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Managing Programming for CEOs Part 1 – Decompiling Programmer-Speak

Naturally, programmers speak in code.  You may hear them but that doesn’t mean you know what they said.  I was a programmer long before I was a CEO.  Then I was a manager of programmers. When I started Solutions, Inc. in 1969,  I was all three since I was the only employee. 

Computers have changed; programming languages have changed; but programmer-speak has remained remarkably constant.  Programmers I managed at Microsoft and AT&T spoke the same language (whether they spoke English or not).  ITXC programmers, as great as they were at their jobs, still spoke programmer-speak. 

As a CEO or hope-to-be CEO of a technical company, it is essential that you crack the code.  Otherwise you will have no hope of knowing when any particular piece of essential development will be done or even what it will do if it is ever finished.  Today’s blog is a phrase book of programmer-speak.  Soon I’ll blog some secrets on actually managing programming projects.

“It’ll be done ASAP.”

Translation: There is no schedule yet.

“That feature shouldn’t add any time to the schedule.”

Translation:  There is no schedule yet.

“It’s fifty percent done.”

Translation: It hasn’t been started yet.

“It can literally do anything you want it do.”

Translation:  There is no spec yet.

“Take my word for it, my group isn’t on the critical path.”

Translation:  It’s schedule-chicken time.  We’re way late but someone else is bound to be even later.

“It’s ninety percent done.”

Translation: The remaining ten percent will take ninety percent of the elapsed time.

“It’s ninety-five percent done,”

Translation: The remaining five percent will take ninety-five percent of the elapsed time.

“It’s code complete.”

Translation:  Some code has been written.  Features will be added later.

“The code is 95% reusable.”

Translation:  Five percent of the source code is utterly and irretrievably lost.

“It’s feature complete.”

Translation: The feature list has been truncated.

“The UI’s still a little bit rough.”

Translation:  What’s not to love about the A:> prompt?

“I’ve got an idea for a really cool feature.  It’ll blow you away.”

Translation: Please give me an excuse to blow the schedule away.

“It’s Alpha ready.”

Translation: A lot of code has been written; none tested.

“It’s Beta ready.”

Translation:  It’s Alpha ready.”

“The daily bug count is going down.”

Translation: The testers have been reassigned or The testers have had their email server removed.

“What?  You wanted the results to display?  On the screen?  That’s gonna be hard.”

Translation:  Here’s a good place to bury all the slippage.  Major schedule revision coming.

“Ship it!”

Translation:  The Development team is sick of this and wants to move on to something else.  The customers will test it.

Part 2 of this series is the meaning of “done” and how to know when you’ll get there.

Part 3 is features that kill projects.

Part 4 is about great debuggers.

I’ve also blogged on how programmers can manage CEOs.

Part 1 is on managing non-technical CEOs.

Part 2 is on the even harder job of managing technical CEOs.


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John K

"It's non-trivial" == It can't be done.


Great stuff!

Mark Mullin

You've missed one phrase, from the options heavy programmer salivating over a serious housing upgrade

"Ship it!"

Translation: "It almost worked, once."


My husband has been in this business for over 30 years and he got quite a chuckle. Your description of developers is excellent.


I can't possibly say how true all that is; me and my friends had a great time when reading this.

- a programmer

Christopher Charles

Tom -

I'm a principal engineer at a small startup that's just released the latest version of our software, and honesty compels me to admit that every word you wrote here is true. But you leave out what usually compels this behavior: the unreasonable schedule pressure developers normally labor under.

Here's a view of the suits from a developer's perspective, if you're interested:


Keep up the great work - Fractals of Change has become one of my must-read blogs.

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