Practical Technology

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Managing Developers 101


We all use PHP in our enterprises. It’s become the do-it-all language of choice for Web developers, from the smallest companies to the Fortune 500 and back again. However, PHP — which has been called “the one programming language that makes German look terse” — has problems with scalability. It is all too easy to write sloppy code that never-the-less works well enough to be rolled out.

Of course, as Luke Welling, Web Team Lead at Message Systems, a digital messaging management company and co-author of the “Bible” of commercial PHP/MySQL programming, PHP and MySQL Web Development, pointed out at an OSCON seminar in Portland, OR, that’s true of many corporate programming projects.

So what can you, as IT management, do about this? Well, for starters, Welling suggested that managers fight the attitude that sloppy programming is acceptable because IT can always “throw more and faster processors” at any performance problem. Sometimes, you can’t fix performance problems with hardware. You need to convince developers and their team leaders that writing to the minimum hardware requirements, rather than the maximum, is the smart thing to do.

You also need to fight the common programmer perception that all production code is temporary. This starts with the basics. Welling observed that many developers don’t even believe that the language or dialect they’re writing in is still going to be used in production systems in a few years. Wrong! According to Welling, the idea that “PHP code is going to hang around is not a crazy idea. Programming languages hang around for a very long time, as the COBOL programmers who were pulled out of retirement to deal with the Year 2000 bug found out.”

More specifically, you must convince programmers and their team leads that “No, the code you dash off today won’t be replaced properly next year. Unless the code causes real issues today there will never be time to replace it in the future.” Welling believes that “Inertia is powerful, platform changes are harder, rewrites are harder still, and people get stuck in their ways.” So encourage developers to get it right, or righter anyway, the first time.

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