I've got a friend who does IT at a local non-profit where they're using a custom web application which is no longer supported by the company who built it. (out of business, support was too expensive, I'm not sure...) Development on this app started around 10+ years ago so the technologies being harnessed are pretty out of date now - classic asp using vbscript and SQL Server 2000. The application domain is in the realm of government bookkeeping - so even though the development team is long gone, there are often new requirements of this software. Enter the...
The domain expert. This is an middle aged accounting whiz without much (or any?) prior development experience. He studied the pages, code and queries and learned how to ape the style of the original team which, believe me, is mediocre at best. He's very clever and very tenacious but has no experience in software beyond what he's picked up from this app. Otherwise, he's a pleasant guy to talk to and definitely knows his domain.
My friend in IT, and probably his superiors in the company, want him out of the code. They view him as wasting his expertise on coding tasks he shouldn't be doing. My friend got me involved with a few small contracts which I handled without much problem - other than somewhat of a communication barrier with the domain expert. He explained the requirements very quickly, assuming prior knowledge of the domain which I do not have. This is partially his normal style, and I think maybe a bit of resentment from my involvement. So, I think he feels like the owner of the code and has entrenched himself in a development position.
So... his coding technique. One of his latest endeavors was to make a page that only he could reach (theoretically - the security model for the system is wretched) where he can enter a raw SQL query, run it, and save the query to run again later. A report that I worked on had been originally implemented by him using 6 distinct queries, 3 or 4 temp tables to coordinate the data between the queries, and the final result obtained by importing the data from the final query into Access and doing a pivot and some formatting. It worked - well, some of the results were incorrect - but at what a cost! (I implemented the report in a single query with at least 1/10th the amount of code.) He edits code in notepad. He doesn't seem to know about online reference material for the languages. I recently read an article on Dr. Dobbs titled "What Makes Bad Programmers Different" - and instantly thought of our domain expert. From the article:
- Their code is large, messy, and bug laden.
- They have very superficial knowledge of their
problem domain andtheir tools.
- Their code has a lot of copy/paste and they have very little interest in techniques that reduce it.
- The fail to account for edge cases, while inefficiently dealing with the general case.
- They never have time to comment their code or break it into smaller pieces.
- Empirical evidence plays
nolittle role in their decisions.
5.5 out of 6.
My friend is wanting me to argue the case to their management - specifically, I got this email from their manager to respond to:
...Also, I need to talk to you about what effect there is from Domain Expert continuing to make edits to the live environment. If that is a problem for you I need to know so I can have his access blocked. Some examples would help.
In my opinion, from a technical standpoint, it's dangerous to have him making changes without any oversight.
On the other hand, I'm just doing one-off contracts at this point and don't have much desire to get involved deeply enough that I'm essentially arguing as one of the Bobs from Office Space. I'd like to help my friend out - but I feel like I'm getting in the middle of a political battle.
More importantly - if I do get involved and suggest that his editing privileges be removed, it needs to be handled carefully so that doesn't feel belittled. He is beyond a doubt the foremost expert on this system.
I'm hoping this is familiar territory for some other stackechangers, because I'm feeling a little bewildered. How should I respond? Should I argue that he shouldn't be allowed to touch the code? Should I phrase it as "no single developer, no matter how experienced, should be working on production code unchecked"? Should I argue to keep him involved with the code, but with a review process? Should I say "glad I could help, but uh, I'm busy now!" Other options?
Thanks a bunch!