A Tale of Two Cultures: Hackers and Enterprise Developers

Today I found myself thinking again of what I see as two distinct cultures in the development world: Hackers and Enterprise Developers. This really isn’t any kind of a rant just an observation that I’ve been thinking over lately.

Hackers are really bleeding edge. They have no problem using the commandline, using multiple languages, or contributing back to open source. They’ll find and fix bugs in the opensource software they use and issue pull requests frequently. They’ll always be willing to use new tools that help them produce better software when there might not even be any good IDE support. Finally, they’re always constantly investigating new technologies and techniques to give them a competitive edge in the world.

Now when I say hacker I don’t mean someone who just hacks lots of random shit together and calls it a day (that kind of developer isn’t good for anyone). Just someone who isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo, isn’t afraid to be a bit different and go against the grain. They’re the polar opposite of enterprise developers.
Enterprise Developers on the other hand are fairly conservative with their software development methodology. I’m not saying that a lack of standards is a good thing, but enterprise developers want standards for doing everything and they want it standardized across the company. If there isn’t IDE support for a tool they’ll refuse to use it. Want to use mongodb, riak, etc? Not unless there’s a fancy GUI client for interacting with it. If they find a bug they’ll back away from the framework they’re using and simply declare that the company shouldn’t use the framework until the bug is fixed externally. I find this group prefers to play it safe and work on solidifying their existing practices rather than explore new ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t another rant on IDEs or developers who don’t use the command line. But give me a couple days in any organization and I can quickly point out who the Hackers and Enterprise Developers are. The hackers are always pushing the envelope, trying new ideas out, giving presentations. Most likely they’re facing off against enterprise developers on a daily basis who attempt to rebuff their ideas. The enterprise developers on the other hand are pretty content to do their same daily routine for the rest of their lives without any change or growth. To paraphrase Q from the Star Trek episode Tapestry, “He learned to play it safe. And he never, ever got noticed by anybody.”

What I’ve been considering though is whether or not both are beneficial to an organization. It’s no secret I associate myself with the hacker group (and thus I am a bit biased) but I keep wondering if enterprise developers truly are just the right fit for some organizations. I always think hackers are perfect because they push the envelop and come up with all kinds of interesting solutions to scalability problems, such as using Bitorrent to deploy to thousands of servers. Enterprise developers on the other hand rarely exhibit such innovation and would require shelling out several million dollars for an application to copy a file to multiple destinations. In a nutshell, you can really get more done with hackers (who will seek to automate manual tasks as much as possible) while you can use enterprise developers in bulk to brute force through any problem.

To repeat the beginning of my post… this isn’t a rant. And I don’t mean to put “enterprise developers” in a negative light. This is all just some random thoughts going through my mind about the two cultures I commonly see in every organization I have been in. What’s your opinion?

Reference: A Tale of Two Cultures  from our JCG partner James Carr at the Rants and Musings of an Agile Developer blog.

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