The effects of Technological Religion – Case Study

This post is an addendum to Golden Rule: a Developer is not a Priest. For better understanding of the context, I recommend to read that post first.

Technological Religion is something I found in several places where I worked and, trust me, its effects have never been positive. I remember a case where the fanaticism of two teams was so strong that it created a barrier between them. Here’s their (sad) story.

Once upon a time…

In a town, somewhere in Europe, there was a Company in which two teams lived in not-so-much harmony. The first one was the Application Development (AD) Team, led by their System Architects; the second one was the Database Development (DD) Team, led by their DBAs. They had very few things in common, most of which were bad:

  • They only knew their field and their tools.
  • They categorically refused to learn anything related to the other team’s skills and technologies.
  • They fundamentally disliked each other.

The two teams went through all possible loops to avoid interacting with each other, and preferred to go dark (terribly bad habit) and work by themselves. The results were catastrophic at best:

  • AD Team, whose members knew little to nothing about databases, did everything via application code. A web page whose only requirement was to show a list of Users, together with some details, took about one second per user to render. That’s right: showing a mere three hundred Users required about five minutes.
    To them, that was the best approach ever, as it worked (equally poorly) on all databases (this was not a requirement). Besides, everybody should know that databases suck!
  • DD Team, whose members knew little to nothing about application code, did everything via Stored Procedures and User Defined Functions. Complex calculations, Business Rules, validations and all sorts of stuff were scattered here and there in the database.
    To them, this was the best possible implementation. It was application-independent (not a requirement, as the application was not going to be replaced, ever) and surely as fast as any code the AD Team could have written (not true, RDBMS are not optimized for complex calculations; besides, you may have multiple instance of an application running at any given time, all connected to a single Database Server, which becomes a bottleneck).

Having worked in both roles in past employments, all the flaws were clear to me. I could see an ocean of easy optimizations, ready to be put in place, but I knew I was going to sail through a storm. Both teams stood their ground, and upper management did their role as one would expect: they minded their own business, as required by their own Management Religion.

Since I was hired precisely to help with the teams management, I had to find a way to make them work together. A fanatic, by definition, doesn’t accept anything else than his ideas, therefore even a clear proof that a different solution was better would not have worked. I had no other choice than “tricking” both teams. I convinced each one that I was on their side and that, by allowing me to “dump” some tasks on the other guys, they would have been able to focus on more interesting things. It worked.

I moved database-centric tasks to DD Team’s list, and application-centric tasks to AD Teams’ list. Both teams focused on what they could do best, and the project began to ran smoothly. It took a lot of effort to change flag for the whole duration of the project, but, eventually, we made it.

And they lived happily ever after…

Not quite. The overhead introduced by Technological Religion was significant, and we completed the project much later than expected. Issues took unreasonably long to be solved, and way too much time was spent on social engineering, rather than on Development. Even worse, the clashes between the teams were still unresolved and I didn’t have the strength, nor the will, to go again through such a charade for the next project, no matter how well paid, so I left the company.

Many years have passed since then, and the “Priests” are still in the Company, preaching  about their holy truths. However, they lost many members, who figured out that their “religion” brought nothing but stress, and quit. I know the whereabouts of a few, who are now working for prestigious firms, have an extensive list of skills and are much happier.

What will it be for you?

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