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The Product of One's Labor

Three years ago, I left the world of consulting to join a small start-up. Our 10-12 person company was purchased by 360Commerce a year later, during which I stayed on as a contractor for twelve more months developing the same software (a small piece of a now larger pie) before leaving for another job. Our development team was never greater than 5-6 people, and we worked in a pretty close-knit environment. A few months ago, it was announced that 360Commerce was itself being purchased by Oracle. As goes 360, so does my old team.

Lost in the news of this latest acquisition is the small detail that the software I worked on is no longer considered a strategic piece of the new company's larger pie. Apparently it's being shelved. Even though I am no longer at that company, I still wonder what to make of it all..

A three year investment by 5-6 developers might be a drop in the bucket for a company the size of Oracle, but that investment does not count for the many small successes we had along the way, the discoveries we (as developers tied into the business) made along the way, and the speed with which we were able to extend the software to reflect changing business priorities throughout this period of time.

The news that our old code is effectively being shelved drives home the point that, as far as software development goes, we can not simply describe the product of our labor to be the software we produce-- because as this lesson teaches, its very existence is predicated on the belief that there is an immediate business need. And as that need changes, the software appears, evolves, and in some cases, dies.

It still doesn't take the sting out of hearing such news. For the unwary developer, this feels like destroying a house because the new owner doesn't think the bathroom fixtures are as nice as the ones in his other house.

All this said, I don't believe that the software developer needs to take a back seat to all of this. Even a year later, the core business concepts are still fresh in my mind. I still remember all the false-starts and wrong turns we made along the way-- but will I remember this in three years? Five years? What does it mean that I could write that piece of software all over again, better and faster knowing what I know now?

I don't doubt that three good developers and a single domain expert working a year could build something better than we had before. If I knew it could be sold, I'd be tempted to do it again and again. I'm sure that at some point in the game, I'll feel the same way about the software at my current company. And somewhere in the "doing it again and again" must be the true product of my labor. To distill that set of ideas, that nugget would be to create something which, in the end, drives all (good) software developers forward into another day of changing business requirements, false-starts and takeover bids.

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