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There is little doubt that organic farming is the right way to farm – how could it be otherwise? Organic farming does not rely on toxic input anywhere in the production chain and results in a product that is better, healthier and more natural for consumers. Even though it is practiced on a smaller scale, organic farming is gaining market share of a discerning consumer where the invisible aspects of the end product are considered superior.

The software craftsmanship movement is a lot like organic farming – a well crafted, testable, separated solution using patterns, practices, tools and conventions understood by all software craftsmen is, without a doubt, the right way to build software.

Organic farmers are probably, in a way, better farmers than their inorganic counterparts. An appreciation for the entire ecosystem is required to fight off parasites and disease – wild plants are encouraged around fields to keep vermin away and livestock roam free over sparsely populated lands to fend of the diseases associated with being cooped up. Inorganic farmers, while having to understand more about the science of high intensity farming and all the products and equipment available on the market, have less of a need to understand the holistic natural environment.

Likewise, the self-proclaimed members of the software craftsmanship movement are generally (and on average) better developers than their cubicle bound corporate counterparts. These developers spend personal time learning new languages, techniques and patterns – continuously improving their skills and pushing their own craftsmanship. While a corporate developer may tinker with the latest tool demonstrated by the product vendor after sipping the (possibly toxic) Kool-aid, the software craftsman with pick apart and debate with his peers while pointing out that the already available open source framework is superior anyway.

Inorganic farmers would scoff at the thought of being considered less of a farmer than their organic counterparts – after all, there is nothing trivial about managing a highly mechanised farm covering thousands of hectares. They would rightly argue that there is more to inorganic farming than taking a soil sample to a lab and matching it up with barrels of chemicals. Inorganic farmers will also point out that organic farming, on its own, cannot cater to the needs of the market – billions of people need to be fed and often this needs to be done in an environment that has substandard land fertility, erratic weather patterns downright nasty bugs. Besides, organic farming is slow (land needs to lie fallow) and risky (disease can wipe out entire crops).

Corporate developers, while acknowledging and sometimes holding in high regard the software craftsmen, are fairly convinced that the pure approach advocated does not work in their environment. Corporate developers have legacy systems, tight deadlines, users who want nothing more than a spreadsheet and, unfortunately, an entire multinational corporation that is fairly dismissive of the IT cost centre – where individual ability is less important than vendor position in Gartner’s magic quadrant. Corporate developers have a special set of needs that have less to do with quality of the end product than budgets, quarters, politics, non-coding architects, committees, fascist data centre operators and a whole bunch of stuff that renders code quality, maintainability and craftsmanship quaint and somewhat pointless.

The biggest argument against organic farming is the cost. Luckily discerning consumers are being educated and becoming prepared to pay a premium for not being unwittingly poisoned, but the cost of producing a certain quality of product with available resources is always going to be higher than the inorganic counterpart.

Writing good software is complex and hard and therefore expensive. Although elite developers will be able to churn it out quickly, the effort and skill is too high for your average corporate development shop. While in the long run this may be toxic (costly) for their employers, the application needs to get out the door today and paid for in this quarter so a bit of junk food may be in order. After all, things can be detoxified later when the application is rewritten.

I don’t know this for certain, but I am sure that organic farmers hang out at organic farmers markets (or wherever they hang out) and lament the upgrade of their favourite seed spreader to double as a (shock, horror) pesticide spreader. “John Deer has gone evil” they will say, “What an epic fail! John Deer should encourage people to do organic farming”.

The developers who hang out in corners of the Internet flaming the latest offerings, betas and blog posts from large vendors are not ‘better’ developers than everyone else, nor are they ‘elite’. They are organic developers that are trying to make the software world a better, safer and less toxic place for us all. The organic developers also forget, occasionally, the tools, equipment, skills and arability of the corporate or casual development environment that is not interested, or ready, to fully embrace organic development.

As a consumer, if I tried to only buy organic food I would limit my choices and be hindered by cost so I am glad to have both and hope that the big commercial farmers are gradually learning some of the lessons learned in organic farming.

Simon Munro

@simonmunro

Disclaimer: I was brought up on small farms and can milk a cow and plough a field, but I don’t claim to know much about farming – organic or otherwise. Please do not take farming advice from a developer.

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