Software Development Analogies

Software development is full of analogies, e.g. creating software is like making such-and-such. None of the analogies I’ve come across get too close – each just serves a small purpose. Here are some analogies I’ve used or come across in software development:

Building software is like building houses in a time before they knew how to build houses.
This is my own, which is why I put it first 🙂 By this I mean that a lot of the way software is written is wrong or inefficient. In the software development community we are very capable of writing systems that look like they work but are seriously lacking in ‘non-functional requirements.’ Following the house analogy it would be like having a building that from the outside looks like a house but just isn’t quite right – and ‘not quite right’ enough to the point of needing replacing within a few years. Houses aren’t typically built like that anymore as far as I know. Well, that’s the house-building analogy gone then.

A software development team needs a foreman.
This one was made famous in 2014 when it was made by Uncle Bob Martin. An example of this idea was “He’d do the same thing he does on a construction project. He’d make sure everything was done, done right, and done on time. He’d be the only one with commit rights.” Rather than trying to find anything useful in the analogy, I think a lot of people just picked holes. Code reviews are important on most projects and the most experienced developer checking all code could be very beneficial. Once I remember seeing someone had completely misunderstood Hibernate and, unless the code reviewer understood Hibernate, this code would make its way into the codebase.

The software development team as a surgical team – F.P. Brooks.
This is an idea Brooks relates in his famous book “The Mythical Man-Month” which I’d recommend to any programmer who can read. He actually credits the idea to Harlan Mills. The thing that captures my imagination about this idea is the notion of having a ‘toolsmith’ – my earliest development role evolved into managing an API which I’d implemented in PHP, Java and Visual Basic. I kind of fancied myself as this toolsmith. Where Bob Martin has an idea of a foreman checking everyone’s work, Brooks / Mills have a chief programmer and co-pilot.


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