The Bus Factor

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite a while, as the bus factor is something I’ve (literally) run into in my career. For those of you not familiar with it, the “Bus Factor” is basically an informal measure of resiliency of a project to the loss of one or more key members. It’s basically the programming version of the old adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

Story Time

Some years ago I was a software development intern at a large company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The team I was on was broken into a U.S. development team, an offshore dev team in India and an offshore QA team in China. We had daily scrum meetings at 8 AM every morning so that the US and Indian teams could participate all in one. One day we got word that one of the senior-most developers had literally been hit by a bus while crossing the street (thankfully he made a full recovery, but it certainly slowed down that part of the team as he was out for 8 weeks or so).

How to Reduce the Bus Factor

I’m sure people can (and probably have) written entire books on the subject of reducing the bus factor, and spreading knowledge around through the entire team. Spreading knowledge is really the key element in bus factor reduction.

How many people currently work on a team where one or two people are basically the wizards who secret spells make critical things happen (like deployments or provisioning infrastructure assets, or SSL certificates, or any of the other million things that need to be done in order to make software work)? I know I’ve worked on several teams where that happened. I’ve also worked with people who wanted to increase the bus factor as they thought it gave them better job security (a notion I strongly disagree with).

In my experience one of the best ways to reduce the bus factor is to maintain an internal wiki where developers and administrators can document processes for anything which they are going to do more than once (and sometimes it’s good to document things that are being done once as well). Another great idea is to regularly schedule cross training (n+1 isn’t only a good idea for infrastructure, developers and admins should have a bit of redundancy as well).


I personally feel that there is an ethical responsibility for all engineers to be transparent in what they do. I never want to be the only person capable of doing something, instead I do my best to make sure that anything I do, which may ever need to be done again, is documented at least well enough that someone can probably piece it together. Doing this ensures that if I am ever hit by a bus the rest of my team won’t have to try to figure out the magical incantations I have developed in order to do a number of things.


At the end of the day reducing the bus factor is good for your team. You never know when you or one of your colleagues are going to end up no longer being available to work (they might be hit by a bus, or it might be something more mundane like taking a new job, or leaving for a few months for a sabbatical or maternity/paternity leave). As an engineer and a member of a team you have an ethical obligation to ensure that you are both sharing processes and techniques you’ve developed with your colleagues, and also trying to learn those processes and techniques from your colleagues.

Goals for 2017

It’s a new year, so in the tradition of setting a few resolutions, here are a few of my professional goals for 2017:

  1. More Networking
  2. More Side Projects
  3. More Reading
  4. More Writing
  5. Take Better Care of Myself

All of those things should be pretty easy, but there is the all important question of “Why?”


I work as a senior full-stack engineer at my full-time job, and also work as (the only) infrastructure engineer for my wife’s businesses (1, 2) both of which keep me fairly busy, but as a professional I’m always curious what other people are working on, and what other stacks are out there. In order to start getting more exposure to other ways people are doing things I’m going to start trying to attend at least one meetup a month just to chat with other developers and engineers. A stretch goal to this would be to find one or more conference (ideally within the Greater Los Angeles area) to attend.

More Side Projects

This one is kind of easy resolution as I’ve already started working on another side project. Historically my issue with side projects is that I’m great at working on something for one or two days, but staying focused on it long-term has been an issue. The goal with this resolution isn’t so much to just start a bunch of projects, it’s to work on actually shipping things. I did ship a couple of (very small) side projects last year (both are .NET centric):

  1. BlockListChecker – A tool to check if an email address is on any of many ESPs suppression lists.
  2. NuGetVersionChecker – A tool to generate a (very simplistic) report of packages in a package.config file.

I would like to ship at least 6 projects this year (assuming some mix of very simple to somewhat complex).

More Reading

I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm, although I’ve gravitated towards fiction. I recently got a Kindle Paper-white and have found it to be very easy to read on (even for technical books). I’ve already started reading “The Pragmatic Programmer”, and while the book itself is a bit dated, I’m finding there to be a lot of great content. At the tail end of last year I also signed up as a volunteer reviewer for Manning Publication Review, and have already reviewed one book (which was a fantastic read, I’m excited for the remainder of the book to be released so I can finish it). I’ve been adding programming books to an Amazon wish list for a few years now, and 2017 will the year I’ll try to get through at least a few of them. To steal an idea from “The Pragmatic Programmer” I’m going to try to get through at least one book per quarter (ideally even quicker than that though).

More Writing

I’m going to assume that as of the writing of this post I have exactly zero regular readers on this blog. There are probably two major reasons for that: a) I don’t write on a regular basis; and b) I need to become a better writer. The nice thing is that the resolution to both of those issues is the same: write more. Writing is a skill like any other, where the more it is done, the better it will become (getting feedback is helpful in that as well).

Take Better Care of Myself

I think every person has this resolution every year. I spend 60+ hours a week in front a computer between my job, my wife’s businesses, and working on side projects/playing games/etc. I do a few things which help: I ride my bicycle to work most days, and try to either go for a long hike or a long bike ride every weekend. There are a few low hanging fruit and a few habit-changes I can make which will make me healthier and also prevent RSI in my hands/wrists (something I periodically struggle with).

  1. Stop slouching – proper posture would go light-years to keeping me in good shape.
  2. Drink more water – as my coworkers can attest I drink way to much coffee (3-5 cups most days), and in the afternoon I like carbonated and heavily caffeinated drinks. To start I am going to start trying to drink one glass of water for every cup of coffee I have in the mornings. For my afternoon drinks I’m going to stop with the energy drinks and start sticking to sugar-free soda (which obviously has less sugar, and also much less caffeine).
  3. Eat healthier – While I get a fair amount of cardio in every day (bike rides and afternoon walks), most things I’ve read lately show that weight control is really a function of your diet (i.e. working out is great for your heart, but if you want to lose or maintain your current weight, calorie restriction is the only real sure-fire way to do it).

Let’s Make 2017 a Great Year

I’ve never tried publicly blogging my resolution before, let’s see if it makes me a bit more accountable. If nothing else, I’ll be able to point my browser to this page anytime I need a bit of motivation to keep on track with my goals for the year. These are all fairly conservative goals, so I’m optimistic of being to both meet and exceed them, which should put me in a great spot for 2018.