Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No Silver Bullet...by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr

Just came across a very good paper: No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering. by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.

If I am not mistaken he is the same person from IBM who has written The Mythical Man-Month.
The paper is a great read for anyone who is in software industry. Though this paper is dated back to April 1987, the principles it delineates still very much hold.

Following snippets from this paper talks about invistiblity aspect of software.

Invisibility. Software is invisible and unvisualizable. Geometric abstractions are powerful tools. The floor plan of a building helps both architect and client evaluate spaces, traffic flows, views. Contradictions and omissions become obvious. Scale drawings of mechanical parts and stick-figure models of molecules, although abstractions, serve the same purpose. A geometric reality is captured in a geometric abstraction.

The reality of software is not inherently embedded in space. Hence, it has no ready geometric representation in the way that land has maps, silicon chips have diagrams, computers have connectivity schematics. As soon as we attempt to diagram software structure, we find it to constitute not one, but several, general directed graphs superimposed one upon another. The several graphs may represent the flow of control, the flow of data, patterns of dependency, time sequence, name-space relationships. These graphs are usually not even planar, much less hierarchical. Indeed, one of the ways of establishing conceptual control over such structure is to enforce link cutting until one or more of the graphs becomes hierarchical.1

In spite of progress in restricting and simplifying the structures of software, they remain inherently unvisualizable, and thus do not permit the mind to use some of its most powerful conceptual tools. This lack not only impedes the process of design within one mind, it severely hinders communication among minds.

Frederick P. Brooks is always a great read. The way he writes on the intricacies about software industry in compare to manufacturing is too intriguing.

1 comment:

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