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The Reason You Don’t Kill Your Own Food

July 14, 2015

Hunting, car steering issues,  computer software and pin factories

They all go together. . .soft of.

My son-in-law is a hunter. One night my daughter called,

Dad, I’ve made these really yummy bacon-wrapped, sour cream stuffed, jalapeño venison medallions. But, we are just too stuffed to eat any more. If I bring them over will you eat them? 


When she arrived, my other kids were attracted by the aroma.

What are those?

Grown-up food!

They were delicious. Very few people need to, or even get to eat the food they’ve killed themselves. We quit being a hunter-gather species a long time ago. But, we could right? Just like my son-in-law, I could go out and attempt to shoot my own food. Why don’t we? 

Specialization, or what I call the build vs buy decision. It’s quicker and easier for us to let people who specialize in food production grow and kill our food. And based on my experience watching my friends who are hunters, specialization is a little more consist in providing food as well. 

In software design there is always a tradeoff between build and buy. You can build your own program, or you can go buy one. The software you buy is called off-the-shelf. For example, I don’t know of any company that would attempt to build their own Office suite or word processor. It is going to be cheaper for them to buy Microsoft Office, or download Open Office. It makes no sense to build your own. 

However, I do know many companies that choose to build their own tools. Because, while it’s cheaper to buy some software, off-the-shelf software isn’t very configurable. It’s a trade off between the inexpensiveness of buying vs the flexibility of building exactly what you want. 

Some companies think it’s cheaper to build their own. Typically these are not software companies. These are companies are are not run by program managers. These are companies that have never built software before. It’s always more expensive to build it yourself. And when you buy, you can take the money you save and use it elsewhere in your business. Buy from companies that specialize in making software. 

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher used a pin factory analogy to explain the benefits of specialization. If a single person had to do all the work to make a pin, he would be lucky to create a dozen or so per day. But, if we build a pin factory and we let some people specialize in cutting the pins to length, and others sharpening the point, and still others blunting the top, a pin factory can turn out many thousands of pins per day. 

The pin factory is simply another iteration of the build vs buy decision. In this case, each worker is essentially “buying” the partially completed pins from the guy further up the line. 

My car was behaving badly. It was weaving all over the road like a drunken sailor. Given my experience of the past several months, my first thought was to “build” a solution myself. I started checking forums and searching the internet for 


I got lots of hits. As I read through them, one theme was emerging: rack replacement. The rack is a very expensive piece of equipment. It’s about $900 for a new one. That doesn’t include labor. A rebuilt one is still $600 plus the work to put it in. And the work looked hard. 

I worked on getting the rack out of the junk Lexus in my driveway. 

Even with the engine removed I was having a tough time even getting a wrench on the bolts. 

I dreaded the thought of trying to get the “bad” rack out of my other car. Finally, I decided to “buy.” I thought,

A mechanic’s shop will diagnose my problem for free.

I took it to a place that specializes in tires and suspension. The mechanic spent five minutes looking at my car. 

Your struts are bad.


Your shocks have failed. You are riding around on springs. That’s why it’s swaying on the road. 

Swapping out the shocks is a much easier job than swapping out the rack. Had I persisted in my “build” plan, I would have spent hours (days, probably) swapping out a part and at the end still have not solved the problem. This is one of the cases I’m glad I decided to “buy” advice rather than “build” my own solution, even if I bought it for free.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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