Hypotheticals Are Deadly

A programmer should make tools to help real people solve actual problems.

Few development teams do that. They waste money, time, and quality by writing systems for "the users".

They do not know who will use their software, so they do not know what problems those users have, nor how to solve them.

If such a system is a commercial product in an ideal free market, this does only moderate harm. The programmers waste some time, the business dies since its product has no market, and some people lose their jobs, but few outside the poorly-planned venture suffer.

However, there are precious few ideal markets in the world. When such software is released, some people will use it, no matter how poor it is (usually because their job requires them to). Since the tool was not designed to solve their actual problems, their day-to-day interactions with it are a constant struggle.

When a stakeholder says, "Our users will need to export to Microsoft Office formats," he is presenting a hypothetical problem. Make him identify specific people that want this feature. Talk to them and figure out exactly what they need.

When you say, "Other developers may want to use an alternate authentication engine," you are presenting a hypothetical problem. Identify specific programmers who want to do this and talk to them about it. [1]

If you cannot find any actual users, your system cannot solve a problem for anyone.

Before writing a program, find at least one person who wants to use it. If you cannot find one, find a program a real person wants to use and write that instead.

Note that these rules cannot be broken if a programmer is writing software to solve a problem he has. A lot of great software was made this way.

[1]Design is important, and a good design anticipates change. Do not make those changes until someone wants them, however.

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