Monday, July 9, 2007

Listen Carefully For That Tearing Sound

Last weekend I was hanging drywall in the bathroom that I am remodeling. It's a lot like developing software. If the framework is sound then the biggest risk is wondering whether you can do it in time as opposed to worrying that it will all fall down.

Hanging drywall is easy if the studs are all the same width, not warped and bowed and all the angles are 90 degrees. But, of course, this is the real world. Even with new construction, it is very time consuming to find perfectly straight studs and even if they start straight they move over time. You can buy studs made from engineered wood that are very straight and stable but they are expensive and you can't just pick them up anywhere. But if it is not new construction then we just have to make do with what is already there. Luckily drywall has a bit of flexibility so you can hang it on studs that are not perfectly straight and you can patch it later if there are some gaps to fill.

I was hanging a particularly heavy drywall sheet. I had the sheet balanced on my raised knee, my left hand was holding the sheet firm to the wall, two drywall screws between my teeth and a cordless drill in my right hand. I quickly managed to drive the two screws into strategic positions and was able to free up my left hand to get more drywall screws. When I heard that ever so slight tearing sound I knew I had to move fast. The drywall wanted to move in a different direction from the screws and as it pushed back against the screws, the paper on the drywall was very slowly tearing as the screw head started to work its way through the sheet. I was lucky this time, I was able to add more screws and spread the load but if I'd had the radio on I might not have heard the ever so slight tearing sound.

Similarly with software development sometimes you have to make sub-optimal decisions based on different constraints but, you can still proceed to deliver a successful solution. However, it is very important to keep your ears open and tuned in so that you can repond quickly to any tearing sounds.

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