No one may suspect backyard deck construction and software development share much in common at first glance.
One involves sweating in the great outdoors. You spend hours hearing the roaring sound of saws slicing through lumber, and may experience occasional misadventures like flooding and trailer chains snapping.
The other requires sitting at a desk for hours designing complex database tables, fields, and UI. Challenges may involve wading through unpredictable delays like company feedback and public release issues.
I have extensive experience in the latter and minor background with the former.
However, as I progressed with new deck construction for the first time in nearly two decades in the fall of 2020, I realized the two share a substantial parallel: execution of both types of project requires the ability to visualize a solid foundation and stay five steps ahead of inevitable delays.
The Goal: Construct a Deck in Two Weeks
One warm and sunny October morning in 2020, I woke up with the notion to build a large deck in our backyard.
I also had the idea I could throw this together in two weeks.
I did, after all, have experience as a teen building fancy homes and small office complexes.
Even before that, when I was just 12 years old, I had helped my dad build a walk bridge across the creek in front of our house and the deck in the backyard of our family home.
Honestly, wanting to build my deck as an adult stemmed from some nostalgia for those days with my father at our home. I learned how to patch and pour concrete and design each intricacy of our construction craft with him. As the sun set at the end of each day, we would sit and chat and look at the work we’d completed, bonding over the pride of a job well done.
The year we built the bridge and deck, heavy rains destroyed our plans. We had to disassemble the bridge, hauling it back home piece by piece. We learned our lesson and put in stronger ground foundations, rebuilding it in time to celebrate our first family BBQ on the deck.
I’d conquered this deck- and bridge-build project with dad and had the memory follow me through my adult life. The feeling of creating something by hand for my family, despite significant obstacles, was an experience I wanted to feel again.
I knew those carpentry skills were still stacked somewhere inside the files of my brain, if not a little dusty.
Besides, deck building requires careful planning and implementation, and I knew I had those skills in spades. As a web app developer for more than 20 years, I have worked on various projects, from full-stack development to designing mobile interfaces for social web applications to creating GIGspace, an online booking system for shared workspaces. Plus, I have established and managed two of my own successful businesses within the last 34 years.
In short, I can organize and handle nearly any challenge. How hard could it be to put a deck together in two weeks?
The Reality: Consistent Predictability of Unpredictability
Looking back at the process and my zeal in crafting a quality deck in just two weeks, I should have known that the first rule of software development likely also applied to the first rule of construction: the “80/20 rule.”
The 80/20 rule is based on the concept that you must consider the predictable nature of unpredictable factors. The last 20 percent of the project will generally take 80 percent of the time allotted in software development, and you must plan for this.
Good developers reduce the potential for unpredictable delays as much as possible (based on experience). They are skilled at finding solutions when new problems arise. As a software developer, I had created a margin for delays in my two-week deadline, but I did not think rainfall would be heavy in October in Australia.
I dove into the first week, clearing away soil and repairing concrete before laying down the framework. Then, I set the footings and cut and leveled the joists with low and custom profiles. This part is more challenging than building the deck itself. I would be pleased to have it done in due time.
I was about ready to start the large deck section. I intended for three levels and wanted to begin with the first. I had just gotten the frame leveled when the rain started. Relentless precipitation poured in for an entire week and construction ground to a halt.
There went my two-week goal!
The entire ground became a swamp with the water oozing up through my newly leveled site. My deck foundation was quickly becoming a swimming pool, and I knew I had to act with urgency to deploy drainage strategies. The rain had come on so forcefully that it turned a gravel pathway into a pile of rocky rubble. I didn’t want that to happen to my deck. So, I implemented a drainage solution within a day and removed all possibilities of a two-for-one deck-and-pool special.
Finally Making Progress - Software as a Guide
Even though I didn’t make my two-week goal, I was glad the rain set in because it showed me I needed to slow down and consider other potential delays and factors. The arrival of inclement weather also reminded me to draw on my software experience and see the bigger picture.
