Hitting the High Notes

By Deane Barker on July 26, 2005

Hitting the High Notes: Spolsky has written another winner. He runs all over the place with this one, but hits on a very important point: the cost of quality in software is inversely propotional to units sold.

This isn’t true of manufacturing. To make a more quality car, it costs you $x extra per car, making the cost of quality directly proportional to units sold.

But if you spend more on a programmer, make quality software, and then sell that software a million times, the the quality built-in to the software didn’t cost you $x times a million, it cost you $x divided by a million. So cost per unit goes down the more you sell.

So, why isn’t there room in the software industry for a low cost provider, someone who uses the cheapest programmers available? (Remind me to ask Quark how that whole fire-everybody-and-hire-low-cost-replacements plan is working.)

Here’s why: duplication of software is free. That means that the cost of programmers is spread out over all the copies of the software you sell. With software, you can improve quality without adding to the incremental cost of each unit sold.

Essentially, design adds value faster than it adds cost.

He also reiterates the concept of the Mythical Man Month. You could have a legion of Deane Barkers, and would never turn out a Linux Kernel like one Linus Torvalds would. Why? Because Deane Barker can never “hit the high notes” like Linus Tovalds can. High notes like — oh, I don’t know — running a C compiler.

It’s a good read. Spolsky is always a good read.