24.3. The "Gilligan Factor"
It has been suggested, tongue in cheek, that if there were a patron saint of software engineers, the honor would fall on none other than Gilligan, the character in the pervasively popular American television show of the 1960s, Gilligan's Island. Gilligan is the enigmatic, sneaker-clad first mate, widely held to be responsible for the shipwreck that stranded the now-residents of the island.
To be sure, Gilligan's situation seems oddly familiar. Stranded on a desert island with only the most meager of modern technological comforts, Gilligan and his cohorts must resort to scratching out a living using the resources naturally available. In episode after episode, we observe the Professor developing exquisitely intricate tools for doing the business of life on their remote island, only to be foiled in the implementation phase by the ever-bungling Gilligan.
But clearly it was never poor Gilligan's fault. How could one possibly be expected to implement designs for such sophisticated applications as home appliances and telecommunications devices, given the rudimentary technologies available in such an environment? He simply lacked the proper tools. For all we know, Gilligan may have had the capacity for engineering on the grandest level. But you can't get there with bananas and coconuts.
And pathologically, time after time, Gilligan wound up inadvertently sabotaging the best of the Professor's plans: misusing, abusing, and eventually destroying his inventions. If he could just pedal his makeshift stationary bicycle faster and faster (he was led to believe), all would be well. But in the end, inevitably, the coconuts were sent hurling into the air, the palm branches came crashing down around his head, and poor Gilligan was blamed once again for the failure of the technology.
Dramatic though this image may be, some observers would consider it a striking metaphor for the software industry. Like Gilligan, we software engineers are often asked to perform tasks with arguably inappropriate tools. Like Gilligan, our intentions are sound, but technology can hold us back. And like poor Gilligan, we inevitably must bear the brunt of management's wrath when our systems are delivered behind schedule. You can't get there with bananas and coconuts . . . .