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IT Aphorisms

Published 19 December 2013 9:58 am

An aphorism is a concise or laconic statement that expresses an element of truth, and maybe a sting in the tail. such as ‘I’m an atheist, thank God’, or ‘The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned.’ An aphorism that is too often repeated becomes a cliché.


The literature of Information Technology in general is short of aphorisms. It IT, we don’t tend to use them much, Although DBAs will recognise Paul Randal’s famous ‘The answer, as always, is that it depends.’ we generally pine for the seventies when greats such as Fred Brooks Jr, with his classic ‘The Mythical Man-Month’, used the form to perfection. It is full of aphorisms such as ‘our estimating techniques fallaciously confuse effort with progress, hiding the assumption that men and months are interchangeable’, ‘Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later..’, or ‘How does a project get to be a year late?… One day at a time’. Fred Brooks wrote in a flowing prose style of extended aphorisms and the book is as fresh as when it appeared in 1975

I’d like to attempt to revive the tradition of the aphorism in IT writing and presentations, and to get you started I came up with a few to give you the idea of the sort of humour I enjoy. I hope you’ll contribute your own aphorisms as comments.

  • “Excuse this complex and intricate code, I didn’t have the time to make it simple.”
  • “If every well-known DBA in the world was laid end-to-end, I’d assume it was the effect of the evening Partying at SQL PASS.”
  • “I’m not afraid of hard work, unless it is me doing it.”
  • “The only time you can predict the release date of software is after it has happened.”
  • “Only a youngster can make a fortune with a startup, since age brings the knowledge and experience that it is impossible.”
  • “There are eight golden rules to the management of an IT project, and it is a shame that nobody knows what they are.”
  • “The brain is wonderful. It starts working when one wakes up, and ceases only when developing SQL code.”
  • “Developers have knowledge but can’t express it, whereas trainers have none, but can’t stop.”
  • “Every software team should have a fool or two in it, if only to test the software to ensure it is fool-proof.”
  • “Cursors were created tongue-in cheek, but procedural programmers didn’t understand the joke.”
  • “Software companies that plagiarise the work of others are always the most suspicious of being plagiarised”
  • “A Project Manager determines the success of a project as much as a weather forecaster determines the weather.”
  • “I like to work in a team where the other developers are clever enough to understand my code, but stupid enough to admire it.”
  • “The IT Manager’s job is to produce long words to cover up the mistakes of his staff”
  • “Running his code is like plodding over a field of sticky clay after it has rained.”
  • fright
  • “DBAs do not die, they are just dropped by The SuperUser”
  • “The moment a finished application looks as good as the rigged prototype, it is time to deploy”.
  • “Programming is like cycling. Whatever direction you take it is an uphill struggle against the wind.”
  • “I find that Agile is exhausting. It takes all my energy to appear reasonable and accommodating”
  • “A good database works better than a human because it doesn’t stop every few minutes to look at Twitter.”
  • “A month of programming can often save a day of thought.”
  • “An onion will make you cry, but your manager is the only vegetable that can make you laugh”
  • “When visited by the IT director, we all expected him to sit on his elbow.”
  • “As a programmer, I attribute my successes to jogging, abstinence and fasting. I’ve never done any of them.
  • “How come one can continue writing code through the night without tiredness, whereas writing a thank-you note leaves one drained and exhausted.”
  • “God sends us the data, the devil gives us the DBAs”
  • “My Big Data is unreliable, but the insights I gain from it are fascinating.”
  • “The first mistake a DBA makes is in becoming one.”
  • “Our developers are all graduates, not so much from Redbrick universities as white-tile ones.”
  • “A bug is nothing more than an opportunity to refactor code.”
  • “That ain’t a database, it’s a spreadsheet!”
  • “In the middle of the crowded railway carriage, he farted. He just said ‘Rollback’, and we all knew he as a DBA.”
  • “The act of prayer should never be like negotiating a service-level agreement with God.”
  • “A DBA should always stand up to programmers, the worm may turn, but the other side is pretty similar.”
  • “In programming, it is wiser to profit from good advice than to give it.”
  • “The only people who are confident that they understand IT issues are the senior management.”
  • “A database is a rational logical universe. The DBA, however, may still believe in the tooth faries”
  • “A good way of flattering a manager is to praise him for always detecting flattery.”
  • “DBAs don’t grow old, they merely lose their row locks
  • “It is better to understand part of the way SQL Server works than to misunderstand all of it.”
  • “To discover a programmers faults, praise him to his team-members.”
  • “The best way of punishing a development team is to have it managed by a programmer.”
  • “Jesus was the first financial DBA: he upset the tables of the moneylenders.”

