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> Brion Vibber to leave WMF, ... yeah, it's official.
CharlotteWebb
post Tue 29th September 2009, 3:48pm
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QUOTE(Erik Möller @ Mon September 28 22:44:40 UTC 2009)

As for FlaggedRevs, we'll whip the prototype into shape ASAP and take it from there.

Gee I guess he's implying that the German, Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Arabic, Alemannic, Esperanto, Interlingua, and classical Chinese Wikipedias are not a good enough prototype. hrmph.gif
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anthony
post Tue 29th September 2009, 3:55pm
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QUOTE(Kelly Martin @ Tue 29th September 2009, 3:45pm) *

QUOTE(dogbiscuit @ Tue 29th September 2009, 10:31am) *
You need outstandingly talented people to have the great ideas - but generally it is best not to let them implement any more than you have to. Most companies I've worked at have had a prima donna expert, and most have been better off when they have caged them. Most bright ideas end up having massive hidden maintenance costs.
This is why you often find the "founder" of many successful internet companies ensconced with a title like "Chief Scientist", usually with a nice office, but no direct reports. Such people are paid to Have Ideas and Convey Them To Others, who then turn them into viable product.


Okay, but what about the people that are outstandingly talented at implementation? What about the Wozniak's of the world?
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dogbiscuit
post Tue 29th September 2009, 3:57pm
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QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 4:42pm) *

That's an interesting position. Having always been on the "outstandingly talented" side of that equation, I really can't understand it. Nine times out of ten my great ideas don't get implemented if I'm not heavily involved with the implementation myself.

But if it works for you, I guess I can't blame you.

That's because my outstanding talents are in digging companies out of the mess outstandingly talented people have dug themselves into.

It does depend on what sector you are in, but the general drudge of moving data from keyboard to disk, across to another bit of disk and occasionally back to the screen rarely calls for talent, what is needed is blatantly obvious, comprehensible, maintainable code that everyone can agree what it does. That goes for clever SQL too - untangling dozens of subclauses of heavily nested Oracle SQL and having a few temporary tables instead works wonders for proving that the code works in all possible situations ("But that shouldn't be null so it's not my fault!??!").

I'm too scarred from impossible to follow C++ template code to consider clever coding to be a good thing.
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Kelly Martin
post Tue 29th September 2009, 4:04pm
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QUOTE(dogbiscuit @ Tue 29th September 2009, 10:57am) *
I'm too scarred from impossible to follow C++ template code to consider clever coding to be a good thing.
That's one of the things that struck me when reading through Mediawiki's code over the past year: there are a lot of cases where they've made "clever" use of various PHP array manipulations to make the code "more clever" that, in the end, impair both performance and readability. Using an O(n ln n) array function to replace a parallel loop (O(n)) is not "clever", even if it does mean fewer lines of code. Then again, if you are interested in efficiency, you probably shouldn't be coding PHP in the first place.
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anthony
post Tue 29th September 2009, 4:06pm
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QUOTE(dogbiscuit @ Tue 29th September 2009, 3:57pm) *

QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 4:42pm) *

That's an interesting position. Having always been on the "outstandingly talented" side of that equation, I really can't understand it. Nine times out of ten my great ideas don't get implemented if I'm not heavily involved with the implementation myself.

But if it works for you, I guess I can't blame you.

That's because my outstanding talents are in digging companies out of the mess outstandingly talented people have dug themselves into.


So your problem isn't with outstandingly talented individuals, it's just with certain types of outstandingly talented individuals. I can agree with that.

QUOTE(dogbiscuit @ Tue 29th September 2009, 3:57pm) *

It does depend on what sector you are in, but the general drudge of moving data from keyboard to disk, across to another bit of disk and occasionally back to the screen rarely calls for talent, what is needed is blatantly obvious, comprehensible, maintainable code that everyone can agree what it does.


There's no talent involved in producing "blatantly obvious, comprehensible, maintainable code that everyone can agree what it does"? If there's no talent involved, why don't we just get the computer to do the task itself?

Are you talking about a software company, or a non-software company which has custom-built software? There's a mountain of difference between the two. Your suggestions seem to be geared toward the latter.
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Friday
post Tue 29th September 2009, 4:21pm
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QUOTE(dogbiscuit @ Tue 29th September 2009, 3:57pm) *

QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 4:42pm) *

That's an interesting position. Having always been on the "outstandingly talented" side of that equation, I really can't understand it. Nine times out of ten my great ideas don't get implemented if I'm not heavily involved with the implementation myself.

But if it works for you, I guess I can't blame you.

That's because my outstanding talents are in digging companies out of the mess outstandingly talented people have dug themselves into.

