Lessons from “Better” by Atul Gawande

I just finished reading Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. This is a very interesting book about the medical system. However, there are a couple of items which apply to software development professionals.

The first section of the book deals with diligence. Many of the examples in the book deal with the need to be vigilant in some of the most mundane aspects – washing hands, inoculations and wearing body armor in Iraq. Often, in software development, we fall down when we are not diligent. We take shortcuts, we don’t create unit tests, we don’t review requirements, design or code. All things we know we should do but often skip. In short – we are not diligent.

In another section, Gawande shows how measurements impacts the quality of care. The Apgar score (the simple measurement used to judge the health of newborns) spurred doctors to improve care of newborns who originally were not considered viable. While the medical profession keeps many different statistics, it is often difficult to compare one doctor’s performance to another. The introduction of the Apgar store allowed for a simple measurement to be applied universally. Doctor’s, patient’s and hospital’s had a way to compare performance and improvement in this aspect of care. Unfortunately for software, there is no simple measurement that can be applied to a software product and there is definitely no universal measurement that can be used to judge our performance compared to our peers.

I think these two items are worth each of us considering. How can we be more diligent in our daily activities? And while a universal measurement is not achievable, can we develop a measurement to compare our (or our team’s) performance from project to project?


Senior Professional Society Memberships

Last week, I received a letter from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) informing me that I am promoted to senior member status. According to the ACM website, senior membership recognizes “those ACM members with at least 10 years of professional experience and 5 years of continuous Professional Membership who have demonstrated performance that sets them apart from their peers.” The process for senior membership within ACM starts with meeting a minimum set of conditions – five years of continuous membership in ACM and 10 years of professional experience (however you receive credit for college degrees towards years of professional experience – which I did not need this credit myself). Once these are met, there is an application that must be filled out (a self-nominating process) which is essentially someone’s resume fit into a form. The final portion of the application is asking for 3 nominations from people familiar with your work. Once these steps are taken, the information goes to a review committee and eventually a decision.

I am also a senior member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). The process for achieving ASQ senior membership is similar – member of ASQ for 1 year and 10 years of professional experience. The application then requires that at least 1 of 4 items be completed. In my case, it was holding an ASQ certification that requires recertification. No nominations are required.

I am not a senior member in IEEE. The application process requires filling out an application and submitting a copy of your resume which must show 10 years of professional experience / 5 years of significant performance. In addition, it requires 3 nominations from current IEEE members of senior grade or higher.

Is there value in these advanced membership grades? With ASQ you get some additional benefits. I am not sure for the other societies.