52 Responses to “IT Aphorisms”

  1. SQLBeat says:

    We began a data mining project this year but were undermined

  2. SQLBeat says:

    Why my avatar is Wonder Woman leaves me wondering. Does this count as an aphorism?

  3. Robert Young says:

    – That ain’t a database, it’s a spreadsheet!

    My all time favorite is a corollary (of an aphorism? is that like crossbreeding; an IT mule?):

    There’s more hierarchies in databases than there are in the real world.

  4. imassi says:

    Always tell the SAN admin you need twice as much space as you think you need or three times as much as he says he can give you – whichever is more.

  5. WilliamII says:

    Pragmatism works better in theory than it does in practice.

    If God had meant us to think, he would have given us brains.

    Big bugs have little bugs upon their backs to bite’em and little bugs have smaller bugs and so ad infinitem.

  6. […] Factor’s IT Aphorisms presents an interesting list of, well, IT aphorisms, that can be put to good use in multiple […]

  7. Mendolis says:

    You can never make anything fool-proof because fools are ingenious

  8. rogerthat says:

    There’s always time to fix a bug, but never time to do it right

  9. rogerthat says:

    The customer does not know what they want.

  10. rogerthat says:

    How can you tell the difference between an extroverted programmer and an introverted programmer?
    The extroverted programmer looks at YOUR shoes when he is talking to you.

  11. rogerthat says:

    Famous last words: they will never want to change that, go ahead and hard code it.

  12. kfries says:

    Garbage in, gospel out.

  13. WilliamII says:

    “There is a very effective software development tool that is not used nearly enough – the brain. The many impediments to its proper use devised by computer scientists can be overcome” – Leslie Lamport

    “My grandfather once told me, there are two kinds of people: those who do the work…and those who take the credit. He told me to try and be in the first group, there was less competition there” – Indira Gandhi

  14. WilliamII says:

    Following fashion in IT is like playing Russian roulette with a silver bullet in every chamber of the gun.

  15. Rad! says:

    We’re agile but strangely enough even a five minute walk leaves us breathing heavily

  16. Javier says:

    You know your project reached obsolescence when you stop getting change request.

    No matter how many keys a table has , the client will always mark a new field as the most important to search/order the data. Repeat as many times as fields the table has , and then add new fields.

    Marketing beats statistics 10 times out of 9 projects.

    “This are not the features you are looking for”
    -Famous B.A. reply to a stormtrooper customer.

  17. WilliamII says:

    Hofstadter’s Law – “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

  18. WilliamII says:

    The quality of the software is in inverse proportion to the number of boxes and arrows in the PowerPoint presentation.

  19. WilliamII says:

    The usability of software can be measured by taking the number of installations of the software and dividing it by the number of books published about the software.

  20. WilliamII says:

    Whoever said XML is human readable had obviously never met a human.

  21. Phil Factor says:

    ‘Would you respect my project management of this development as much if I didn’t understand the technology?’
    ‘We do! We do!’

  22. WilliamII says:

    Client-server is twice as complicated as mainframe, three tier is four times more complicated, therefore n-tier…?

  23. WilliamII says:

    We used to say “yes we can”, but since we introduced the Kanban we can’t anymore.

  24. mlwonio says:

    C.I.O. = Career Is Over

  25. WilliamII says:

    Rollback, and think of England.

  26. SQLBeat says:

    Last week our monitoring software became self-aware…and resigned.

  27. says:

    If you’re using VLookup, you’re doing it wrong

  28. lucasgtruax says:

    Just fix it now, we’ll fix it right later.

