Dan Appleman: Kibitzing and Commentary

My personal blog

Joel Spolsky has an interesting discussion on his site in which he challenges the Microsoft Solution Framework (if not software development methodologies in general) using the Hebrew terms “rosh gadol” and “rosh katan” to describe the characteristics of two types of developers.

While I would hesitate to try to translate the two terms (I think Tamir Nitzan does a much better job than I could), I thought I’d share my own way of looking at it. Though it may be a bit of an over-generalization, when it comes to approaching a task there seems to be a spectrum.

On one end you have the individual who solves problems. When they have a task or goal, and run into obstacles, they will solve them, overcome them, bypass them, work around, above or right through them, even if it means redefining the problem to do something just as good or better than the original task or goal. These people would, I think, be Joel’s “rosh gadol.”

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the person who stops at the first excuse. In other words, as soon as the individual as a justifiable reason to stop looking for a solution, they are finished. While this can be intentional (Joel’s example of a “work to rule” situation applies), it is more often just part of their nature. These would be the “rosh katan.”

There are, sad to day, a lot more of the latter than the former.

And this also supports Joel’s assertions regarding software methodologies. A true “rosh gadol” won’t actually be suppressed by a restrictive methodology – he or she will likely solve their problem by finding a better company to work for. A “rosh katan” won’t have trouble with it either – as the more complex a methodology is, the more opportunities there are to find excuses (uh, the additional 3 week project delay was caused by the requirement to review and rename every local variable to have camel casing…).

Of course, this isn’t just applicable to software development. It’s part of the human condition. In fact, I strongly suspect that this is part of one’s character that is formed when very young, because I don’t know of any reliable way to convert an adult from a “rosh katan” into a “rosh gadol.”