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Issue No.02 - March/April (2006 vol.23)
pp: 8
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Business Lessons for Software Developers
I read "What Do Software Developers Need to Know about Business?" by Warren Harrison (Sept./Oct. 2005). It really resonated with my career experiences. I received my undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Texas and joined Intel in Portland. In my eyes, the most important thing for a software engineer to do was write code with fewer bugs. I spent most of my time learning the syntax of new programming languages or fixing bugs. What I didn't understand was why the company kept moving programmers and managers around. It seemed very inefficient, especially when they made changes in the middle of projects. I was even more confused when a project I was working on was cancelled when it was two-thirds of the way done. Everything appeared to happen on a roll of the dice. I started to pay real attention to colleagues' conversations and business update meetings.




Later, I moved to Intel's corporate site in Santa Clara. The Silicon Valley is an interesting place, especially during bubble years. This exposure to Silicon Valley made a difference to me. I worked for two start-ups after leaving Intel. I learned more in these start-up companies, because in start-up companies you don't just focus on one task—you do everything to make sure the company is going well. I also got a chance to interact with venture capitalists. That's when I learned that "investment is investment;" they could have put the same money they invested in the start-ups into the food industry or medical field.
After many years in industry, I went back to UT for my PhD in information systems. I took economics and business classes, and the theories shed light on my past experiences. When I learned that how much you initially invested in a project has nothing to do with whether the project should continue, I was surprised. After all, this is counterintuitive. In real life, it's also masked by emotion. This is why in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the fox said that all the work he put into the rose made the rose more important to him. Later, that seemingly counterintuitive idea enlightened me. It helped me to understand not just business decisions, but life in general.
Beihua Xu
Research assistant and PhD student
University of Texas, Austin
beihua.xu@mail.utexas.edu
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