  29. epirogov says:

    It is simpler to split architecture generics as historical change and it is safe to save generic thinks in splits from others eyes.

  30. WeAreHugh says:

    The problem solution is just a matter of time and programming, which equals money.

    You can have your solution correct, cheap or fast. Pick two.

  31. ASdanz says:

    We woudln’t have nearly so may bug reports if the users would just stick to the story that we wrote for them.

  32. DrTechnical says:

    I have two that are my favorites:

    1. My program is not ‘buggy’. In its struggle to be, it has fallen into the trap of separateness from the command syntax.

    2. Having lost sight of our objectives, we’ve re-doubled our efforts.

  33. DrTechnical says:


    If you want to estimate how long a project will take, come up with your best estimate, then double it and move to the next highest unit of measure.

  34. b_morgan1967 says:

    Stopping the NSA global data capture is unnecessary, as they are hindered at every turn by programmers. For once, bad dev comes in handy.

  35. CAReed says:

    The best way to avoid bugs in your code is to not write any.

  36. Baldy says:

    When you think you’ve made your software foolproof, the universe will produce a bigger fool

  37. iainspapa says:

    On error résumé next

  38. Philip Kelley says:

    Walk before you run, or you’ll be crawling in no time.

    Whenever someone uses the word “should” in any kind of design or analysis disucussion, insist that they restate the problem without using the word “should”.

    (Nowadays, whenever they say “should”, I just have to stare at them to get them to start thinking. This last one’s copied from all over the web:)

    80% of the work will take 80% of the time, and the remaining 20% of the work will take the other 80% of the time. (If this math did not make sense to you, come back after a few more years of working in IT.)

  39. robert jackson says:

    The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.

    In C we had to code our own bugs. In C# we can inherit them.

  40. Louis Somers says:

    I’ve used this one during an interview, when asked “what are your vices?”, my answer was: “Well, they say I’m cocky, but I know better”.

    Comparing two incompatible aspects that share a common property is like saying “last night it was even colder than outside!”. (The marketing/sales guys can make it sound convincing though).

    There are also many self referential paradox one-liners out there that could connect the giggle pin to the laughing shaft, eg:
    cut the knot
    Wikipdia’s list
    Google search

  41. Sergio E. says:

    The next release is comming very soon, where “very soon” is a lapse of time wich can be choosen at random between 1 minute and a few years.

  42. TodConover says:

    We don’t have time to do it right; only enough time to do it over.

  43. stevepnet says:

    “If you haven’t got time to do it right, make sure you have time to do it twice!”

    We also had a project that was such a late running disaster are we had to submit twice daily progress reports. We then had to explain our lack of progress with “You can’t make the pig fatter by weighing it more often!”

    My all time favourite is “Cheap, fast, right. Pick any two!” Your manager will always say that they want all three and see no reason this can’t be achieved.

  44. EdKay says:

    I first heard it in 1969, we were discussing FORTRAN, but it still applies (another characteristic of aphorisms is they are timeless)

    “the sooner you start coding, the longer the project takes”

  45. WilliamII says:

    “And that was the start of one hell of a mess, big data, big bad data”.

    (To be sung to the tune of Big Bad John)

  46. WilliamII says:

    The bug occurred because the subroutine wore out through constant reuse.

  47. WilliamII says:

    On agility; many people talk about monkeys, typewriters and the works of Shakespeare, but how many people ask the question – if you put 1000 Shakespeares in front of a thousand trees, how long would it be before one of them was swinging effortlessly from branch to branch?

  48. satheeshrajesh says:

    Tester to a Programmer : You, bugger with all those buggy bits…

    Programmer in reply : Did u call me Debugger…?

  49. WilliamII says:

    Alan Kay, the designer of Smalltalk, once commented that in computer science arrogance is measured in nano-Dijkstras.

    There are 1,000,000,000,000 nano-Dijkstras in one Kay.

  50. WilliamII says:

    Never underestimate management’s ability to get hold of the wrong end of the stick and then beat around the bush with it.

  51. WilliamII says:

    What should I do today, code or think?

    It’s a no brainer.

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