Software development is a game of chance

April 29, 2008

Interesting article, Software Development Lessons Learned from Poker . I cut and pasted out sentences (and paraphrased in places) from the article to create a list of aphorisms  that would be a fitting way to summarize things: 

  • Read as many books as possible.
  • There truly is no replacement for experience.
  • This is because at it’s highest levels poker (and software development) is an art.
  • To become an average developer all you need is a catalog of best practices.
  • Almost no one is as good as they think they are.
  • You can’t claim you are an expert if you never met a real one.
  • Experts understand the bigger picture: working together ensures everyone gets paid.
  • Having metrics is good, but professionals know which metrics are important, which are simply noise, and which fall somewhere in between.
  • You don’t play the cards, you play the person.
  • Domain experts hold all the knowledge, but it’s inefficient for them to try to give you all that domain knowledge up front.
  • Average poker players are better off in poker games that provide less feedback.
  • Expert poker players appreciate immediate feedback and the ability to vary their play based on that feedback.
  • With poker and programming there are few right and wrong answers.

One commenter wrote, Unfortunately, in software development one has not so many chances to "fold" as it happens on the poker table, and this is probabily the biggest and saddest difference. Actually, I’ve seen software projects fold a few times.

Now, it’s controversial whether poker is a game of chance. Poker players have told me that it is a game of skill, not chance. Well, the courts in the UK and the US have rules, that poker is a game of chance. Really, it is a game of chance, luck and skill , and I would agree that applies to software development, particularly in a business environment. Luck is not the same as chance, since you can make your own luck . Chance is governed by probability, and all things being equal and fair, you can’t change that.




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