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Submitted by jrumple on


As I'm listening to the Decorating Your Desk episode, I fear I will have to lose the Software Puppy. (Generally no soft toys.) Before he leaves my desk, I wanted to share with the group the Legend of the Software Puppy so when he's not here in fact, he may remain in spirit.

Many years ago a software developer (programmer, coder) told me the Legend of the Software Puppy. Often as you're writing software code, you find challenges. Sometimes the code won't compile. Other times you're not getting the results you expect. For those who have written some code, you have had times where a comma was in the wrong place, a semicolon was missing, or there is a typo in a variable name.

When you are really stuck, you will grab another programmer and ask them to look through your code to see if they can find the problem. This takes a lot of courage, especially for programmers, because it means someone will see your mistakes or demonstrate they are a better programmer than you are. Well that is the mindset at least. Some programmers will spend hours pouring over a block of code before they ask for help.

After they do ask for help, they have to explain this piece of code to the other programmer. Most of the time about halfway through the explanation, they see the mistake themselves, blush, and say "There it is. Thanks. I've got it from here." Then the other programmer, who has been interrupted and didn't actually get to prove they knew anything, walks away to get back to their search for the elusive bug.

Now enter the Software Puppy. When a software development team brings a Software Puppy onto the team, it costs about nothing. The interview is quick, though lacks a lot of energy. The Software Puppy will sit quietly in the corner until someone has a problem. The programmer will bring the puppy to their cubicle. As the programmer explains the problem, the puppy will sit quietly and not interrupt with silly questions. As before the programmer having the problem will recognize their issue and turn to the puppy saying, "Thanks. I've found it. I'll take it from here."

It is amazing how many software issues the Software Puppy can resolve in a month at a much lower cost.

Thanks for letting me share. I hope those of you who have worked with software developers enjoyed this story. I've included a couple pictures of the Software Puppy. The first one is his badge photo so he can get in the building. The second one is an action shot of him reviewing some code looking for errors.

Colorado Springs

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 One pleace I used to work had a stuffed toy bee that served a similar purpose for the Business Intelligence team. 

In this case it served an additional purpose.  The BI software in use relied of a collection of data cubes stored in a universe from which the reports extracted their data.  Whilst there were many reports there was only one universe (this was a restriction of the product itself) and if two people tried to edit the universe at the same time one could very easily overwrite the changes made by the other.  This is where the bee's second purpose came in, only the person who had possession of the bee was allowed to edit the universe.  No bee, no editing.  Obviously this operated through the honour system but there were various dire penalties for being found editing the universe whilst not in possession of the bee (even if the person who had the bee at that time was not editing the universe).  It did work very well.

If there are any actionable points from this story I guess they are: A simple non-technical solution, even if it appears strange at first, can solve a technical problem; Don't dismiss a resource just because it's under utilised, often a second use can present itself.




Skype: stephenbooth_uk (Please note I'm on UK time)

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Experience is how you avoid failure, failure is what gives you experience.

mtietel's picture
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 We had a stuffed bear on one project.  Many hours were spent "talking to the bear".

RichRuh's picture
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If the Software Puppy is part of your team's culture (i.e., you and your team tell stories about it), then by all means, keep it.  It's providing value above and beyond the "personal expression" that a typical office decoration does.

Put it in a public area if you feel that upper management will draw conclusions about it being in your office.


stevesim's picture


Based on what you described above, Software Puppy is not a toy, it/he/she is a tool, well actually the physical representation of a non-existent but very effective member of your development team.  Given the value that software puppy adds to the team in terms of preventing lost productivity, it/he/she probably warrants their own cubicle. I'd also warrant that Software Puppy is probably a high S based on how effective it/he/she is in supporting other members of the team.  ;-)

Steve Simmons

SamBeroz's picture

If it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid.

- Sam

maura's picture
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If the Software Puppy can't find similar work in a new office once you've let him go, he might need to consider a career change.  Could he maybe take the place of my auto mechanic?  My car NEVER makes the same noise once I bring it into the shop...

js_brewington's picture
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To me, your statement "It is amazing how many software issues the Software Puppy can resolve in a month at a much lower cost." says it all.

If nothing else, there's a good story behind it that extends its benefits beyond your desk and outward to your team.  As a manager, I'm all for having your directs find what works for them, makes them laugh, makes them more effective...and if that can benefit the team, bonus points.

Just don't blame the puppy if you break the build.


jrumple's picture
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Thanks to everyone who has contributed here. I'm going to keep the Software Puppy at my desk, and available to help anyone on the team struggling through their code.

I got a good laugh from some of the comments. It sounds like you all understand the Software Puppy. I like some of the stories of other versions of this concept. Stephen Booth, I like the idea of your bee also serving as what I know as a Talking Stick.

A little background on how the Software Puppy first joined my team. It happened at a work social event. I had heard the story told about a Software Bunny. A few years ago I was at an internal company conference on leadership. After the day of work we went to Dave and Buster's for a work social event. Someone in the group had rescued this stuffed puppy from The Claw (with all due respect to Pixar and Toy Story). As the social was breaking up they were trying to see if anyone wanted this stuffed puppy. At first I hadn't put the pieces together and didn't need a stuffed animal. After about 5 minutes of asking everyone in the group if they wanted it, I realized the opportunity at hand and volunteered to give this wayward puppy a good home. That was the night he was hired onto the team to fill the unbudgeted staffing position for the team as our Software Puppy.

Colorado Springs