usable in any place a human can be used


climbing a mountain

I've been done with my last big project for about a month now, waiting on the customer to make up their minds on some enhancements. It's one of those positions that seem enviable until you're a month deep in it, sitting around trying to find something to do. So I've filled my work time tackling whatever tasks have come by, writing up documentation, working on and completing two smaller projects, and reading up on technology. It passes the days but sometimes can be a bit of a bore, and the real challenge is trying to figure out how not to waste my company's time, trying to make value without a project can be hard.

[caption id="attachment_67" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Stratego... similar to strategic"]Stratego... similar to strategy[/caption]

Then my boss told me that I would be working on a new project. Huzzah! I'm leaving behind .Net back to the land of Java, thus keeping my streak alive of never working in the same language 2 projects in a row. The project position has been described to me as a strategic technical challenge. Let's break that down real quick.

Strategic - That's a fun word, what does it mean, defines it (after a great deal of military definitions) as

Highly important to an intended objective

So this is an important position, one which is necessary for intended objectives. From what I've gathered of the work I'll be doing, this is an apt definition

Technical - Nothing touchy feely here, no user interaction, no pretty style sheets, no fancy jQuery magic, just straight CS4xx type algorithms and number crunching. I'm have a feeling I'm going to have to dust off that Math degree sitting in the corner.

Challenge - This is the word I love, the thing I live for, a good challenge. I've been working on enough quick one week, one off, hit-it and quit-it projects as of late, I've missed the thrill of a good challenge.

I don't know how much I'm at liberty to share about the project which is why this post so far has sounded a little bit like a riddle. The one point of information I'll share is that the task I'm going to be taking on was sent out for quotes and the number that came back was... 10,000+ man-hours. You aren't misreading, and I triple checked that I wasn't mistyping. In case you aren't familiar with what 10,000 man-hours means I'll take a quick detour to explain it.

[caption id="attachment_70" align="alignleft" width="196" caption="The Mythical Man-Month"]The Mythical Man-Month[/caption]

In one day, one programmer puts in 8 hours of work, that is 8 man-hours. One week is 40 man-hours. Assuming you get two weeks vacation, one year of development is 2,000 man-hours. That means that 10,000 man-hours of work is 5 straight years of development, half a decade of work. Of course, throwing some more resources at it you could hit 10000 man-hours with a 5 man team in just 1 year, more or less. The problem though is that this reduction in time is non-linear, you can't just throw 10,000 developers at the problem for an hour, this is pretty well discussed in The Mythical Man-Month.

In less technical terms that means that there is approximately a metric shit ton of work to do. And not grunt work mind you, complex problem solving work. This is a mountain of work. There are a few things that you can do when a mountain blocks your path.

  1. You can turn around and go home

  2. You can rent a helicopter

  3. You can ready your climbing gear

Going home isn't an option in this case, the task can't be overlooked and other things can't happen until we are up and over the mountain. The outside quote was a helicopter, it costs some cash but is easy and relatively painless for you. Well we can't wait around a year to get this thing done. So that only leaves us with one option, so I'm gathering up some rope and pitons. I'm dusting off the part of my brain that remembers how Java works, remembering that strings can only be compared with .equals(), and fondly remembering the joy that is Eclipse after the ghetto of Visual Studio (holy war can begin now, be sure to insult my mother).

I'm preparing myself for what will be the biggest technical challenge of my career, and it fills me with happiness. It reminds me that I love this profession, that I'm stupid lucky to get paid to do it, and that I'm going to go in there and climb that mountain. From the little information I have, I'm sure the climb is going to be arduous, but I'm determined to plant my flag at the top, and I know that that will be amazing.

I want to challenge you to look around for your own personal mountains, its easy to avoid them, to walk away, go home, or rent a copter. You should instead commit yourself to the climb, because when you are at the top of a mountain, all the other problems are pretty small.


  1. [...] I’ve been working on a project for the last 5 months, but finished active development about a month ago. I finished in the best possible way, the product shipped, the customer likes it, and there hasn’t been much to do besides the minor bug or feature here and there. It’s a good place to be in, since I’m a consultant it’s also not economically viable. If I’m just sitting here writing blog posts and drinking smooth delicious Diet Dr. Pepper all day, I’m not making money for my company, so they went and found me another project to work on, which I talked about here. [...]

  2. [...] making all kinds of fun message flows and translation logic. I’m excited because when I wrote climbing a mountain on November 6th, 2009 this was the mountain I was talking about. The road to get started has been [...]