“Professionals talk about software, amateurs talk about software”. Attributed to Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. We’ve all seen and heard the quote, or some butchered version thereof. We’ve all seen it used by some as a reminder of what really matters and by others as a way to declare themselves superior to someone else based on their chosen topic of discussion. But is it meant as an absolute? And if it is an absolute, is it a correct one? And if it is correct does it get mis-applied?
What do we mean by those terms? Hardware is generally seen as meaning guns & gear while Software is usually seen as meaning training and tactics or application thereof. Hardware is the rifle, software is the application of the rifle. Hardware is the magazine pouch, software is the ability to get the magazine out of the pouch and into the gun. Does the rifle used have some influence on the ability to get hits downrange? Does the pouch used have an impact on the ability to retain the magazine until needed and then give up it’s retention at that precise moment?
Most often the quote is brought up to mean that hardware means nothing and software means everything. Or worse, that the two are mutually exclusive. Are they? Does hardware really not matter? Would WWII have not ended differently if the Japanese or Germans had dropped an atomic bomb on Moscow and Washington DC instead of the US dropping them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Obviously this is an extreme example, so let’s simplify it a moment.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Dale Earnhardt and I climb into identical NASCAR cars and hit the track he will absolutely beat my ass. No question. But what about if I’m in the NASCAR and he’s on foot? Or on a bicycle? Or a moped? Or a Honda Civic? Or a Corvette? At what point along that continuum does hardware cease to matter and only the relative skill and experience of the “operator” come into play? At what point can Earnhardt, using inferior hardware, start to catch up? to beat me? to lap me? Still think hardware doesn’t matter?
Look at any professional sport. We’ve all seen stories of the underdog, with the inferior equipment, beating the better equipped bad guy. Maybe some of us havel even done it. Years ago I played pool competitively and regularly beat guys twice my age that had custom cues costing 10, 20, 50 times what my cheap Walmart cue cost. My software, my ability to play the game, and just as importantly the MIND game, beat their hardware. But there were also times when that cue simply let me down. To be sure, it takes a good player to discern those times, and a truly good player can overcome a lot of bad equipment, but there comes a point where you’re up against an opponent with software equal to your own, but hardware that is superior, and you lose. Look at music where a truly talented musician can make use of an instrument that is 100 times more expensive than another, and appreciate the difference, and produce a musical result that even a neophyte music buff can discern just sounds better. Take that same piece of music and play it on an 8-track tape deck in a 1972 Ford Pinto vs. a Harmon Kardon sound system that has been custom installed by a professional installer in an acoustically designed room. Does hardware really not matter?
By no means am I suggesting that hardware always trumps software. With two opponents, similarly outfitted, the opponent with the better training and tactics and experience will win most of the time. Regardless of the pursuit. But there comes a point where, no matter how good the software, it is impossible to overcome a hardware disadvantage. and so while Professionals may, in fact, discuss software over hardware, this does not mean that hardware doesn’t matter, nor should it be used as an excuse to ignore advances in hardware. Better is better, and if better tools exist to perform a job the intelligent person acknowledges this and takes advantage of it. Otherwise a slight hardware advantage for an opponent, one that you can overcome with training, tactics, experience, and mindset, may turn into a hardware advantage that is insurmountable and they wind up dropping the equivalent of the Little Boy or the Fat Man right in your lap.