How we used to do it

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The project was already overbudget and overdue. I suppose that's quite a few projects, sadly, but this one was pretty bad. We were on mandatory 12 hour days and tempers were short. We were also instructed to pair on everything to keep things moving forward, but I was paired with someone who had a reputation for being difficult.

I can't count the number of times we were working on some part of the project, throwing out a few ideas, doing a little brainstorming, and then I'd hear those oh so familiar words - well, how we used to do it at my last company...

It's how arguments were ended.. and sometimes how they began. Somehow along the way, this individual had taken one development experience at one previous company and adopted the Mandalorian mantra.

If it was the first time I'd seen it, I'd think it was just one person who set his previous experience as the bar against which everything and everyone after it should be set. And then decided to bludgeon everyone over the head with it. But it wasn't.

There was this manager at a different company (a dev in some previous life) that ended discussions the same way. "Well, how we did it at xyz was..." Except unlike my coworker, the manager had the last say on most matters which was more damaging to the team. Quite a few good ideas met their untimely end no doubt.

Don't get me wrong, our value as developers includes our cumulative previous experience. We make mistakes, stumble into pitfalls, find good and bad patterns - and we learn from it all. Like the code we check in, our approach and techniques change and improve, and we should pass it along. Every experience adds something new - but no experience should cap everything off.

It's normal to occasionally think, "oh hey, I solved a problem like this before" and share it. It's not normal to do that in every situation all the time, especially using the same example. I mean, if that were even possible, a person could just write a book titled "how to do everything the one right way" and retire.

Why do people end up there? Is it over (or under) confidence? Do they tend to oversimplify issues or just latch on to the first solution that pops in their head? Is it a fragile ego that needs to win the argument more than find the best solution? Whatever it is, it hurts the team and the product.

What do you do if it happens to you? I'd say talk to your manager about it, but if it is your manager, well... that's tough. It's not to say a person like that can't produce results, but if they're shutting down every discussion the same way, then they're probably not great results. They might change on their own. Or it might just be time to look for someone else to work for.


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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