The Ecology of the Scope Creep
A Programmers Nightmare Elucidated
Presented in four parts
Episode one: Introduction
A Programmers Nightmare Elucidated
Presented in four parts
Episode one: Introduction
Anatomy of a Scope Creep
"The teeth! The teeth! Oh, the horror of it all!"
- source unknown, remains unidentifiable
What exactly is a Scope Creep? Please re-read the previous section. It's malleable. That means changeable. That means there is no "exactly" when describing it. There are, however, many typical components that, when assembled just so (or when disassembled, or misassembled, or otherwise) can form the, unfortunately, less than elusive Scope Creep.
The Scope Creep is quite small, at least in physical measurements – fractions of fractions of fractions of your unit of choice, it may seem small and innocent, but this size belies its penchant for destruction. A curious facet regarding the size: despite its sub-micron dimensions, the creature appears so only through the initial stages of the software life-cycle. As it nears completion, it begins to grow to gargantuan volume, eclipsing all critical paths and unremittingly destroying its target.
As you can see, the mouth of the Scope Creep is quite large in proportion to its overall size. What this fails to depict, however, is the preternatural ability of the Scope Creep to swallow objects orders of magnitude larger than itself. This ability is most often instantiated when a lone Programmer or Analyst strays too close. It especially prefers those who are outspoken against what it stands for, finding them both delicious and nutritious.
Assisting in its culinary endeavours, and quite difficult to miss, are the exceptionally sharp, exceptionally oversized teeth, which are made of the same material found in the digestive tract of those most fiendish devices and computer accessories: printers. No material is more capable of ripping important things to shreds, mauling idea, theory, and specification alike. It is thought, in some circles, that it is not so much that Scope Creeps have teeth made of gnashing, gnawing printer parts, but that printers are the final abode and resting places for Scope Creeps that have had their run at life or have decided they'd rather a chance at anything that passed them by instead of settling for their normal sphere of influence.
As the tendency of the Scope Creep is to eat first and ask questions later, it is no surprise that its eyes are bigger than its stomach. It has the uncanny ability to take that physical aspect and twist it into a metaphorical construct in the minds of those it has befriended (i.e. sales, marketing, and other influential, misguided folks, often referred to as Avatars by those who study Scope Creeps in the wild), thus making New Features and Expanded Functionality that are well beyond the capabilities of the development team to produce according to the required schedule seem like trivial matters that can be slipped in quite easily without requiring more resources or time. One may notice, if one looks close enough, a small twinkle in the eye of the Scope Creep which is mirrored in the eye of its Avatars. It is quite unnerving to experience.
The ears of the Scope Creep are pointed. Physiologically, this is evidence of their heritage, being descended of demonic creatures, however, had their ears not been pointed via genetic structure, they would have evolved that way over time through natural processes and needs. Their ears are a survival trait, to endear themselves to programmers, who tend to have an interest in pointy-eared creatures such as elves, gnomes, faeries, and hobbits... not to mention those who are devout worshipers of the Star Trek phenomenon (or, like the XP'er who offered his testimony for this work, have parents who are fully-vested Trekkies and name their only son after a particular pointy-eared character). The ears of the Scope Creep have special valves and tubing, whereby they can redirect the sounds around them, or tune them to act as amplification channels, enabling them to pick up pertinent gossip from far and wide, even over the noise of a fully-stocked server farm. Truly, they only hear what they want to hear.
As if it weren't overwhelmingly obvious by now, they have a nose for trouble. Finely tuned to both the quakings and stabilisings of projects and code bases and to the susceptibility of potential Avatars, they are attracted like bears to honey or flies to – well, basically anything unsavoury and half-rotting; the former of which covers some sweet programming concepts, the latter, your average marketing executives. Their nose is long, not, as some scholars erroneously believe, due to Pinocchian Syndrome brought on by their excessive willingness and gifted ability to stretch truth – said willingness and ability which is, in and of itself, well-documented and considered a given part of their nature – but to allow them to wheedle their way into situations where they are not welcome, wanted, or suchlike.
