Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Revolution

Software Development - Art OR Science?

A seemingly clich├ęd question. Never passed my mind all these years. But let me tell you how I got thinking about this and maybe it'll interest you a bit.

Like I said earlier, I have been following a lot of Lean-Kanban discussions, articles, etc lately. Some such material is Little's Law & WIP limits. Now the moment I saw an equation, I couldn't resist the temptation of trying out some math to see if the size and composition of my current team is optimal. Furthermore, I thought, given a few specifications of the project like domain complexity and technology, could I find the optimum team size and composition?

I hit two forums with this idea and most of the feedback was that there are too many things to consider and difficult things as well like the skills and experience of the people on the team. And I agree that people make most if not all the difference. But that's the problem isn't it?

What's so special about our people? Skills. Experience. Talent even. It's a sign. It's a sign of our industry being immature. I think its in around the occupation stage on this scale.

Enough demand can trigger the Art - Occupation - Industry - Science transitions for any activity. Note that the transition is never 100%. There's Art and Science in everything. The question is whether something is "more of" art OR science.

People keep arguing that Software Development is different. We are not like construction, we are not like assembly line manufacturing, we are not like Product Development either. I used to believe it till a few days back. But the more I think about it the more I feel that these are arguments of a losing population of craftsmen who are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the demand for their craft (which has BTW risen at unusual rates).

Think about the guy somewhere around current Pakistan who created the first piece of leather clothing many hundred years ago. Think about the leather industry right now. Think about the transition. At some point he must be saying "This is different. This needs skills. This needs experience". It took centuries for the transition but it happened. I am sure it can be co-related to the rise in demand for leather products.

The funny thing is, if you look at the list of general characteristics of the Art and Science sides, the first three points on each side don't really fit in with the IT occupation do they? We have loads of unskilled people sitting around producing amazing amounts of useless code all over the world.

So I think the revolution is inevitable. At some point the people who pays us boatloads of money for bad software are going to revolt. We either have to change OR die.

Here's another article roughly talking about similar things. The author anticipated a code market to emerge where reusable components would be bought and sold (which didn't happen OR hasn't happened yet). But the rest of the content is around the same theme as this post.