The Reluctant Manager: Are programmers artists?

Many years ago I was working with a cross disciplinary team and made the bold statement that programming was a creative art. Those working in the arts didn’t agree with me. On my recent tour of Italy, I visited many large painted works and I find once again that programming is as creative as painting.

This leads to the management question of how do you manage artists?
The frescos of chapels are typically works of teams of painters; we tend to remember the names of those who lead the teams (Michelangelo and Leonardo among them) but there were many painters who worked under the master and they often had considerable freedom in how they completed their corners of the bigger work (compare this with Brooke’s surgical team in the Mythical Man Month Essays).

Software teams share many similarities to the painters of chapels:
  • an overreaching architecture or design
  • many smaller sub projects each requiring both creative solutions and mechanistic elements
  • long durations for large works

So perhaps programmers are artists.

One final similarity should be considered:
  • almost inevitably run over budget and time
Is this the nature of the people, problem or just coincidence?