Monday, June 27, 2011

Third Set of Movie Quotes Applied to Software Development

This is my third post covering application of popular movie quotes to software development situations after posting Classic Movie Quotes Applied to Software Development and More Movies Quotes Applied to Software Development. In this post, I look at how a third set of ten movie quotes apply well to software development situations.

1. There have always been ghosts in the machine.

The quotation "There have always been ghosts in the machine" from 2004's I, Robot articulates what just about every computer user or developer has thought at least once. Race conditions, memory leaks, and other non-obvious problems can lead users to believe that there are indeed ghosts or gremlins in the machine. And, if you listen to or read Dr. Alfred Lanning's quotation further, it is even easier to find more connections: "Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols." This is a reminder of why code coverage and thorough testing are so important!

2. This can't be good.

This quote ("This can't be good.") was one I used even before seeing and hearing Sam Flynn state it in Tron: Legacy (2010). This is an apropos response to running into telltale symptoms of nasty issues like file system problems, network issues, deadlocks, memory leaks, race conditions, and the other stuff that we've all seen before. Even our own misbehaving software may lead us to say this.

3. Never theorize before you have data.

This Sherlock Holmes statement to Dr. John Watson from 2009's Sherlock Holmes fits nicely in the software development world. It is tempting at times, almost beyond what we can resist, to jump to conclusions and "solve the problem" before adequately assessing what the real culprit is. The problem is, as Mr. Holmes suggests, that we will "end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts" if we theorize too quickly. Effective debugging techniques, disciplined unit testing, and reproducing the problem before "solving it" are obvious tactics we can use to deal with this correctly as Sherlock Holmes recommends.

4. We mock what we don't understand.

This Austin Millbarge quote from 1985's Spies Like Us has proven handy when on the receiving end of criticism (productive and constructive or not) in situations like design reviews, code reviews, and various other forums. The tone of voice can be the difference between humorous acknowledgement that the cited issue is valid and should be addressed or the more literal interpretation that the criticizer doesn't understand what he or she is talking about.

5. You know, somehow, 'I told you so' just doesn't quite say it.

It is difficult to not say something along the lines of this Detective Del Spooner quote when our own advice or opinion has been proven out by events after being overridden by management or peers. Our situations may not be as dire as robots taking over, but this I, Robot quotation certainly fits in many situations we find ourselves in.

6. Stay on target!

"Stay on target!" may be one of the most oft-quoted lines of any movie within technology-oriented communities. It's short and easy to remember, it comes from one of the most popular tech-friendly movies of all time [1977's Star Wars IV: A New Hope], and it fits so many situations. I have used it to remind myself or colleagues to get back onto the main subject when a technical discussion or other activity has wandered off into the weeds or out of left field. "Stay on target" is a slightly humorous way to remind oneself or others to focus on the task at hand.

7. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.

I like this quote from 1987's The Princess Bride because it does so aptly fit software development. Even the best developers cannot deliver the same quality of solution when rushed too quickly. More mistakes are made and more complex issues are not thought out sufficiently when developers are too rushed. Some of the best developers may seem like miracle workers at times, but some of their products can be "rotten miracles" if they are rushed too much too often. An even more direct correspondence can be seen when steps of the software development (testing for example) are short-changed.

8. It would take a miracle.

Speaking of miracles and of The Princess Bride, Miracle Max has another great quote that can apply to software development. The more complete quote is an exchange with Valerie when she asks Miracle Max if he thinks the plan to storm the castle will work and Miracle Max replies, "It would take a miracle." This has been the same sentiment many of us have felt or even expressed when someone has suggested performing something analogous to storming a castle such trying to talk a decision-maker out of a poor decision with severe long-term consequences.

9. I wouldn't say I've been "missing" it.

In the movie Office Space (1999), Bob porter observes that colleague Peter Gibbons has not been in the office much lately: "Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately." To this, Gibbons replies with the classic, "I wouldn't say I've been 'missing' it, Bob." I think most of us have felt this way at one time or another about a certain position, certain job, certain task, or certain activity. For example, I used this on a colleague (who happens to be a big fan of Office Space) recently when he said something along the lines of, "It looks like you missed our meeting." It was all too easy.

10. I love it when a plan comes together.

Popularized in virtually every episode of the original television series, this well-known quote from Col. John "Hannibal" Smith was highlighted in the 2010 movie The A-Team as well. The quote was usually stated after some crazy plan was hatched and after the good guys eventually won. Often in the television series, it was difficult to believe that what happened was the actual plan. This quote fits with many aspects of life and software development is no exception. When something finishes, whether according to plan or not, this is a statement bringing closure to the activity.


This third set of movie quotes summarizes the responses many of us probably feel (and possibly even state) when we run into certain software development situations, problems, and issues. Some of these quotes can be used to bring humor to stressful situations. The quotes work particularly well when the recipients are familiar with the quotes and their movie source and context.

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