It does depend on what sector you are in, but the general drudge of moving data from keyboard to disk, across to another bit of disk and occasionally back to the screen rarely calls for talent, what is needed is blatantly obvious, comprehensible, maintainable code that everyone can agree what it does. That goes for clever SQL too - untangling dozens of subclauses of heavily nested Oracle SQL and having a few temporary tables instead works wonders for proving that the code works in all possible situations ("But that shouldn't be null so it's not my fault!??!").

I'm too scarred from impossible to follow C++ template code to consider clever coding to be a good thing.


Yeah, there are a few niches where "clever" code is Good Thing, but for general purpose application development, easy-to-maintain code wins nearly every time.

If you're writing code that other people can't maintain, chances are you're not exceptionally talented, but rather an egotistical control freak.
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anthony
post Tue 29th September 2009, 4:41pm
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QUOTE(Friday @ Tue 29th September 2009, 4:21pm) *

Yeah, there are a few niches where "clever" code is Good Thing, but for general purpose application development, easy-to-maintain code wins nearly every time.


And it takes great talent to know where those "few niches" are, and where they are not.

And moreover, it takes a good amount of talent (maybe not great talent) just to write bug-free code outside those "few niches".

Given "dogbiscuit"'s explanation that his experience is "in digging companies out of the mess outstandingly talented people have dug themselves into", I think I see where he's coming from. But I'd venture a guess that in most situations (unless you're dealing with really simple software) if you had removed the talented individuals from the original implementation, the software would have never gotten written in the first place. I've never seen a group of mediocre programmers capable of producing a reasonably complicated piece of software all by themselves. And I've seen many groups of mediocre programmers try.

So I'm sticking with my original response. Yes, you do need outstandingly talented programmers to be involved in the implementation. But you *also* need outstandingly talented managers to ensure that they are creating a highly maintainable product. (In some cases you have one person that can handle both of these tasks, but in all but the smallest projects this is rare.)

QUOTE(Friday @ Tue 29th September 2009, 4:21pm) *

If you're writing code that other people can't maintain, chances are you're not exceptionally talented [...]


Quite true.

QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 4:39pm) *

I've never seen a group of mediocre programmers capable of producing a reasonably complicated piece of software all by themselves. And I've seen many groups of mediocre programmers try.


So, to get back on topic, in all likelihood Brion is a great programmer. But in my opinion he was a terrible CTO.
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Somey
post Tue 29th September 2009, 5:05pm
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QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 11:41am) *
So I'm sticking with my original response. Yes, you do need outstandingly talented programmers to be involved in the implementation. But you *also* need outstandingly talented managers to ensure that they are creating a highly maintainable product. (In some cases you have one person that can handle both of these tasks, but in all but the smallest projects this is rare.)

This is all true, but even the most "talented" managers will always tell you that they can't succeed without plenty of time, adequate funding (which really means staffing), and upper-level management support. (Some degree of organizational autonomy is also nice, though arguably non-essential.) If there's a customer involved, it also helps to have a good liaison person with the customer - I myself have been burned more than once by that problem.

IMO, those things are quite often what separates the "talented" managers from the untalented ones. Managing projects is fairly easy when you have the right infrastructure in place, particularly people who are willing to do what they're asked to do, without your having to yell at them or threaten to fire them.

QUOTE
So, to get back on topic, in all likelihood Brion is a great programmer. But in my opinion he was a terrible CTO.

So will they hire an actual CTO to replace him? That would probably cost more than hiring someone out of the WP/MediaWiki "community" who has little management experience and just needs a better job. I'd be surprised if they do that, quite frankly.
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dogbiscuit
post Tue 29th September 2009, 5:11pm
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QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 5:41pm) *

Given "dogbiscuit"'s explanation that his experience is "in digging companies out of the mess outstandingly talented people have dug themselves into", I think I see where he's coming from. But I'd venture a guess that in most situations (unless you're dealing with really simple software) if you had removed the talented individuals from the original implementation, the software would have never gotten written in the first place. I've never seen a group of mediocre programmers capable of producing a reasonably complicated piece of software all by themselves. And I've seen many groups of mediocre programmers try.

Oh, you don't try and get away with mediocre, you need good, just not God-like. Basic professionalism.
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anthony
post Tue 29th September 2009, 5:40pm
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QUOTE(Somey @ Tue 29th September 2009, 5:05pm) *

QUOTE
So, to get back on topic, in all likelihood Brion is a great programmer. But in my opinion he was a terrible CTO.

So will they hire an actual CTO to replace him? That would probably cost more than hiring someone out of the WP/MediaWiki "community" who has little management experience and just needs a better job. I'd be surprised if they do that, quite frankly.


I thought that was their plan even before he announced he was quitting.

