There are always trade-offs when building software.

I’ve always told my managers that building software is a trade off. We can do things cheaply, or we can do them quickly, but we can rarely do both. We can certainly fail in both ways, and many people do, but I usually see the need to trade time for money, or vice versa, when building software.

I ran across a piece recently that was similar, though in it Allan Hirt says you can do things right, do them fast, or do them cheap. Allan talks about limited resources in working on projects. At some point time, budget, and staff resources are constrainted and you can’t expect stellar performance on extremely large workloads in a 24x7x365 environment. Something has to give, and one of those resources is going to let you down.

I had always looked at people as a “money” cost, since they are paid for work, but there is another constraint to people that I hadn’t considered. Each individual in your company isn’t just a resource that’s exchangeable for others. Each individual has knowledge and skills that aren’t easily transferred to, or replaced by, other employees. In addition, each person has time constraints; they will only work so much in a given time period.

Building powerful, efficient, effective systems, whether in software, infrastructure, or even in culture takes effort, time, and money. However if you do it well, it’s something you’re not only proud of, but something that pays for itself over and over.

Steve Jones

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