What is Source Code and Where is it Kept ?

A guide for the non-techie tech entrepreneur.

In the 2013 ‘Project Oxygen’ study, Google found it's better to be more ’social’ than ‘rocket’ scientist when running technology projects. A point made time and again by the many successful non-techie tech entrepreneurs.

In the next two posts, we outline some of the more common bear traps that await the non-techie tech entrepreneur.

A rough table of contents is:

1/2  A look 'under the hood’ at what you need to know, plus what is ’source code’ and do I/should I own it ?

2/2  Common tools and ways of running tech projects, plus finding / managing techies.

So, on with part 1.

As a non techie tech entrepreneur, you will have delegated responsibility for your development to another person / organisation. You will watch with admiration as they tinker about under the hood to keep things ticking over smoothly. What exactly are they doing under there ?

If your company is pretty much a software only operation then your systems will be made out of source code . Quoting from Wikipedia, source code is “.. a text file version of a computer program or software that contains instructions that the computer follows to do something".
So for example, the most basic HTML page would look as follows:

<html>
 <head>
 </head>
 <body style=“color: red;">
   Hello World
 </body>
</html>

Point your browser at this, and you will see just the ‘Hello World’ text in red (yes, much source code is in American spelling).

You may now be thinking, what’s all the fuss about, that looks trivial? So let’s take a look at the most commonly used website creation system, Wordpress. Under the hood, Wordpress is built using the PHP programming language. A lot of PHP. A quick and dirty way to measure the complexity of a software project is the ‘lines of code’ metric. Currently Wordpress has 690,000 lines of code. In May 2003, it had 11,000.

Wordpress is an 'Open Source’ project, so we have full access to the source code on Github. Github.com is a ‘source code repository’ service. Think of it as your own private 'Lock n Store' for your source code. There are many alternatives including BitBucket and GitLab.

The source code needs to be processed in some way to turn it into the deployed product. In the case of a mobile app, the developer loads it into a tool such as Xcode, builds it, tests it then uploads it to the App Store.

Without the source code, it is impossible to extend, maintain, replicate or update your product.

Don’t worry if this is news to you, you’re not alone, and it needn’t be a problem provided you stay with the same developers.

Where it does become an issue is when you need to in-source development or switch developers. No source code means starting again.

It is best to ensure you have source code access from the start. Do this by creating an account on Github (it’s free) and adding your developers to that account. Require them to upload any modifications they make as they go (at least daily). It is also a good idea to have an independent techie try and replicate the product. Source code is complex, so the developer will probably have missed out some parts, and the only way to find out is to try replicating it.

Often this kind of source code management arrangement hasn’t been put in place. So you will need to request the source code. This may cause the developer to fear they are about to be replaced. There are perfectly valid justifications for this request that should put their mind at ease. A good example is that you are creating a disaster recovery plan, and need all the source code to be securely backed up. Another is that a new customer requires ’source code escrow’ to guard against being locked out of your product should one of their competitors purchase you. There are many other good reasons for gaining source code access.

Once you have the source code, you may not have all the rights over it that you thought you had. The law states that the developer owns the copyright to their creation (as authors of it). Regardless of who paid for it. This is a great (US) article that sums up the problem. UK law is very similar. In summary, unless the development contract specifically assigns ownership to the client, the contractor retains ownership and associated copyright.

As in the linked article above, the problem may only become apparent when selling the company, transferring development in house or switching developers.

There are several strategies to mitigate copyright ownership, contact the author for more detail.

This post has explained what source code is, where it can be found and who owns it. In the next post we will cover the methodologies and tools that your techie staff should be using to manage and version your source code, plus a quick look at managing the techies themselves.

If you are concerned about any of the topics discussed, or would just like to know more, then please contact us for a free two hour review.

Posted: Wednesday 9th October 2019.
Author: Nick Thorne.
Also published on LinkedIn.


ESG Money ?

Money is worthless.

You can’t do a lot with that paper note or the figure on a banking app screen.
About as useful as the first telephone - who you gonna call ?

But others will exchange your note or 'app screen number' for stuff.
Quite useful after all.
But we can make money even more useful.
What if we can make our money into a tool to bring about change for good ?

This post is a technical thought experiment taking us one baby step towards that goal.

So, the payment card in your pocket will buy you a coffee, a beer, some fuel, groceries, a flight, a train ticket.
And we are acutely aware of the need to move to more sustainable consumption.

We can do this by linking each and every payment with something called the ESG score of the merchant.
ESG refers to environmental, social and governance. See Wikipedia for more info.

In February 2018, Yahoo finance started listing the ESG scores of companies in a range from 1 to 100.
At the time of writing, Marks and Spencer scores 75 (73, 67, 88) in total, which is above their peer group who are respectively at Tesco - 63, Asda (Walmart) - 59, Sainsbury’s - 67.

And if we want that coffee, MacDonalds - 58, Costa (Coca Cola) - 61, Cafe Nero - ?

So, we have a crude measure of ‘goodness’, how do we make use of this?

In February 2016, one of the challenger banks, Monzo published a brand new developer API.
An API is an ‘application programming interface' which means it’s like a socket that third parties can bolt things into.
In this case, there are two sockets of interest, the one that outputs details of your payment when you make a purchase, and another that lets you add an item into your Monzo app feed.

There is of course some processing that needs to happen behind the scenes.
One is cross referencing the merchant with their ESG score.
The other is to calculate the particular user’s cumulative ESG score. The diagram below shows the complete system.

And it works!!

However, there are some limitations. Firstly, do we trust the ESG scores? This agenda is being driven by and for the finance industry by large corporates like Sustainalytics. Some of us remember the credit rating agency conflicts of interest leading to the ‘great financial crash’. We must be cautious.

Then there is the issue of multiple item purchases. I might be in Tesco buying local in-season vegetables, or air freighted unsustainably produced asparagus. These individual items are not broken out into their respective ESG scores.

Small and micro businesses which are often local, independent and full and fair taxpayers will not have an ESG listing. We could find a way to crowd-source this data. Organisations like The Fair Tax Mark can help with this.

My first thoughts on this were posted on Twitter in early September. But the ideas stem from reading David Graeber's "Debt: The First 5000 Years" a few years ago, Eric Lonergan's Money, more recently Erik Thownsend's The Death of the Dollar and the Rise of Digital Currency and "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson.

Simultaneously a closely related topic appeared on the Monzo forum.
Maybe this is an idea whose time has come?

This thought experiment is work in progress. We can go much much further with digital currencies. Suggestions welcome.

Can money evolve from a 'means of exchange' to a 'means of change' ?

Posted: Friday 26th September 2019.
Author: Nick Thorne.


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