Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Code Ownership

2020-11-01 — Michael Haupt

Recently, the notion of "code ownership" (as in: this team owns that code) came up once more. In this context, "ownership", in my humble opinion, is a misleading concept.

Who "owns" the code? Any individual engineer or team? That would mean that if they move to another team or organisation within a company (or leave) they can take the code with them. Nope, won't happen. You may think this is nitpicking, but words have meanings after all, and "I own this" is a fairly strong statement that brings with it a lot of confidence and entitlement. If you own something, technically speaking, you can just tear it to shreds when you feel like it. (Who has never wanted to do that with a piece of code refusing to be bugfixed?) If you own something, you can also easily say "no" to anybody else's request to do something with it.

Let's be clear: the owner of a company's proprietary code is that company. Not some team or individual, but the company.

What then?

How about "stewardship" instead? A steward has very far-reaching rights over the properties they've been put in charge of by the owner. They act in the sense of the owner, out of a deep sense of responsibility and in good spirit, protecting the property from harm but recognising the needs of stakeholders. See how that's different and more collaborative?

(And just to be clear, a certain Denethor is not a particularly good role model.)

Tags: work