What is the difference between a developer and a programmer?

In my mind, developers have skills that are a superset of the skills of a programmer.

Programmers:

  • understand how software works
  • think about the best way to solve problems they are presented with
  • write good code
  • learn new techniques, languages and manners of creating software
  • write documentation
  • write tests

Developers:

  • do all of the above
  • work with the business to define requirements
  • test beyond basic unit tests, up to and including user acceptance testing
  • understand basic system administration
  • do basic database tuning
  • deploy software and solutions
  • can do some UX design
  • can manipulate graphics
  • support and maintain what they’ve written

In other words, developers can span the gamut of needs–they are jack of all trades.  Not all positions are fit for developers because they can be a mile wide and an inch deep, but in general having someone who can handle the entire software lifecycle is more useful in more situations than having someone who is handed a spec and can crank out code.

(Note that I’ve never worked in a huge company for longer than a few months, so perhaps that is where programmers are more useful.)


How do you decide to pull the plug on a project?

Over the past six months, I’ve been involved with two projects that, to put it politely, didn’t go exactly as planned.

Project A was cancelled, after a significant amount of preparatory work had been done, and project B was just released, after a much more significant amount of effort was expended.

What caused one to be cancelled and the other to be continued?

  • Timing: A had a tight schedule, with a deadline that made sense from the business’ perspective.  When it became clear that the deadline would be missed, cancellation was a logical option.  B had goals but no deadline, which made it harder to make a go/no go decision
  • Risk: A required some server rejiggering that would have made it extremely difficult to roll back.  B, on the other hand, would have been a simple software re-release to roll back to previous, somewhat working, software.
  • Business impact: A was a ‘nice to have’ project, whereas B was addressing something that had caused employees and users pain for years.
  • Sunk costs: A had fewer sunk costs than B, which paradoxically made it easier to cancel (paradoxically, because you should not consider sunk costs when looking at an investment).

What is the difference between pushing through to finish a difficult project and polishing a turd that you really should abandon?  It’s a fine balance, and as project B dragged on, I wasn’t sure at times which path we were headed down.  As someone who loves to ship, it’s hard for me to give up on a project that I had a hand in building, but no business writes software in a vacuum, and those business needs can and do serve as valuable checkpoints on the software process.  Because of the huge business value, it made sense to push through on project B.

Sometimes business priorities change, or, as in the case of project A, deadlines impose a different set of priorities (beyond the purely technical).

Regardless, I think that the more I consider any projects I have dragging on through the lenses of timing, risk, return and sunk costs, the easier it will be to make a go/no go decision.


Real estate public records data sources

If you are looking for public records data sources (deeds, sales transactions, assessor records) in an electronic format, you have four options.  Normally this data is kept at the county level, so there haven’t been too many companies that have rolled it up into a nationwide database.  Even for the companies that have, there are timing and data integrity issues that you should be aware of before you commit.

I listed options here because I had to do some digging to find them, and wanted to spare you that.

First, here are some possible solutions that don’t work.

So, what are your four options?

  1. If you are focused on a narrow geographic area, or want to take on a huge project, you can contact each county and see if they have an offering.  I contacted one local county and they wanted $700 for a CD of assessor data.  This has some obvious downsides, but may be enough for your needs.  (I expect some counties won’t offer electronic versions, but that is speculation.)
  2. Core Logic
  3. Data Quick
  4. LPS SiteX

In the latter three cases, you want to call and ask to talk to someone about ‘public record licensing’ if you want to do anything interesting with the data (remix it, aggregate it, display it to your customers, etc).  Public record licensing is not as straighforward as MLS IDX data licensing (and that is saying something!).  It looks like each deal is semi-custom.

You’ll want to speak to a sales representative for full details like pricing, update timing and geographic coverage.  Hope this helps!



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