Woodworking, the opposite of software development


While waiting for the BoltBus, I met a former software developer, who said that he's now a carpenter. Specifically, he makes furniture out of wood, so a more precise term for his type of work would be something like woodworking.

He says he quit software because customers would keep making change requests on short notice, even for features he was pretty sure they'd never actually use.

I asked him if his new job has the same problem.

He said, no, it's the opposite.

Nobody asks for new features for their bench or table or whatever. They show him a picture of a 100-year-old table and say "Make me that."

Sometimes, a former customer will call and say, "Hey, remember me? You made a table for me three years ago." Do they want to modify the table? Nope. "Can you make one exactly like it for my sister?"

Comments (18)
  1. kantos says:

    I’m reminded very distinctly of an Office related movie from the 1999, although I suspect this developer didn’t have quite such a dramatic exit from the profession.

  2. kc0rtez says:

    “Nobody asks for new features for their bench or table or whatever. They show him a picture of a 100-year-old table and say “Make me that.” ”

    This reminds me of those customers who ask you to replicate an existing piece of software (usually a complex one, like, “make a whatsapp messenger for me”) and discuss ridiculous price tags for the job. Its easier for someone to pay 1000 bucks for a new table than to write a new facebook.

    We should all start considering woodworking.

    1. Scarlet Manuka says:

      No. No, some of us should definitely not consider woodworking in any way. At least in software I can produce something good!

  3. Andrew says:

    Funny thing, I collect Christopher Schwarz aphorisms (lostartpress.com), as well as yours/Raymond’s. Here are some goodies:
    • Schwarz’s First Law of Machinery: If something can be adjusted, it will go out of adjustment.
    • So what about the hard lessons? Who will deliver them? ¶ In my shop, it’s me. Nothing is good enough unless it’s better than what I’ve done before.
    • Benchtop depth is 21”, one of my favorite depths.
    • There is a way out of the paradox, but you have to find it for yourself.
    • My favorite woodworking saying is: “Go slower; it’s faster.”

  4. Chris Meadowcroft says:

    The Silicon Valley bros are all into cycling. I suspect there’s something satisfying about riding along a set path without worrying about all the other paths not taken, or not changing direction at the request of customers. Just riding where you planned to ride and the only thing to worry about is your ability to micro-manage your performance over well-known terrain.

    Maybe as the average software developer age reaches 40 and cycling gets hard on the back woodworking will be the new hobby of choice? Excellent from a mental health point of view, but finding the room for a shop seems daunting.

  5. Kirby FC says:

    >> They show him a picture of a 100-year-old table and say “Make me that.”

    How ironic that this should appear on a Microsoft-hosted website. A company now dictating that we must completely replace our operating system every 6 months.

    1. Yukkuri says:

      Xpclient is that you?

    2. xcomcmdr says:

      It’s not even remotely topical.

      But you get an F for effort at trolling.

    3. The author has put up quite an effort to demonstrate and focus on this irony: Paragraphs 3 and 4 only contain one sentence and intend to capture attention. As a matter of fact, this whole post counts as sarcasm.

  6. Jay says:

    Funny thing is 25 years ago, I was a carpenter. Did the finish carpentry in custom homes for 12 years. I quit and went back to school for programming.
    Now that I am close to retirement, I am getting back into woodworking and making furniture.

    I just like making things, whether it is with my hands or with my brain, doesn’t matter.

    1. Dave says:

      Same here, I think it’s an Old Fart thing. After decades of doing low-level high-assurance coding, I’m now enjoying woodworking. If I ever decide to take up golf, close friends are under instructions to kill me.

  7. Graw says:

    Stonework must be different. We frequently get customers asking us to modify or repair things that were installed sometimes years ago. We can be halfway through making a job and the customers suddenly decide they want to change something about it in the middle…sometimes even the material.

  8. Z says:

    I worked as a carpenter for over a decade before returning to software, and that guy definitely got lucky. Last-minute design changes were a constant thing customers tried when doing renovations. It was easier to dissuade them, as people can better understand the effort involved when you have to start getting out all of the demolition tools. They can imagine pulling the nails, sawing the boards, etc., even if they’ve never really done that work — they’ve lived and worked in the real world long enough to have some relevant experience to draw upon. Asking them to imagine the difficulty of changing software is a non-starter — there’s just no obvious (good) analogues that we experience day-to-day.

  9. Nico says:

    My father owned a cabinet shop for a number of years and has also made wood furniture on the side. From talking with him I’ve gotten the impression that cabinetmaking and general home renovation has a lot more “last minute changes” than furniture.

    There is also some delightful irony in this contrast between woodworking and software given that the Software Craftsman movement very often uses woodworking as an ideological comparison.

  10. He didn’t trade in the wrong discipline for the right discipline. He traded in the wrong customers for the right customers. This is not repeatable.

    1. Aged .Net Guy says:

      It’s fairly repeatable. The algorithm is simple: just keep firing your bad clients while attracting new ones until you’ve got a suitably sized and curated collection of good ones.

      It’s just not scalable. Any of us can execute it. All of us can’t. The world has more goofball customers than it does good customers.

      And the boss problem in anything bigger than a one-person shop pretty well guarantees that the person selling the product and the person delivering the product have very different ideas about which customer is the goof.

  11. Danny says:

    SW development is not for everybody, hence the high salaries, hence the top 100 billionaires are majority in SW related areas. You can’t handle the pressure if this is not your passion. I’ve dealt with both types of customers, the easy ones who let you do all the decisions and the hard ones who change their minds 100 times per week. In the end is about passion otherwise you’ll end-up to the nut house.

  12. Brian says:

    I hired a contractor to build a house for my wife and I once. He was a woodworker at heart – not just a house-framing carpenter, but a fine details guy. It was after the S&L screw-up at the beginning of the 1990s. The market had completely tanked and so I was his only customer.

    After it was all finished (about a week later than his initial guess), he came to me and said “You never made a decision early – you always waited till the last minute”. “But”, I replied, “Never past the last minute – none of my decisions held up construction, did it?”. One thing I learned from doing software is that some decisions (generally the ones you make before work starts) are cheap, and others (for examples, the ones you make that will require a new set of tests to be created) are much more expensive and delay-inducing. I’ve had less success in convincing the folks who make decisions that affect my work of those maxims.

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