Software Engineering Is NOT Dead!

There’s been a few reactions lately about the Tom DeMarco article. To be honnest with you, I didn’t know the guy but apparently he’s quite respected. And the reason why I didn’t know the guy might be related to the fact that he wrote a software-related book entitled “Controlling Software Projects: Management, Measurement and Estimation”. In other words, he’s the one (OK, one of the guys) responsible with all those project managers asking us for sharp estimates, negotiating them down with us, and committing on them without our agreement, leaving us with no choice but to produce crappy software and/or fail to meet the deadlines. For me, Tom DeMarco looks a lot like this Dr. Winston D. Royce dude, who first described the theory of Waterfall methodologies and forgot to write the following sentence in bold font: “the implementation described above is risky and invites failure“. No kidding!

My reaction is about the same to what DeMarco took 40 years to realize. Software Engineering is not dead, it has never lived! There has been a lot of controversy about that, some people arguing it’s more of an art, others saying it’s science, yet others that it’s more like craftsmanship. At the end of the day, the only fact that there is a controversy shows that it doesn’t fit in the hole we’re trying to stick it into. And yes, this blog is called Software Artist, but I have to tell you that it’s more as a reaction to those who are fiercely trying to “industrialize IT processes”. Oh man, that makes me angry! In the end, I have to say that the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of craftsmanship.

Because craftsmanship is all about finding the right balance between the techniques that you’ve learnt and the intuition that you have about what you’re doing. And finding this right balance requires a lot of practice. Note that I didn’t say “time”, I said “practice”. I like it also because for any craftsman, using the right tools for the job is fundamental, and once again, note that I said “the right tools”, not “the tools that everyone else is using in here” or “the tools we invested a lot of money on and we need to make up for”. And finally I like it because when a joiner tells you that he doesn’t know exactly when this wardrobe will be finished, you don’t bother him with that because the fact that it corresponds exactly to what you need, and the fact that it will last a very long time, largely makes up for this little uncertainty. And if he tells you he’s going to need another 4 days, you don’t negotiate, because if you know better how to do it faster, why in the world didn’t you do it yourself in the first place? Or why didn’t you go and buy one at IKEA?

Now after re-reading the above paragraphs, I realize that my statements might seem a little harsh and extremist (as usual). But I don’t want to sound negative here. So if you manage software people and you feel disturbed by this perspective to lose control, let me just tell you this. Software can be incredibly powerful, it can really create tremendous value in a very flexible way. And I’m not talking about allowing you to just save money. I’m talking about the possibility to develop your business and create value from scratch. But the more value you expect to create, the more you have to ask yourself whether you absolutely need to control every aspect of the software creation process. Remember, you’ve tried it before, and it most probably didn’t work as expected. But fortunately for you there’s a different approach. Empower your software team. Don’t lead them, but make their ride smoother. Don’t make them work FOR you, work WITH them. Don’t consider them as standard office workers. Instead, hire the best craftsmen you can find and trust them with your project. Make it theirs as well as yours. Surrender on this idea of controlling everything and you’ll be surprised at the result.

Software engineering is not dead, because it has never existed. Hence there is no need to mourn it. Let’s just roll up our sleeves because we have a few palaces to build for the years to come.

4 thoughts on “Software Engineering Is NOT Dead!”

  1. I really like your statement – “it never lived”. In my article that you linked, I had an insightful comment suggesting that we are all artists *striving* to understand our craft enough to box it into a science, but alas we are a long ways off.

    Not to declare myself a hypocrite, but I think I am finding myself leaning towards your definition of the industry and not my previous thoughts.

  2. As usually i like it and i agree…
    Probably because you were my JEDI master for almost two years ;-)
    Im now working for a huge company, with huge processes, and not-so-good tools; and i miss the time when i was doing clever IT, with freedom to create and to implement waht actually does work.
    And i had clever project leads (oh that would be you, Seb ;-)

    Thanks for trying to change the world a little bit!

  3. I completely agree. The best software, the ones that enpower users and allow them to kick ass at what they are doing, are the result of excellence in craftmanship. For me, being a craftman implies passion and creativity, qualities that will shine in the software product that is built if they can express themselves! Cheers!

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