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Upstream Bullies

In the aerospace and defense industry, a system engineer is the equivalent of a business analyst. They’re supposed to specify and record clear and unambiguous software requirements for the software development team, and then help the team get the requirements right.

In my experience, excellent system engineers are very hard to come by. The vast majority of them drop open-ended one line bombshells like “The system shall detect targets with a probability of detection of 95%” on the development team. Then these “shallocators” disconnect and distance themselves from the programming team and morph into glorified project managers, but without the responsibility.  I call these types of system engineers upstream bullies because they’re always looking over your shoulder and telling you how to do your job even though they’ve never written anything bigger than “Hello World!”. Upstream bullies  also demand that programmers dot the I’s and cross the T’s even though their own work, which is the input to the software team’s work, is a useless POS.


Ever wonder why you frequently read about large software-intensive government projects that are massively late and over budget? Besides poor leadership, another big reason is that upstream bullies are at work. If you’re a software developer and you have a choice, stay away from upstream bully shall-meisters.

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