Skip to main content

10 Reasons Big Projects Suck

Have you ever noticed that big projects inevitably get a bad rap? Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Let's assume for a moment that there's one bug for every 100 lines of code. If a big project has 10 times as much code as a small project, it has 10 times as many bugs. In reality, because big projects are harder to understand and intrinsically harder to change quickly, it probably has more than 10 times as many bugs.

  2. If a big project implements some feature A, there is bound to be some bug in it. That proves that the big project is buggy. Furthermore, inevitably, the feature isn't exactly what you need. That means it's inflexible.

  3. If, on the other hand, the smaller project doesn't implement feature A, it can't possibly have the same bug the big project has. Hence, it's not buggy. Furthermore, since you'll need to implement feature A yourself, you'll probably implement exactly what you need. That means it's more flexible.

  4. Furthermore, there are a lot of people who don't even want feature A. That proves that the big project is bloated.

  5. If a developer is a member of a big project, he is probably already using it in production, and he doesn't much care what some young, know-it-all kid says about his code. Ever wonder why Microsoft doesn't seem to care when people criticize it? They're too busy making money!

  6. However, if a developer is a member of a small project, he can afford to make fun of the big project. No one knows who he is, so they surely can't insult his work. He has security by obscurity!

  7. Furthermore, since so many people have worked on the large project, he can insult it vehemently without feeling morally responsible for insulting another person's hard work. It's like a shoplifter who shoplifts small items from large stores thinking the large store is too big to care.

  8. Let's suppose 1 out of every 10 projects succeeds. 9 of those projects will make claims that turn out to be false. However, since they don't succeed, no one remembers. However, the 10th project will make claims that turn out to be true. It has instant credibility. Hence, it is free to make claims, and many people won't even bother to verify or question those claims...at least until it becomes a big project and people start realizing that 9 out of 10 of its claims are actually false.

  9. If you only need to implement 1 feature, you can do so in code that is very simple and direct. Now, if you need to implement 10 features, there is bound to be some duplication. Hence, you can either a) live with the duplication, or b) refactor. If you live with the duplication, your project will be plagued with bugs that need to be fixed in multiple places. (Don't repeat yourself!) However, if you refactor the code, you'll end up with code that is (necessarily) more complex than when you only needed to implement 1 feature. Younger coders may not even be able to understand the code at all. Hence, they'll just call it stupid, bloated, and overly complicated.

  10. If a project is successful, it'll make it into production. Furthermore, people will need new features in the product. In implementing those new features, it may be necessary to refactor. When you refactor, you may need to decide whether to a) keep the existing API, b) re-write the API, c) create a compatibility layer. If you keep the existing API, you'll have to somehow "tack on" the additional functionality within that API. This may result in a hideous, unintuitive API. If you rewrite the API, you'll break everyone's code. If you provide a compatibility layer, you'll end up with twice as many APIs you need to support. Hence, implementing new features is the fastest way to end up with legacy cruft!

If you know more reasons why big projects suck, post them below! :-D

Comments

sigfpe said…
With a small project you can be on to something new in no time. With a big project you have a boring albatross around your neck for a big piece of your life...
Anonymous said…
Large projects suck because large project documentation sucks. It's easy to document a single program within the program itself, but as the number of programs increases, the number of conditional interactions increases, which makes reading the documentation more difficult than going to the original source code. Perhaps we in the Python community should come up with some doc standards that would make documentation work as well as Python.
Anonymous said…
Big projects suck because more time is spent maintaining old code rather than writing new code. If the documentation sucks (assuming there is any to begin with) you likely spend 99% of your time reading code and the remaining 1% writing patches or sitting in meetings talking about writing patches. :-)
Conal said…
A big project means that the problem model is complicated and could either be (a) simplified & generalized through a deeper understanding, or (b) teased apart into genuinely orthogonal, composable sub-problems. While the problem description is complex, the parts will have unknown interactions and gaps, leading to more feature requests & more complexity. So hire a genius to simplify & generalize the problem, and then form a small project to solve this simpler & more important problem.

"Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius." -George Sand

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex ... it takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction." -Albert Einstein
There is a corollary to why big projects suck. Big projects are usually associated with big companies. As a consequence they usually have operations and control structures, eg. meetings and status reports, that are required to justify the salary of some VP that earns 10x what you do and has no clue how the friggin program works either technically or economically.
Jessta said…
Big projects(eg. Firefox openoffice) make it very difficult for users to excercise the freedom to modify and improve the software given to them by the GNU GPL. The reason for this is that an individual would have to spend many months studying the firefox code before having any chance to make any meaningful improvements.

Popular posts from this blog

Ubuntu 20.04 on a 2015 15" MacBook Pro

I decided to give Ubuntu 20.04 a try on my 2015 15" MacBook Pro. I didn't actually install it; I just live booted from a USB thumb drive which was enough to try out everything I wanted. In summary, it's not perfect, and issues with my camera would prevent me from switching, but given the right hardware, I think it's a really viable option. The first thing I wanted to try was what would happen if I plugged in a non-HiDPI screen given that my laptop has a HiDPI screen. Without sub-pixel scaling, whatever scale rate I picked for one screen would apply to the other. However, once I turned on sub-pixel scaling, I was able to pick different scale rates for the internal and external displays. That looked ok. I tried plugging in and unplugging multiple times, and it didn't crash. I doubt it'd work with my Thunderbolt display at work, but it worked fine for my HDMI displays at home. I even plugged it into my TV, and it stuck to the 100% scaling I picked for the othe

ERNOS: Erlang Networked Operating System

I've been reading Dreaming in Code lately, and I really like it. If you're not a dreamer, you may safely skip the rest of this post ;) In Chapter 10, "Engineers and Artists", Alan Kay, John Backus, and Jaron Lanier really got me thinking. I've also been thinking a lot about Minix 3 , Erlang , and the original Lisp machine . The ideas are beginning to synthesize into something cohesive--more than just the sum of their parts. Now, I'm sure that many of these ideas have already been envisioned within Tunes.org , LLVM , Microsoft's Singularity project, or in some other place that I haven't managed to discover or fully read, but I'm going to blog them anyway. Rather than wax philosophical, let me just dump out some ideas: Start with Minix 3. It's a new microkernel, and it's meant for real use, unlike the original Minix. "This new OS is extremely small, with the part that runs in kernel mode under 4000 lines of executable code.&quo

Haskell or Erlang?

I've coded in both Erlang and Haskell. Erlang is practical, efficient, and useful. It's got a wonderful niche in the distributed world, and it has some real success stories such as CouchDB and jabber.org. Haskell is elegant and beautiful. It's been successful in various programming language competitions. I have some experience in both, but I'm thinking it's time to really commit to learning one of them on a professional level. They both have good books out now, and it's probably time I read one of those books cover to cover. My question is which? Back in 2000, Perl had established a real niche for systems administration, CGI, and text processing. The syntax wasn't exactly beautiful (unless you're into that sort of thing), but it was popular and mature. Python hadn't really become popular, nor did it really have a strong niche (at least as far as I could see). I went with Python because of its elegance, but since then, I've coded both p