Arms or tentacles, sometimes it's hard to determine what their primary appendages should be called – in any case, it's painfully obvious to anyone caught in their clutches that they are fixed with sharp, spiky things, angled back to snag and dig deeply into whatever surface they latch on to – whether flesh, liquid crystal, tree pulp, or swaggering electrons. The primary purpose of these long, twisted limbs, usually arrayed in pairs, is to draw their prey to them. Scientists theorize that tiny nerve-endings in the spikes themselves send a signal to the Scope Creeps brain that dinner is served, and thus stimulates the creation of prodigious quantities of pre-processing fluids often seen dripping from its flashing teeth. In all fairness, this theory is hotly contested by several different camps, who offer up such a wide range of alternatives – from the reasonable belief that the creature has no nerves whatsoever, as it certainly does not seem to feel anything, to the controversial belief that the creature does not have a brain. Certainly, it is terror-inducing to think that such outright maliciousness, scheming, and conniving comes from a creature that is mindless and incapable of feeling joy at the destruction it spreads. It's simply too good at what it does for this researcher to believe the hype.
Perhaps adding to the confusion of nomenclature regarding the upper arms as tentacles are several additional appendages that appear much like chains with anchors on their ends. These aren't true limbs, and even the Scope Creep doesn't have complete mastery over their movements – but the creatures have become pretty good shots with whirling, twirling, and aiming them. These anchor-like things are, in fact, anchors, and the Scope Creep utilizes them for two primary purposes. The most common usage is to attach itself firmly to an idea and not let go of it even after it has been proved superfluous. It will often drag such concepts along as it moves about, banging them heedlessly into its surroundings, making quite a mess of things. The other main purpose is to aid the creature in stringing along its duped Avatars, tugging them this way and that, sometimes to meet its goals, and sometimes, seemingly, purely for entertainment purposes. At times, it will extend itself, and latch onto some process or program beyond its usual cares and use the anchor chains to drag it back or fix it in place; again, it is thought to do this as a bit of a lark. If it can keep something trapped in the Stone Age, then it has a certain smug satisfaction – although, given its mouth and teeth, already discussed, it's hard to read this expression differently than its normal toothy grin.
Despite the Scope Creeps tail having the general appearance of a Mephitis mephitis, the creature does not exude an odour per se... although some can grow quite alarmed if they are sensitive to it, and find the stench unbearable, most don't even notice it when the beastie walks right under their noses. It is rumoured, however, that once a Scope Creep is identified as such, it panics – others will say is overtaken by an evil, leering grin that is certainly not panic – and sprays its foul, noxious scent over everyone involved in the project. This could explain why some programmers, having been associated with a project subjected to a particularly intense infestation, are incapable of finding gainful employment thereafter, save perhaps in some other labour, generally of a menial nature. Curiously, those suspected of being Avatars for the Scope Creeps who receive these odourific stigmata are seen as exalted, rather than reviled, in the eyes of their peers.
The torso of the Scope Creep is unremarkable, often underdeveloped. The former has little contained within – a small stomach that simply passes ideas and improvements through without digestion is really all that it houses. The creature has proven it can hold its breath longer than any opponent, winning some decisions by simply outlasting all competition. The odds are slightly stacked in the Scope Creeps favour, as it neither has lungs nor breathes in any other form. It can, and often does, survive in a vacuum. There is no question that the Scope Creep is thoroughly heartless, and, in fact, does not possess any blood, as it can not allow itself a foible that an enemy might be able to squeeze from it.
The lower body is even more atrophied than the torso. The Scope Creep has little need of self-propulsion, instead it moves about perched on a shoulder or forearm (much like a hunting raptor, in the latter case) of an Avatar, clinging to the back of programmers or analysts in a leech-like manner (causing some to classify the Scope Creep as a parasite), or simply using its anchors to cling to a given target. The creature often utilizes a vehicle when solo mobility is required – they have an arrangement with the Good Intentions Paving Co., LLC, whereby they can be found at the controls of a steamroller – something they resort to when all subtlety can be thrown to the wind.
It should be noted that the Scope Creeps colouration varies highly, dependent on the surroundings – having an almost chameleon-like ability to disguise itself – but also malleable in that it often appears warm and rosy at first sight, turning into vomitous shades of limpid greens and sickly yellows or even pulpy, beaten blues and reds towards the end of the Software Lifecycle. The appearance is also highly variable on location, angle, distance, and mental stability of the beholder.
The creature, upon achieving a certain age in implementation, often shows signs of mold or fungal growths. Although these parasites-on-a-parasite don't seem to truly bother the Scope Creep, it will rub up against projects, documentation, and code as if to relieve an itch, often leaving behind a spreading infestation of software rot. Any number of insects make their home on the Scope Creep, although for want of blood, it is not clear what some of them – strangely enough, often larger than the Scope Creep itself – feed upon. Of others, there is no doubt, including hundreds of millions of species that sap performance, data integrity, or cause intermittent errors in code the Scope Creep comes within proximity of.
Up next, episode three: Habitat of the Scope Creep