Paying technical debt

Ok, so here is a fairly well-known Internet company called Booking.com, looking for programmers. These days, many companies like to think they can be picky hiring their engineers, but not Booking.com. They start out apologizing for their codebase like this:

 

 

At Booking.com we believe that a good developer is a good developer no matter what technology is involved – so even if the target technology is Perl, we do not require Perl experience to apply – only a capacity and willingness to learn it, superior craftsmanship and business orientation.

Now let me rephrase this to something that more accurately reflects reality:

OMG WE CAN NOT GET ANY PROGRAMMERS FOR OUR HUGE LEGACY CODEBASE!!11 NO TALENTED GUY WANTS TO DO PERL!

Booking.com is finding themselves in dire straits recruiting people to maintain the core of their systems. Apparently, booking.com was founded in 1999, a time at which choosing Perl was not in fashion but understandable, and I am certainly not one to argue for following the whims of engineering fashion. PHP was around but very immature, the Java people were still figuring out how to model a HTTP request (and got it wrong). But that is 13 years ago now and things have improved a lot. Even the people who had sold their souls to Microsoft had a decent platform by the mid-noughties, with ASP.NET.

Now I am not saying that every system written in an elderly language needs to be replaced now. Doing so has its own problems, and they are real. I’m just pointing out the consequences of neglecting this aspect for too long.

Not many people enjoy doing Perl, except maybe for a very particular species known as the Unix neckbeard, who are rare. Booking.com, apparently, has neglected this aspect for 13 years. Now they find themselves in a position of having to hire people that don’t understand the programming language they have been using all the while. That’s hardly the end of the world, but an uncomfortable situation to be in nonetheless. Especially for a company whose only real asset is the software they have written.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation or contact with Booking.com and wish them the best. They’re just a great example.

2 Responses to Paying technical debt

  1. Andre Kampert April 8, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    LOL Hans, good read!

  2. Sander Maijers March 10, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

    As far as I am aware they first started a hiring campaign on Facebook, but in response the target audience overwhelmingly chided Booking.com for still using Perl. Then came this change of message, seemingly in an attempt to brush up their damaged image among software developers.

    This story also shows that social media campaigns to hire technical people, with all their flaws (as in your blog about the five bad habits of software developers), may backfire and is perhaps not the best tactic in an IT staff hiring strategy.

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