born with a clean bill of health like many of us. He was raised with good work ethics, he liked to work hard, prove himself, get ahead in the game.

Joe grew up to be a software engineer. He was a dedicated employee. As it happens frequently in software shops, his boss would ask him to stay late, and work longer hours to meet that really really important deadline. And he did. He would come in early, work long hours, go home, sleep, and repeat it over and over again.

The company treated him well, he advanced in his professional career. He didn’t mind sacrificing his personal life, his social life, and his time at the gym for the advancement in his professional career. The company was generous enough to pay for his dinners in close-by restaurants, and Joe frequently expensed fancy dinners to his company. The company certainly didn’t mind rewarding a hardworking and dedicated employee either.

Joe made the deadline, the project got delivered, Joe went to the next project, and repeated his outstanding performance-after all, he was a dedicated workaholic. Joe was the canonical outstanding developer, usually in a lead position, dedicated, hard working, everyone’s dream employee.

But as Joe got older, years of this abuse finally begun to show up. In a visit to his doctor-he was advised of his high blood pressure and cholesterol. Joe, the IT consultant, was flying out that night to a client. He planned on exercising that night at the hotel gym. The flight was delayed, and then Joe got busy in the next project. Joe promised himself that he would pick up his exercise regimen right after the next deadline.

Time flew by, and later in his life Joe developed a heart disease and eventually had to have bypass surgery.

Now, it is an interesting medical statistic that patients who have had bypass, return a few years later with more heart problems. This is because the bypass addresses only the symptom of the problem-the vessels around the heart, but the cholesterol is clogged all over the body. This is a chronic problem that cannot be addressed easily. Surgery usually only addresses the most acute symptom-the vessels around the heart.

Also, when a patient does get a bypass, he immediately feels better. So, the patient goes and eats more, exercises less, and comes right back with an accentuated problem.

Now before you flip to the cover and make sure that you aren’t reading a medical journal, let me answer your question, “Why am I even talking about Joe’s health in a software magazine?”

As it turns out, a typical software development shop isn’t much different. In a typical software development environment, you need to produce code, and maintain the capability to keep producing good code.

Since the results your clients sees is only the code produced. Teams frequently end up sacrificing the capability to produce good code in favor of actually producing code. This is very much like Joe not exercising enough so he can meet a deadline. Joe is working as hard as he can and he isn’t taking time to sharpen the saw.

Only if Joe had not ignored his health is analogous to:

  • only if you had written unit tests
  • set up automated builds as your project matured
  • established the right architecture along with a low cost to change
  • followed solid configuration management principles

Your project might not be in the bypass situation it is today. Now you may or may not get a bypass, but be assured that if a bypass is your immediate solution, your next bypass isn’t too far away either. And one day, the project will just die.

Don’t ignore your project’s health, and don’t ignore your health in the process either.

Sahil Malik