Software guys have great sayings. This may be surprising to some since we don’t usually associate mastery of the spoken word with geekdom. Nonetheless, there are some gems out there and I’ve compiled a short list of my favorites. Enjoy!

“You can only have one baby in nine months no matter how many women you throw at it”

Meaning: This project will not be expedited by adding more resources to it.

One of the great battles in software is over the desire to add more people to get projects done faster. Of course, as Fred Brooks so aptly described in the Mythical Man Month, that is often impossible to do. Projects have a “natural” life cycle driven by the complexity of the feature and its dependencies on other parts of the system. Throwing more devs at it not only doesn’t help, it often hurts (this, by the way, is where the birthing analogy falls apart a little).

“It’s easy to fall into a pit, so make it a pit of success”

Meaning: make it easy for the user to do the right thing

When building software, you’re regularly faced with choices about how the thing should look and behave. At the same time, you usually have some kind of agenda you want to enforce (maintainability, etc). The trick is to make your software lead the user in the direction which helps enforce that agenda. For instance, say you want to allow flexibility of letting users enter free text descriptions, yet want them to reuse said descriptions. Well, adding some type of AJAXy lookup may help push them in the right direction.

“Don’t give them enough rope to hang themselves with”

Meaning: protect the user from inadvertently making a costly mistake

Some software lets you do things that can be really detrimental to you. For example, Windows lets users delete or rename critical system files, even though that might break the system. Yet most users have neither the need to do this nor the appreciation of the negative consequences it entails. In other words: “Rope, meet user. User, meet rope. User, have fun with rope, but try not to hurt yourself.”

“Eat your own dog food”

Meaning: use the product in daily work

The best way to understand how well your software works is to use it yourself. Granted, this isn’t always possible, but it can be a very powerful feedback mechanism. For example, Microsoft is famous for “dog-fooding” new versions of Windows and Office months before they hit the public at large <insert  snide comments about the quality of Microsoft products here>.

“That’s a smell”

Meaning: this thing I’m observing is an indication of a larger problem

Coined by Kent Back (and mentioned by Martin Fowler in his Refactoring book), this phrase is the geek version of “something is rotten in the state of Denmark“.

“This doesn’t mean what you think it means”

Meaning: You don’t know what you’re taking about

Few things offend a geek more than being accused of not knowing what he’s talking about, and that makes this phrase one of the great geek put-downs of all time. It also gets bonus points for being condescending and insulting, yet vaguely polite. Good stuff.

“This has a bus hit factor of one”

Meaning: Only one person knows how this actually works

Project managers love to quantify risk (they say it’s because it helps them formulate mitigation plans, but I suspect it’s because they’re worriers by nature). One common risk that comes up often starts with the following hypothetical: “Well, what happens if Bob got hit by a bus tomorrow? Would anyone else know what to do?”.

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This post got 3 comments so far. Care to add yours?

  1. Irina Muchnik says:

    To point #1: One women can have 2, 3 or more healthy viable babies in 9 month cycle, but it takes more then 1 women to maintain them.

  2. LOL…I’ve used all of these in my except for #2.

    However, with the last one, I’ve always tried to put a positive spin on it and calling it the lottery factor. 🙂

    Great list! It made my day.