The Golden Ratio

December 9, 2014 - 2 minute read -

Every software engineer has friends or colleagues that aren’t engineers. Yet since most software today is user facing, everyone has an opinion on it. As an engineer I’ve experienced these people giving suggestions on the software I build. Despite their good intentions I usually dismiss them. Every suggestion goes through my Golden Ratio rule, and the formula is given here:

Golden Ratio = Value Provided / Time to Develop

90% of suggestions I receive have a very low Golden Ratio. Most of them I’ve already heard or thought of, but I never implemented because of the same reason. My time is going to be spent on the smallest things I can do to yield the greatest impact, because time is a sacred, finite resource.

As a software engineer it’s important to spend your time on what brings the most value to your users at the lowest cost. You have an intuition about how long something will take to develop, so you’re able to compute the Golden Ratio easily. Unfortunately, others can’t.

This isn’t much of a big deal in a professional environment since time = money. If I’m getting paid to develop something, then I’ll put the golden ratio in the back of my head. If someone tells me to work on something that’s low value and will take a long time, even after I explain the Golden Ratio to them, then I’ll happily do it since they’re paying the bills. In general, the Golden Ratio is used to prioritize what I’ll develop next, not necessarily whether or not I’ll develop it.

My concern is when people who aren’t paying you for your time ask you to do things without any idea of how long it will take you. Suggestions and ideas I’ve been told are always good intentioned, but my answer is usually the same. At least this way I don’t have to repeat the argument, I can just forward you to my blog.

If you’re not an engineer, then don’t get upset if your suggestion is dismissed. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it just didn’t satisfy the golden ratio. Suggestions that have a higher value will be worked on first.