mbarker (mbarker) wrote,

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It Costs Too Much!

About 15 years ago now, I happened to be talking with a manager who really was not a software type at all. He was explaining a problem that really bothered him, having to collect a bunch of numbers and information, and then do some calculations on it. I listened to him complain, scratched my head a little bit, and said, "Would you like my group to put something together to help with that?"

At the time, I was leading a software development group. We were doing webpages, servers, all that kind of stuff. Frankly, what he was talking about sounded like an easy little project for the team. Probably a web-based form, a tiny bit of calculation, and then provide the results.

He glared at me and said, "No way. I know programmers, it'll cost a fortune!"

I said, "Wait a minute? Just how often do you do this, and how hard is it?"

"We do it every week, and it takes my secretary a day or two every time. But you're going to charge me a fortune to do it in software!"

Then he stalked away, offended that I had offered to take the burden of this job that he complained about, and apparently dumped on his secretary, and turn it into something that the computer would do. Even if it did seem tailor-made for a software solution.

I actually asked my team about doing this. They thought about it, and said the form would take maybe a day, the calculations no more than that. So probably two days of work, or as they put it, "In the worst case, one-man week."

Given that a programmer gets paid better than a secretary, it still doesn't make sense to me. Yes, the secretary can do it, but… 4 to 8 days a month of her time? Even if the programmer is paid four times what the secretary makes, in four months, we're even. And in a year? 52 to 104 days of secretary time versus 5 days of programmer time?

Of course, today, faced with that same problem, I would probably use a Google form, feeding into a Google spreadsheet. Two hours of work to put it together and test it? If that?

Yep, it costs too much. To keep wasting the secretary's time doing simple, repetitious work that a computer can do quite easily.
Tags: software engineering
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