Legacy Work is Where Grit Matters
I was recently reading a great article on techniques for rescuing legacy code.
And it occurred to me that difficult, hard-to-manage legacy projects present a great business opportunity. I see a lot these lately, with legacy PHP, Magento, ASP.Net or classic ASP, ColdFusion or Perl/ModPerl.
Even though they are older technology, they can be great projects because they have the following qualities:
- Important and valuable, sometimes high-profile
- Requiring specialized skills that may not exist anymore (or be worthwhile to learn today)
- Short or urgent timelines
- No competition. Many developers don’t want to work on older projects – they want to start with the newest thing.
Of course, for the same reasons, these projects can be treacherous, stressful and fraught with dangers.
Having met a lot of resistance from developers to work on these projects, I also know these projects require a lot of grit. Working in the swamp isn’t fun. It’s hard, sometimes boring and sometimes thankless work.
The kid-centric culture we so often see within startups and IT – the ping pong, games and supercharged soft drinks – can emphasize the fun at the expense of seriousness and responsibility of the situation. You need to be an adult to handle this type of work. Which reminds me of another great article, How to Raise an American Adult.
What’s needed to attack these types of projects is a mature, balanced, adult outlook, as well as some willingness to tolerate pain. I guess you’d call that grit or being “grown up”. However, I’ve also come to believe that having fun is the best way I know to become productive. And, that once work stops being fun, it’s just a matter of time before the quality of our work goes down hill. (We can’t get rid of all the soda pop, or we go flat).
For legacy and difficult projects, a company’s culture can be very important. Here are some cultural qualities I think matter:
- Toughness or “grit”
- Ability to see “fun” despite difficult situations
- Ability to take on responsibility
- Willingness to work behind the technology learning curve for awhile
Despite all that, I’ve had times when these projects overwhelm you, frustrate you, and seem so hard they really do just want to make you cry. For that reason, I believe having empathy can go a huge way in an organization. These types of workers can often give a worker a “shoulder to cry on” when things become really tough.
Please do a good deed and be empathetic for your co-workers today. You might just save someone from the “swamp”!