Continuous Hipsterism

Software Engineering, Leadership, Management and more

The casino paradox

Posted at — Feb 23, 2016

It’s 2:37am and you already lost 3000$ in the casino. “Just put 1000$ more in this blackjack round” - said no one, ever. This is the same feeling I have many times in software engineering projects. I mean, yeah, I get it, 2 years ago you needed to spent the minimum amount of time possible to get the work done. That’s fine. You delivered, you got customers, everything went well.

Fast-forward to 2016. Now you have 10x more customers, who are demanding 10x more and better data, because, you know, you got some competition as well. You set-up some big data systems, added 15 small services and everything seems to work. Except when it doesn’t. Now, Bob warns Tom, every 3 days that the piece X does not seem to work properly. After digging into 5 different log files across 3 different servers and correlate them by hand they find out the problem. Cool, time to fix it. It’s an apparently easy-to-fix problem, so Tom fixes it right away and deploy it. Meanwhile, it’s 6pm, but who cares? One problem less. Fantastic! Or at least it was fantastic until Bob warns him again, next Monday, that it seems this system that was fixed last Friday (and last Tuesday, and 2 weeks before, …) it’s failing. Again. Another morning debugging. Another afternoon fixing it. The cycle repeats itself again and again. This repetition happens because there is no time to rethink what makes sense in that specific service, how you can improve it, how you can roll out updates without breaking it, etc. Yeah, these fixes that you do so often apparently break stuff that was working before. Because, you know, there are no tests :)

I call this “The casino paradox”. You throw “good money” (good work-hours) because you already threw away a lot of “bad money” (lost work-hours). Stop right there. Stop and think about it. It’s the same case that we stated above. You already lost 3000$ in the casino. No one would tell you to spend more money to “recover” the money you lost before, because it’s a really bad idea! Your money is limited. So it’s not a good idea to throw it away. Your team, the amount of work that they can get done and the hours they work per day are limited too. Think about it. Sometimes you need to stop, think about the value that you are generating with this software and give it some perspective. If you don’t do it, you’ll end-up generating frustration and not delivering what you’re supposed to the business. Then it’s not about software anymore. It’s about strategy.