Sunday, May 19, 2013

Just


Over my years as a software developer I have developed a pet peeve in the form of the word "just". Not all uses of it, mind you, most of them are fine. If you want to use it to mean "fair" then you have my blessing, ditto if you mean "only barely". There is one way you can slide the word into a sentence that makes my blood boil and that's to use it as a qualifier. An email that asks "could you just change the blutagger so that it frambozzes the pofrog instead of nanupping it?" or a feature request that suggests "just moving the error message so that it aligns with the left margin" is a guaranteed way to make me fume.

It's not something that annoys me much in isolation but, like lead poisoning, it builds up over the course of a project until it reaches toxic levels (please note I am not an expert on lead poisoning and this analogy may be totally inaccurate but I wanted to avoid mentioning straws and camels). The source of my annoyance is twofold.

Firstly, it makes the assumption that the requested change or bug fix is simple. I find it incredibly
frustrating when someone who doesn't know anything about programming, let alone the specifics of a piece of software, tells me how easy it will be to change something. This goes double in those all too common situations where the feature was far more difficult to implement than originally expected. Spending two days getting some css working in half a dozen different browsers only to have someone ask to have the header "just a little bit thinner" is infuriating.

Secondly, the repeated use of "just" in this way feels like a steady passive aggressive dig that the work isn't being done fast enough, as though it beggars belief that there are still defects when the developers "just" need to fix them.

Obviously people do it without thinking and without intending to cause discontent, I understand that. Nobody writes a bug report with the aim of irritating the developers (or at least I like to think they don't). It's not a deliberate trivialisation, it's a subconscious caveat made all the time when asking for favours to emphasise that it's a little thing. It's a word people use to imply that they wouldn't ask if it wasn't such a trivial request. When given the opportunity of using the written word, though, just give it some more thought.

1 comment:

  1. From my own work history: "Can't you just copy all our existing intranet content to the new system?"

    And even more recently: "You just need to hook up that other agency's PC at a desk downstairs."

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