James Governor's Monkchips

Laura Thomson ++ : Saws, tool myopia, cutting the cheese

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cheese cut

I first came across Laura in the context of this wonderful talk on language choices. I said then she is now on my list to watch. Well today I came across another classic on her blog – Losing My Religion. Laura uses a story to make a case that chimes pretty well with arguments we have made in the past (in The Trouble With Binary Arguments and Polytheistic Platforms and Apollo (thanks Anne Z!) and A Gartner Analyst walks into a bar)

You’re over at a friend’s house – let’s call him Bob – and after opening a beer he invites you out to the garage to see something. On the wall hangs a reciprocating saw. You notice that there are no other tools visible, which seems kind of weird. Bob says “You like it? That reciprocating saw is the best tool ever. When I got it, I really liked it, and I joined the local reciprocating saw users’ group. They showed me all the cool things I could do with it, and I realized I didn’t need any other cutting tools. I even use it to slice my cheese!”

I certainly know plenty of architects and developers that want to use a reciprocating saw to cut the cheese. But back over to Laura:

There are very very few absolutes in choosing tools, save that whatever tool you choose should be of basically decent quality. I have my biases like everybody else, but it’s important to realize when you have a bias and acknowledge the effect that has on your decision making.

In particular, telling another engineer that all their problems would be solved if they would just switch from technology A to technology B is often the worst kind of cultish thinking. I’m talking about the kind of discussion you see on mailing lists, on IRC, or from some people in person where you say “I have this problem. I’m using technology A and…” at which point someone butts in and says “Switch to B.” when they know nothing about your problem.

Yup. Thanks Laura for the saw story. I will now include that in my toolkit.

photo credit to JaseMan.


  1. Isn’t the concept embodied by the old quote, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail?”

  2. Or maybe the less old quote “When the only tool you have is a hammer, it is important to spend less time using the hammer and more time running around saying ‘What are you using a screwdriver for? All the cool kids are using hammers. Everybody knows screwdrivers don’t scale.'”

  3. Glad you liked the photo. Thanks for the credit.

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