Beyond Code as Craft: Chapter One


The team of engineers at Etsy, on their blog Code as Craft, espouse a method of software development they compare to the way a cathedral might have been constructed in the Middle Ages:

Each took thousands of person-years of effort, spread over many decades. Lessons learned were passed down to the next set of builders, who advanced the state of structural engineering with their accomplishments. But the carpenters, stonecutters, carvers, and glass workers were all craftspeople, interpreting the engineering requirements to produce a whole that transcended the purely mechanical side of the construction. It was their belief in their individual contributions that sustained the projects: We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.

That’s all well and good. But say you have an idea for a web app: for example, a site that will let people essentially start their own businesses by uploading their wares and selling them to whoever is interested. And you need to develop this idea, and you hold the philosophy above dear to your heart. How do you motivate engineers to see themselves as master craftsmen? According to Bloomberg Businessweek, you give new employees stipends to decorate their offices, hire a chef to prepare meals with locally-sourced ingredients, and let dogs roam around (how cute!)

Or look at Rap Genius, mentioned in the same article: every new employee there gets $1,000 a day, can take unlimited vacations, has access to unlimited free Seamless and Fresh Direct, as well as a shower, a gym, and a laundry room. From the business side of things, very, very few people with ideas for apps have the kind of infrastructure and money required to support this kind of work: the coddling, luxury style that so many hip new start ups seem almost obliged to provide if they’re going to attract talented work.



Now, starting at ground zero, what’s the first step to turning your mock-up for an app into a real, shippable product? For many people, it’s finding a co-founder, someone who understands the scope of your project and can do the work of coding it. Which raises the question: how do I find that person? Wolfgang Bremer, German designer, entrepreneur and co-founder of an online service for (the irony is impeccable) finding co-founders, says, “I’m constantly going to these startup events, meetups, and tech talks… however, I often notice that always the same people seem to go there. And they’re going there to find a co-founder for their own idea. So very rarely there’s actually a potential co-founder available. And that sucks.”

It sure does. It’s really easy to see this first-hand, especially if you live in New York City. You can even go to parts of Brooklyn that were basically war-zones in the 1970s, and today, the sidewalks outside bars are full of people on Friday and Saturday nights scoping out potential partners for their new idea. Why bars in particular? Three reasons. One, because that’s where like-minded people congregate, and where you might be more likely to find your perfect fellow traveler. Two, because start ups need to be cool, right? And three, because people in bars are tipsy and susceptible.

A clip from HBO’s Silicon Valley illustrates the importance of culture perfectly. Here, the group of pals living together and working on a sound compression app experience their first taste of project management.

What the boys had before Scrum was not culture, but waste. It’s wasteful to run silly pranks like the one they do while they should be working, yes, but more importantly, it’s wasteful for two engineers to both be working on the same project independently because there was no communication protocol in place.

But there is another way to do things. And in this five-part series, we’re going to draw it out in detail: how to build an app, how to get your idea off the ground and out the door, without any free massages or unlimited Seamless or 20% time. It’s called Code as Cards.

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