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On a cold day in Eastern Tennessee, my kayak is perched precariously atop a
waterfall known as State Line Falls. The fall has a nasty reputation among kay-
akers. One of our team is walking this one. He was injured and shaken up last
year at the same spot. This time around he wants no part of it.
From the top, there is no clue of the danger that lurks around the bend, but
we know. We have been thinking ahead to this rapid for several days. We have
read about what I cannot yet see. Five truck-sized boulders guard four slots. The
water rushes through the slots and plunges to the bottom of the fall. I will see the
entire waterfall only seconds before I go over it. Most of the water lands on boul-
ders barely covered by two feet of water. Three of the four slots are reputed to be too
violent and dangerous for your mother-in-law. Through the fourth, the river rips
into the narrows and picks up speed. It drops sharply over the lip and crashes onto
the jagged rocks 16 feet below. I am a programmer by trade, a father of two, and
a kayaker of intermediate skill. I have no business going over a Class V waterfall
described in guidebooks as “marginal.” But here I am, looking for the land-
marks. I pick my slot, sweep left, and brace for the soft landing—or the crash. I
am in free fall.
A Java development free fall
The sales team was strong. They got all the right sponsors, lined them up, and
marched them into the executive's office. They all said the same thing. The
development cycle times were outrageous. Each project was longer than the
last, and the best project overshot deadlines by 85 percent. It did not take the
CIO long to add up the numbers. The cost overruns ran well into seven figures.
The answer was Java. The lead rep presented a fat notebook showing refer-
ences from everywhere: the press, the news, and three major competitors. The
proposed tools won awards and added to the outrageous productivity claims
promised by even the most conservative vendors. They never cited the down-
side or training requirements. In early 1996, hardly anyone did. The sales
team brought in the big gun: a proof-of-concept team that quickly hammered
out an amazingly robust prototype in a short time. The lead rep had practiced
the close many times, but in this case, the deal was already sealed. She was able
to get even more of the budget than she expected. After all, a product and lan-
guage this easy and this similar to C++ should not require much training, so
she got most of that allocated budget too.
But a year and a half later, the lead programmer was sitting behind a desk
in the middle of the night while the sales rep celebrated her third National Cir-
cle sales award in Hawaii. In truth, the programmer seemed genuinely happy
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