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We’ve all heard Marc Andreessen’s famous proclamation in 2011 that “software is eating the world.” It was a prescient statement: Today, modern, digital-driven enterprises provide all sorts of software-based products and services, while also relying heavily on software to manage their internal operations. Even organizations known for selling hardware, such as electronics companies and automakers, are increasingly offering subscription-based software services to grow revenues.
Organizations have long realized how important their software is to their business. But they’re now fully realizing just how critical their software’s source code is. Source code is the most critical asset. It contains all the business logic and dictates how the software will behave and how it will perform. It’s the source code that is eating the world.
Source code is the foundation of every modern enterprise. The C-suite needs to take ownership of the code and make it a priority on par with things like sales, marketing, security, finance and HR. To strengthen this critical strategic asset and maximize their business results, organizations must focus on code at the highest level.
The source-code problem
This transition will address a major problem that has gone unchecked for years: code ownership. Someone has to be responsible for stewarding source code and software. Today, there is no one who really owns source code.
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Developers don’t feel like they own code because most software contains lots of legacy code that they didn’t write. Instead, they only feel like they have ownership over the new code that they’re writing. This hurts overall code quality. Bad legacy code is often ignored and allowed to fester, leading to worse software performance and potential vulnerabilities.
We’re seeing more chief development officers (CDOs) emerge, but they’re mostly responsible for owning the software development process and ensuring best practices are followed, not owning the code itself. CDOs and VPs of engineering ultimately focus on process and efficiency, not on code ownership.
Owning code at the C-level
Enterprises that prioritize code will ensure that there is someone at the highest level of an organization who is in charge of code and accountable for its success or failure. Today, it’s unthinkable that any major company could exist without an executive dedicated to managing security or someone in charge of managing finances. As the C-level begins to make code a priority, every modern, software-driven organization will have a leader dedicated to owning code. In some cases, this may take the form of chief coding officers (CCOs).
Code ownership will help eliminate technical debt. Any organization that’s large enough to have 200–300 developers will likely have a tremendous amount of technical debt resulting from flawed legacy code. With someone specifically in charge of code, organizations can dedicate efforts to systematically clean code, fixing mistakes and minimizing their technical debt.
In turn, this will free developers to focus on new projects and drive real business value. These leaders will also spearhead efforts to preemptively correct coding errors before they cause major problems for the software (and the business), resulting in even greater developer productivity and overall efficiency.
Almost every major enterprise, no matter its industry, relies heavily on software to deliver services, manage operations internally or promote itself. Without clean code, the performance of this software will suffer, negatively impacting the business. As more organizations continue to recognize that source code is the central component of software, they will begin to prioritize it at the boardroom level and will ensure that they have someone, perhaps a CCO, who is solely responsible for the success of their code.
Olivier Gaudin is CEO and cofounder of Sonar
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