Derek Jones from The Shape of Code
People rarely measure things in software engineering, and when they do they rarely hang onto the measurements; this might also be true in many other work disciplines.
When I worked on optimizing compilers, I used to spend time comparing code size and performance. It surprised me that many others in the field did not, they seemed to think that if they implemented an optimization, things would get better and that was it. Customers would buy optimizers without knowing how long their programs took to do a task, they seemed to want things to go faster, and they had some money to spend buying stuff to make them feel that things had gotten faster. I quickly learned to stop asking too many questions, like “how fast does your code currently run”, or “how fast would you like it to run”. Sell them something to make them feel better, don’t spoil things by pointing out that their code might already be fast enough.
In one very embarrassing incident, the potential customer was interested in measuring performance, and my optimizer make their important program go slower! As best I could tell, the size of the existing code just fitted in memory, and optimizing for performance made it larger; the system started thrashing and went a lot slower.
What question did potential customers ask? They usually asked whether particular optimizations were implemented (because they had read about them someplace). Now some of these optimizations were likely to make very little difference to performance, but they were easy to understand and short enough to write articles about. And, yes. I always made sure to implement these ‘minor’ optimizations purely to keep customers happy (and increase the chances of making a sale).
Now I work on evidence-based software engineering, and developers rarely measure things, and when they do they rarely hang onto the measurements. So many people have said I could have their data, if they had it!
Will the Coronavirus change things? With everybody working from home, management won’t be able to walk up to developers and ask what they have been doing. Perhaps stuff will start getting recorded more often, and some of it might be kept.
A year from now it might be a lot easier to find information about what developers do. I will let you know next year.