After taking a deep breath from the wreckage of the rains, I returned to the mental image I’d established for building a quality deck. I always use a mental image when developing apps and systems, and had been using this skill as a guide for the deck.
I knew the weather was just an external influence that I could work around. Like the unpredictable rains, I was used to feedback cycles in software development, causing delays. Companies changing their requirements can also change the goalposts of a product, leading to delays.
The key is to observe, learn from the delays, and adjust.
Reminding myself to take things one element at a time, I continued building and finishing the deck using four critical lessons from software development.
1. Establishing Short Quick-Win Tasks
I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far before the rain as I did if I hadn’t set up short, quick-win tasks. Just as you’d create a mock UI layout to check content and style to ensure the big picture would come together when developing an app, I made sure I could cover ground through processes like setting out the initial framing to check sizing and position. I’m glad I did this before the rain hit because I could return to this framework and quickly adapt and modify it.
2. Complex and Detailed Planning with Follow-On Effects
You can’t just go down to the hardware store, grab some boards and a bag of concrete, and start erecting a professional-looking backyard deck. It takes some complex planning well in advance. After I set out the initial framing, I needed to measure the length of the tapered joists over the concrete slab to dictate the position of the cantilevered deck.
This step was akin to designing tables and fields in software development. This complex pre-dev work is essential to lay the groundwork for the bulk of app logic and UI design.
3. Creating and Meeting Milestones
You start to feel good about your progress when you meet milestones and break a process into manageable steps. Defining clear milestones also staves off possible delays. Being proactive also decreases the need to retrace, depending on those predictable unpredictabilities.
In software development, setting and meeting milestones may look like completing a database schema design and setting it up for business logic. You might also complete a bulk email system and prepare it for deployment or work through a final round of UI testing to prepare an app for public use.
When building the deck, I completed one of the first milestones: pouring all deck footings to prepare for the posts. The frame and joists were also assembled and ready for the slats. Because I broke down my goals and milestones into deadlines and doable steps, I had this foundational work completed before the rains hit. The result was the unexpected delay was not as problematic as it could have been.
4. Inevitable Yak-Shaving
No project worth building is complete without a bit of yak-shaving. One task may point to the necessity for another job, leading you down countless yak-shaving party pathways unless you know when to stop and readjust back to your original plan.
One big “yak-shaving” process that interrupted my flow when building the deck was collecting sand and gravel from cement works using a borrowed trailer. Before I knew what was happening, I had spent half the day repairing the borrowed trailer after a rusted component failed. That set me back a bit, and I had to adjust to proceed without losing much time.
Fortunately, I’m used to yak-shaving shenanigans. It’s common during software development to think you’re starting a minor database schema update but end up doing a complete system update to support a new random feature in a more recent version of the software. We plan for this and expect external influences and delays like weather and company requirements.
Progress is never a linear line.
Developing GIGspace Is Connected to Backyard Deck Construction
Anticipating unpredictable factors and looking at the big picture, as well as strategically plotting out details, is why I excel at both deck building and software development. I thrive on that kind of challenge.
You could say I have a bulldog mentality when it comes to creating any quality product from the ground up. I hold on tightly to my ideas and quest for high standards. Then, I stop at nothing until the product is complete, fully functional, and aesthetically brilliant.
That bulldog mentality likely began back with my dad, working on our deck and bridge projects. I still have pride in starting ambitious projects and creating highly complex, quality products regardless of inevitable obstacles and challenges. I never stop or lose sight of the objective.
I suppose I can thank my dad and the run-away bridge for my sticktoitiveness and ability to see through any project or plan. I’ve been able to apply that dogged determination to whatever project I’ve taken on over the years. And I’m applying it now to GIGspace.
GIGspace is ambitious. This online booking platform, essentially AirBnB for office spaces, is also a proven need in Australia and the world as more people find themselves working regularly in a gig economy. I feel pride and inspiration as I work towards the public release of GIGspace, and I’d be honored for you to join the effort.
To support GIGspace or discuss my process and approach as a software developer, email me at email@example.com.
For more information on GIGspace and the future of supplier-neutral workspace rentals, check out gigspace.info.