The Parable of the Two Programmers
The Parable of the two Programmers
Neil W. Rickert
Dept. of Math, Stat., and Computer Science,
University of Illinois at Chicago.
Once upon a time, unbeknownst to each other, the "Automated Accounting
Applications Association" and the "Consolidated Computerized Capital Corpora-
tion" decided that they needed the identical program to perform a certain ser-
Automated hired a programmer-analyst, Alan, to solve their problem.
Meanwhile, Consolidated decided to ask a newly hired entry-level program-
mer, Charles, to tackle the job, to see if he was as good as he pretended.
Alan, having had experience in difficult programming projects, decided to
use the PQR structured design methodology. With this in mind he asked his
department manager to assign another three programmers as a programming team.
Then the team went to work, churning out preliminary reports and problem ana-
Back at Consolidated, Charles spent some time thinking about the problem.
His fellow employees noticed that Charles often sat with his feet on the desk,
drinking coffee. He was occasionally seen at his computer terminal, but his
office mate could tell from the rhythmic striking of keys that he was actually
playing Space Invaders.
By now, the team at Automated was starting to write code. The programmers
were spending about half their time writing and compiling code, and the rest of
their time in conference, discussing the interfaces between the various modules.
His office mate noticed that Charles had finally given up on Space
Invaders. Instead he now divided his time between drinking coffee with his feet
on the table, and scribbling on little scraps of paper. His scribbling didn't
seem to be Tic Tac Toe, but it didn't exactly make much sense, either.
Two months have gone by. The team at Automated finally releases an imple-
mentation timetable. In another two months they will have a test version of the
program. Then a two month period of testing and enhancing should yield a com-
The manager of Charles has by now tired of seeing him goof off. He decides
to confront him. But as he walks into Charles's office, he is surprised to see
Charles busy entering code at his terminal. He decides to postpone the confron-
tation, so makes some small talk then leaves. However, he begins to keep a
closer watch on Charles, so that when the opportunity presents itself he can
confront him. Not looking forward to an unpleasant conversation, he is pleased
to notice that Charles seems to be busy most of the time. He has even been see
to delay his lunch, and to stay after work two or three days a week.
At the end of three months, Charles announces he has completed the project.
He submits a 500 line program. The program appears to be clearly written, and
when tested it does everything required in the specifications. In fact it even
has a few additional convenience features which might significantly improve the
usability of the program. The program is put into test, and, except for one
quickly corrected oversight, performs well.
The team at Automated has by now completed two of the four major modules
required for their program. These modules are now undergoing testing while the
other modules are completed.
After another three weeks, Alan announces that the preliminary version is
ready one week ahead of schedule. He supplies a list of the deficiencies that he
expects to correct. The program is placed under test. The users find a number of
bugs and deficiencies, other than those listed. As Alan explains, this is no
surprise. After all this is a preliminary version in which bugs were expected.
After about two more months, the team has completed its production version
of the program. It consists of about 2,500 lines of code. When tested it seems
to satisfy most of the original specifications. It has omitted one or two
features, and is very fussy about the format of its input data. However the
company decides to install the program. They can always train their data-entry
staff to enter data in the strict format required. The program is handed over
to some maintenance programmers to eventually incorporate the missing features.
At first Charles's supervisor was impressed. But as he read through the
source code, he realized that the project was really much simpler than he had
originally though. It now seemed apparent that this was not much of a challenge
even for a beginning programmer.
Charles did produce about 5 lines of code per day. This is perhaps a little
above average. However, considering the simplicity of the program, it was noth-
ing exceptional. Also his supervisor remembered his two months of goofing off.
At his next salary review Charles was given a raise which was about half
the inflation over the period. He was not given a promotion. After about a year
he became discouraged and left Consolidated.
At Automated, Alan was complimented for completing his project on schedule.
His supervisor looked over the program. With a few minutes of thumbing through
he saw that the company standards about structured programming were being
observed. He quickly gave up attempting to read the program however; it seemed
quite incomprehensible. He realized by now that the project was really much more
complex than he had originally assumed, and he congratulated Alan again on his
The team had produced over 3 lines of code per programmer per day. This was
about average, but, considering the complexity of the problem, could be con-
sidered to be exceptional. Alan was given a hefty pay raise, and promoted to
Systems Analyst as a reward for his achievement.
March 20, 1985
german translation has been provided by Volker Grabsch.