How much time and energy should a computer programmer spend learning a proprietary server system?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

By itself, this is an anecodote about Google’s particular system: (but see my point at bottom)

Is there a lesson in this?
Well, if I were in the business of programming Google App Engine, a few days’ effort up front to get it going might seem not to be a big deal. However, when I visit a team who have just added a new person, I invariably find that person struggling to set up their workstation. There’s usually someone in the room who, like Tozier, kind of knows how to fumble through the various rvm, brew, pip items. A little reading of stackoverflow and you’re good to go. Until something has to be updated or it breaks. With luck, it’s only person-days lost out of person-months. With luck, no one breaks a blood vessel.

Me, I just want to write programs, mostly small, that do things that may be worth writing about. And I want to write articles like this one, convert them to HTML, add them to a few indexes, and put them on my site.

The project I have in mind for Google App Engine will only take a few days. A few days of yak shaving is more obviously a few days wasted than if I were slaving away in a sweatshop somewhere.

But Wednesday I shaved a few yaks. Thursday Tozier and I shaved a few more and then had to stick all their hair back on when it made things worse. Then today, we shaved a couple more.

It seems to be yaks all the way down. My computer is full of yaks.

I guess all that unproductive hackery is the price we pay for productivity. But it sure doesn’t feel like productivity this week.

Still, I do have that four-line test running now … and probably I have a friend somewhere who’ll message me and tell me what to try next.

Stand back, yaks! I’m after you!

I don’t know if anyone will agree, but I view this as somewhat related to my post AWS is inappropriate for small startups because its complexity demands a specialist

Post external references

  1. 1