Over at Folklore, Andy Hertzfeld has a wonderful story about management’s obsession with non-sensible programming metrics. Who among us has not, at one time or another in our career, been subjected to a manager who thought that lines of code written was an excellent way of measuring programmer productivity? If your answer is, “Not me” then you are either extraordinarily lucky or just starting out.
Hertzfeld relates how in 1982 when Apple was making a big push to get the Lisa software out the door, some manager decreed that every programmer would submit a weekly report detailing how many lines of code they had written that week. Bill Atkinson, author of Quickdraw, the main interface designer, and, as described by Hertzfeld, the most important Lisa developer, thought the whole thing was silly and that his job was to write the smallest most efficient code he could.
One week, while working on the Quickdraw region calculation engine, Atkinson rewrote the code, replacing the algorithm with a more efficient one that made the calculations 6 times faster and reduced the size by 2000 lines of code. In that week’s report, Atkinson recorded his productivity as -2000 lines of code. Heltzfeld reports that after a couple of weeks management no longer asked Atkinson to fill out the report.
It’s one of those stories that makes you think, “Gee, I wish I’d done that.” These days, you probably find this obsession with lines of code only in large corporate coding farms but to those who’ve been there, the story is hilarious.