Perhaps the Most Valuable Rare Commodity

most valuable commodity refined codeIf you arrived here looking for a sure bet investment, read on. If you are here looking for insight into software development, read on. If you know nothing about the software development sector then I don’t know how/why you are here but feel free to read on also.

  1. remove impurities or unwanted elements from (a substance), typically as part of an industrial process.

Gold is worth more the more pure it becomes. The process of purifying precious metals, or plain metals, even crude oil is called “refining”.

People not familiar with the source of their gasoline may be surprised to learn that crude oil requires significant work to morph from the tar black sludge that it starts as to what ends up in our gas (petrol for you European chaps) tanks.

What very few have discovered, despite so much evidence, is that there is a refining process that is every bit as valuable as any of those processes mentioned above. It is why every significantly new software package that Microsoft releases takes longer and longer for consumers to accept. Even with it being forced on them via OEM agreements. It is why Tim Cook had to write this embarrassing letter about Apple maps:, and it’s why the ACA (aka Obamacare per his request) websites have cost tax payers over $5,000,000,000 (that’s billion) and still don’t work as advertised.

What is this rare and precious commodity? It’s simple, but illusive. It is refined program code.

Last week I was at a client site as a director repeated for me the mantra of Gartner Group about how a corporation should specialize and rely on outsourcing for services that are not part of their “core competencies”.  It’s a popular executive summary that sounds great – to executives. “If you’re not in the cookie business, then don’t try to make cookies. Buy them elsewhere.” As he was explaining how this applied to his organization, how outsourcing their help desk improved his department, a little gray haired director from another department abruptly interrupted us,  pointed at him and said with a Texas accent: “I need you;” and as she pointed across the quadruplex cubicle community she continued: “and you…” Then they all were gone. As they walked away I heard her explaining that they were going to go fix the access level of some 4th participant in this real-time demonstration of how a large portion of the supposedly “outsourced” services get accomplished. The old fashioned way, by still doing it himself. New alias: Director Help-Desk.

When I was a teenager several of my aunts and uncles got involved in selling these small egg shaped balls that looked sort of like a cross between a Cadbury easter treat and a blue freezer block. For just $20 you could toss this in your wash machine and never need detergent again. Or at least for 3-12 months depending on which relative I was talking to.



  1. the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust.

There’s a big hint above, but wanna venture a guess where the word “con” comes from? Any decent salesman knows that they don’t need to sell a product so much as they’ve got to sell themselves. They have to make the customer feel confident and so long as they accomplish that then the customer can tolerate a lot of disappointment. Needless to say, those goofy little smurf eggs didn’t work at all. The water never foamed. From what I could tell the blue liquid inside it had no way to get out. All the cons managed to sell us on was that washing our clothes with water was sufficient. For those that wanted to believe. For those that had confidence in their salesmen… for them the musty smell couldn’t be their jeans.

This problem isn’t isolated to outsourcing. It extends into OTS (off-the-shelf) software quite naturally. “Does it do ______?” Salesman: “Of course it does!” If you have the gull to ask whether it does it well you may get a more honest answer, if the salesman is indeed honest.

You see, the illusion that tens of thousands of executives, directors, and politicians live with day in and day out is that if they pay more they get more. However cons and salesmen alike know that that confidence is easily misplaced. That it can be quite easy to gain large sums of money for very little in return so long as those aforementioned executives are “confident”.

There is some good country-boy wisdom that applies here: “you don’t get something for nothing…” Oh, wait… that’s not it, it goes more like: “money can’t buy everything.” OK, well, maybe you’ll have to combine the two, because even hicks like me know that spending a lot for a lame horse, or a broken down truck, is foolish. Only in the world of software development could the term “something” really be stretched to such a degree that it becomes intangible.

Actually, the hick in me is reminded of all kinds of quotes: “Jack of all trades, master of none.” … Or, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” … However, in software development I see all of these ignored on a daily basis. Absolutely no amount of money can buy wisdom, nor can it buy good software without that software being refined by real-world use.

Once you have your “Windows XP” after 10 years and more than a billion users, you cannot easily toss it aside and start over. Not without having a Windows Me, and a Windows Vista, and perhaps more costly and embarrassing failures. Most software customers are guinea pigs. The more niche their “core competency” the more likely that they’ll pay more, stay longer, and and go further than they budgeted for with the vendor they put their CONfidence in.

Simply nothing beats refined software, and if you’re operating in a niche field, with specific requirements, and custom needs, then the absolutely most wise investment you could ever make is in acquiring a talented software developer to catch your vision and build your tools.  To refine them daily as the days require and ultimately perfect them just in time for another “Gartner Group” to come along and tell you how you should be paying for their services, and their premium vendors for their services, or else you’re not “realizing your full potential”. No conflict of interest here though, hundreds of companies are CONfident in them…

You may believe that by refined I may be referring to some of those same OTS products that Gartner recommends. However the term refined does not only mean perfecting a product, but it means focusing it, “cutting the crap” if you don’t mind my inner redneck interjecting one last time. There is little refined about Swiss-army-knife software tools. You don’t need a screwdriver to cut a string. Or some scissors to remove a screw.

So the next time you hear someone attempt to sell you the “core-competencies” line while marketing a one-size-fits-all software package. Just as they reveal the bargain 6-7 figure price tag remember this: you know better than they do what you need. You know your “core competencies” and unless the software is written specifically for that purpose then they’re selling you a truck load of ore for the price of gold. Then don’t be surprised that yet again the next 5-10 years of depreciation consist of seemingly endless frustration at the fact that neither you nor your software vendor are experts at refining ore. Then consider carefully how far that 7 figures (now doubled due to unforeseen “scope creep”) could have gone if you’d just hired your own one-man software refinery in the first place.