HOWTO Do Software

The expression “software is hard” (a quote from Donald Knuth if I’m not mistaken) has seen a lot of mileage (yours truly contributing my fair share) over the years because of it’s simple truth. And in that, we’ve all searched and found (or not) some or other holy grail of methodology. And then the methodology wars began…

And with each new spin, a new skirmish emerged on the radar. Even some of the the tool-chain manufacturers got involved, either creating their own style or methodology (i suspect largely to suit their product rather than the process) or adopting their product to try and encompass the latest and greatest in fashionable methodology. Much ado.

Now software is both art and science. And as such, you need a healthy dose of both to get it right. The art demands your imagination and creative skills; the application of your emotional quotient and your ability to think beyond the four-sided. The science demands much the same plus discipline. Art, too, demands discipline (find me a great writer, painter, cartoonist, graffiti-artist, musician who did NOT practise and hone his/her ability each and every day- for hours each day). Art and science are much the same. Discipline is but one of the common threads.

Discipline to sit down each and every day, for hours, and get it right- get it perfect. That doesn’t mean just hours of random throwing paint at the canvas or the random plucking of guitar strings (which is my forte, by the by). And what about the scientist? Does she spend hours each day in the laboratory throwing random chemicals together into a test-tube to see what might happen? Maybe once in a while, that kind of activity is fun- but not a primary activity.

No. They all set themselves down each day, both scientist and artist, and constructively engage their brains, and think for themselves about what they are actually doing- or going to do. They know before the experiment or song or painting is completed- what to more or less expect. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way- and the results are either surprising or horrendous. Sound familiar? But by and large, it’s predictable- and it should be. Software is no different.

How you get there, and which methodology you use is largely irrelevant (i say largely, but you need to read the legal copy disclaimers in fine print carefully); as long as you have discipline. Following a set pattern so often that it becomes part of your autonomic nervous system is key. There’s good reason to do it, especially when you add in the one thing that distinguishes software: deadlines. Although, I am sure that in this day and age, professional artists and scientists suffer the same. Deadlines make the job more interesting- and the need for discipline even more critical.

A brief observation of any professional field where life and death are important will reveal the stand-out-in-your-face notion of REPEAT. In fact, it’s the only way we actually ever learn anything. You repeat the excercise over and over again (ad nauseum some might say) until you get it right blindfold. Why? Because when there’s a deadline, you go blind. And the more impossible the deadline, the more blind you become. You don’t have time to think- just time to do. And you need to make sure you are STILL doing it perfectly.

So, HOWTO Do Software. Pick a way. Find a way. Develop a style and method of delivery that embodies rational scientific reason to justify the “why” you do it that way. Don’t do something or end up doing something “just because it’s the way we do it” and not have a valid reason and purpose behind the behaviour (and I’m afraid if you don’t even recognise that, your opinionated delivery is just going to be that- opinionated). Add in your own artistic flair- but above all- be disciplined about it. Not just off beat, whacky, eccentric, random or out there. Notice i said “just”. Which means you can still be off beat, whacky, eccentric, random or out there- just be disciplined about it. Oh- and write quality tests 😉

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