Institutional Knowledge and Axe Murderers

“Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live.”

Those are wise words to live by, and I think they apply equally well to institutional knowledge.

According to Stack Overflow the above quote is attributed to John F. Woods on a 1991 forum post. It’s pretty well known in developer circles, but I think it should be slightly augmented and posted on the walls of offices everywhere:

“Always work as if the person who ends up doing your job next is a violent psychopath who knows where you live.”

The difference is subtle, and it’s all about Institutional Knowledge or all the crap that only you know that over time has become essential to the function of your organization. If you got hit by a bus tomorrow (too grim? Let’s say you won the lottery and quit) could your team go on without you?

Think about all the times you answer the same question because “you’re the one who does that” and think of all the times something you’re working on grinds to a halt because the person who knows the answer is on vacation. “I guess I’ll finish this when so-and-so gets back,” you sigh and say.

Instead of shrugging it off, let these moments inspire you to pull this useful and mission critical knowledge (much of which does not seem that important but it is) out of your brain and put it into a team wiki.

Or something.

Even a long word doc with headers is better than letting all this information travel by word of mouth only.

We have writing. We have computers. We have the freaking internet. Why does most of the useful information in an organization still travel by oral tradition and bard song?