Unstable Terrain

Software development in the real world

Signs your web design company is unprofessional

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I’ve heard horror stories about some of the zany things that go on at work; the company I work for has a number of books written about it, filled to the brim with humourous or scandalous anecdotes.

Some things at work are more frustrating than amusing, though.

In this post, I shall skip some of the more serious faults I’ve seen or experienced at workplaces, such as bullying and abusive behaviour, fraud and misrepresentation, empire-building and so forth, and instead turn my eye upon undesired work practices that relate to the production of software.

You may raise your eyebrow at the title of this entry, but my experience has shown many of these problems to be endemic within the web design and web development part of the software development sector.

So, onto the list.

1. You don’t use version control

I won’t go into the benefits of version control systems; they are well documented. Suffice to say that I’ve seen web design companies that didn’t use version control as late as 2007 and, frankly, it was a mess. Going into a directory and seeing a horde of filenames such as


is particularly disconcerting, because it requires you to

  1. log into the production server and download the production site because you can’t trust the version on the Windows share because it’s in active development
  2. Search through the codebase, looking for references to the file you want to change to make sure it is the file you want to change.
  3. For good measure, search the codebase for files you guess might be different versions of the same file, in case the app references multiple versions of the ‘same’ file

…just to make the smallest change.

2. You use version control, just badly

Someone I know joined a web design company and was initially impressed by their tool set: Subversion, Jira and many other good tools. Then she found that they didn’t believe in tags. “How do you know what changes happen between versions?” she asked.

“Oh, every time someone does a deploy, they provide the sysadmin with a list of files to update and he uses Subversion to update them on the server,” was the reply.

“So I need to provide a manual list of each file and the revision to update to, for the sysadmin to apply manually?” she queried for confirmation.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about the revision number; he just updates from the trunk,” the team lead replied.

<Facepalm ensues>

3. Thinking correct spelling is optional

Face it: web development is a customer-facing part of IT. While back-office developers churn out COBOL in darkened rooms, the dashingly-handsome web devs with their spiky hair and megawatt smiles get all the glory. That’s fine; someone has to be the face of IT and I’d prefer web devs to IT Helpdesk any day.

However, customer facing apps need correct spelling and punctuation. A web site is the public face of a company. Spelling mistakes, in addition to being universally acknowledged as being unprofessional, engender a lessening of trust. The reasoning goes that spelling and grammar mistakes indicate:

  • a non-zero error rate for simple tasks
  • insufficient or negligent QA
  • a lack of attention to detail

You only get one chance to make a first impression; don’t screw it up.


Written by Trent

October 7, 2009 at 9:00 am

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