In the Spring of 2008, I decided to become a brownfield development specialist. Greenfield development is when you're starting a project from scratch and get to design everything with only minimal constraints. Brownfield development is the opposite of that: it's when a project is n months into development and most of the constraints have been cast in stone. My guess is that if you were to ask every developer you know whether they'd prefer to work on a greenfield project or a brownfield project that they'd all say greenfield. Heck, I'd bet that a quarter of them would laugh so hard that Red Bull shot out of their nose just at being asked the question. Therein lies one of the secrets of becoming a Big Swinging Developer:
You can make money being good at things that other people hate to do. A lot of money.
When people hate to do something, they don't do it very much. Since they don't do much of it, they never get particularly good at it. This makes it harder for them to do it and the cycle starts all over again. Some common values of "it" for development include: writing tests, documentation, and creating installers. You can safely add brownfield development to the list since a job description of "Support the big ball of mess that runs our business while adding features and fixing bugs" doesn't usually have folks banging down your door. Throw in the fact that you'll have no relevant documentation and few, if any, tests to guide your way and you can picture weeks of pestering your co-workers with questions just to get to the point where you can fix a simple defect.
But what if brownfield was easy for you? What if, rather than pestering your co-workers with basic questions, you could understand what the code was doing and then ask why it was doing things that way rather than asking what it actually does? That's what my secret weapon, Visustin, gives you. You paste in your source code and it'll generate a flowchart for you:
It supports 31 languages including the popular .NET, open source, and SQL variants. I spent last week throwing hundreds of lines of Python into the tool and tracing through an incredibly complex financial trading system to learn how portfolio valuation is calculated. I was able to correctly describe the process to my team lead, including a couple gotchas buried in the code even though I don't know Python. Since I know how the system works, though, I can find the path the code will take and identify where problems are likely to occur while coming up to speed on the language at night.
If you're a developer, I'd highly recommend Visustin. It's great for code reviews, documentation, and for diving into existing systems. Developer or not, look around your industry and find the important things that no one wants to do because there's a real opportunity there. You can become better (or more tolerant) than anyone else simply by identifying the key aspects to the unpleasantness and solving that problem first.