On being a backbone software developer

Pilots performing aerobatics maneuvers at air shows are exceptional professionals with incredible skills. I witnessed with my own eyes the Cobra maneuver at one of the performances in Moscow. It is indeed an incredible sight. Piloting at its best.

At the same time, a thought came to me: How often do pilots use these aerobatics maneuvers in real conditions? I doubt these skills are required during another planned flight. And my next thought was: Despite the skills, these pilots are not the backbone of a regular army. Regular pilots — work horses — serve as a basis for any unit. They do the job without frills. Perhaps, they are not that good at air shows, but it doesn’t make them less important.

We observe the same situation in software development. Ace pilots are programmers who solve whiteboard puzzles. But are they a good fit for a regular job? Anyone who was hiring at and conducting interviews knows that these whiteboard skills do not automatically mean good performance when working on a project in a team.

As it is with pilots, the backbone of any team or organization bases on ordinary programmers. They are not rockstar developers. They might not invert a binary tree in their head. But they solve specific tasks by googling and coping from StackOverflow.

Backbone developers deliver.

Being the backbone is not a shame. It is honorable.