Re: Software Facts and Fallacies


As always, Arley has fun (no sarcasm there), lengthy comments on our favorite topics. This time, on today’s post about
Robert Glass’s Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering
:

The book is okay, but it’s the same as all the other software engineering books: here’s what you shouldn’t do with all the examples of what went wrong, and here’s my theory of what you should do with absolutely no empirical basis whatsoever.

In his defense, many of the comments (well, that I’ve read so far) draw on successful aspects of projects, not just “do the opposite of this bad thing.” But, you’re right, it would be nice to read more accounts of success rather than accounts of what didn’t work out. And, yes, a book like that would be rad. I think Cockburn’s writing (fadish as some of it is…well, fad-setting) is of this bent as well. Also, in the book
there are some references to a NASA book of software management that looked interesting in this success-only vein.

The argument about the top performers and office space / working environment is completely fallacious, and you as a philosopher should easily recognize it as such. The author makes an implicit and unjustified assumption that better office space will result in better programmers. You’ve got to look at the cause, not just the effect. Perhaps the better programmers have better working conditions because they’re better programmers?

And, sure, sure, the “more space makes more productive workers” is not a rock solid (hell, even of wet noodle strength) argument: I immediately had the same thoughts as you. What you’d want to see is a group of people who were performing badly, move them to better workspaces, and then see them improve…and then repeat it until even Bacon would say, “enough already! Let’s have super!”

Personally, I don’t think office space has so much to do with benefits to productivity (directly), but to moral. Sure, we can say that’s an egotistical idea–it is!– but stroking egos (when they deserve it) is a huge part of keeping up moral.

To pick up on the success-only basis for broad, unprovable statements, the most successful projects I’ve worked were staffed by people with extremely high moral who were always very happy. If that moral and happiness ever dipped, the quality of work dipped too; once moral and happiness went back up, so did quality and productivity.

The problem, of course, is often that the situation is more complex: if ther’e someone who’ll take your place (either on- or off-shore) when you get fired for complaing about moral and happiness, and you can’t afford to loose your job, then you’re shit out of luck, you better shut-up and code. Whether that works in the long term is often of little worry to orginizations who work under similar fears on a quarterly basis.

(And, as one of my co-workers, Brandon, can probably appreciate, I just thought it was a good excuse to use a picture I’ve had laying around for some time ;>)

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