Whoever they choose will still be under Sue and/or Erik, though, so unless they're really good *and* really bold, not much is likely to change.

I'd expect someone at about the competence level of Sue, which would be somewhere in between someone out of the community and someone who can do things right.

This post has been edited by anthony: Tue 29th September 2009, 5:46pm
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Kelly Martin
post Tue 29th September 2009, 5:52pm
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QUOTE(anthony @ Tue 29th September 2009, 11:41am) *
So, to get back on topic, in all likelihood Brion is a great programmer. But in my opinion he was a terrible CTO.
Concur. The skills that make someone an excellent programmer do not in any way translate to being an excellent CTO. Someone who excels at both does so by dint of being skilled at two different things, and one doesn't really predict the other (except insomuch as general intelligence is a baseline requirement for either).

I made a bid for the Wikimedia CTO position back in 2006/7 (before I realized the depths of Jimbo's dislike for me, and also Erik's), and it was hard for people in the WMF to wrap their heads around the idea that Brion could be an absolute genius with PHP and Squid and such and yet be subject to criticism for his poor handling of things like budget and manpower management. As an example, at that time, mainly because of lazy negotiating, they were paying at least 80% more for IP transit than they should have been. Given that at the time, IP transit were something like 25% of the budget, this is pretty much unacceptable incompetence.

Then again, this is the organization that used the services of a biologist as its CFO for over two years.

QUOTE(Somey @ Tue 29th September 2009, 12:05pm) *
So will they hire an actual CTO to replace him? That would probably cost more than hiring someone out of the WP/MediaWiki "community" who has little management experience and just needs a better job. I'd be surprised if they do that, quite frankly.
No, they'll hire some old crony of Sue's (or maybe Erik's) who has something resembling IT experience and is in need of a job. And who, in all likelihood, will be Canadian.
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anthony
post Tue 29th September 2009, 5:58pm
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QUOTE(Kelly Martin @ Tue 29th September 2009, 5:52pm) *

Then again, this is the organization that used the services of a biologist as its CFO for over two years.


Is that who it was who took a linear plot of year-by-year hardware *purchases* (not even factoring in useful life) to guesstimate future hardware needs? I remember arguing with whoever that was.

QUOTE(Kelly Martin @ Tue 29th September 2009, 5:52pm) *

QUOTE(Somey @ Tue 29th September 2009, 12:05pm) *
So will they hire an actual CTO to replace him? That would probably cost more than hiring someone out of the WP/MediaWiki "community" who has little management experience and just needs a better job. I'd be surprised if they do that, quite frankly.
No, they'll hire some old crony of Sue's (or maybe Erik's) who has something resembling IT experience and is in need of a job. And who, in all likelihood, will be Canadian.


LOL. I don't know if that is more perfectly hilarious or more perfectly true, but it certainly has aspects of both.
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Milton Roe
post Tue 29th September 2009, 7:16pm
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QUOTE(Friday @ Tue 29th September 2009, 9:21am) *

If you're writing code that other people can't maintain, chances are you're not exceptionally talented, but rather an egotistical control freak.

Or you have poor communications skills, which is far more common. Clear English annotation about "what I'm doing right here" can save anything, but you can't always get the coder to write it in any way that can be understood when he or she is not there. This is really the same technical writing problem as in any technical documentation. The expert who is doing the job is not necessarily the best person to explain it to others, but coding is one place where you need to, right at the same time, or else.
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dogbiscuit
post Tue 29th September 2009, 9:51pm
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QUOTE(Milton Roe @ Tue 29th September 2009, 8:16pm) *

coding is one place where you need to right at the same time, or else.

tongue.gif

MediaWiki has the classic syndrome of copious comments for the obvious - when things are going well and life is but a cut'n'paste - and then when things get tricky, we are left with "Don't change those double quotes back to single quotes because it breaks things" (with a few other "I don't know when this cariable gets set, so I've got to have this bit of code here").

Good coding needs very little comments because you use long, awkward, unambiguous self-explanatory variables and procedure names, and rely on the editor to do the typing for you (Visual Studio is a dream).

I lived through the James Martin Workbench phase, where it became abundantly apparent that if you wanted code, you needed to write code, and all the bluff about turning analysis into code simply meant you had highly paid analysts writing code (or worse, end users*).


*At a Leeds hosptital, IBM were facing Oracle. IBM were selling their good ol' American package, not a great fit but good enough; Oracle were selling a database, plus a load of ticks in the boxes of "can it do this that and the other?" because, as a database it could be programmed to do anything - in this case, the ultimate healthcare "expert system". I pointed out that Oracle were making nurses and doctors programmers, and the lack of wisdom of this, when they had real jobs to do - and they were not trained to recognise the implications of coding up a system.
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