Sharp Blue: The Carnival of Software Development, number 1


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As this is the first edition of the Carnival of Software Development and I didn’t give much notice to allow time for submissions, there were only two entries. To pad the Carnival out to a less dismal length, I’ll add a little bit more commentary than usual and conclude with a round-up of other articles on software development that I’ve found interesting recently.

Mark Levison presents Scrum in a Nutshell or 5 minutes to learn scrum, a primer on a lightweight project management process. Having read the article, it’s suddenly struck me that although such things are generally viewed as lightweight software project management processes they might be of broader applicability. Scrum, for one, seems to have little to do with software and much to do with incremental product refinement and the handling of shifting requirements. Does anyone know about similar methods being used in other fields?

Pawel Brodzinski explains his views on Context Switching, which disrupts the flow of software development but is often a necessary evil for larger business reasons. I think there’s a distinction to be made between context switching and needless interruption: I sometimes get plagued by phone calls that completely disrupt my ability to program but which aren’t really about pressing issues that need to be resolved immediately. Asynchronous communication is the developer’s friend.

There’s an interesting article On Haskell, Intuition And Expressive Power over at defmacro. The thesis is that even though Haskell is more productive than most other languages, and results in cleaner, clearer code that’s easier to maintain, it feels less productive. Programming in Haskell requires just as much thinking as programming in other languages, but less typing, and developers have become accustomed to only feeling productive when they’re typing. I suppose using lines of code as a metric for productivity - something that I have been known to do in my sloppier moments - is to blame for this. Metrics can be dangerous!

Joel Spolsky has been thinking more than usual about Elegance and Simplicity. As usual, these articles are well worth reading and I have very little to add. However, I feel that I must defend the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is just around the corner from where I work. Maillart’s bridge might be more elegant and beautiful than Brunel’s, but Maillart also had another seventy years of technological progress to work with. Given the material and economic limits within which Brunel was working, his bridge had a certain sublimity too and it’s preserved much of that lustre to this day. Some people like to link technological progress with ugliness, but the truth is that technology opens up new territories in the space of designs and thus allows new kinds of beauty and elegance.

The debate about the possibility (or existence!) of “silver bullets” in software development rumbles on. Larry O’Brien’s More on Functional Languages and Silver Bullets is one of the more interesting recent contributions. Despite the benefits of expressive density and ease of parallelisation, Larry isn’t convinced that functional languages attack the “essential” (as opposed to “accidental”) problems inherent to the the development of large software systems. As someone who has recently become interested in learning a wider range of languages, I think this is interesting stuff.

That’s it for now. The next edition will be on February 4. To enter an article please email me with the names and URLs of the article itself and your weblog, and a short description of the article’s contents. You can also use the automated submission system if you’d prefer.

Richard, Thanks for the link. You're right Scrum (and Agile in general) are well suited for managing any project not just software development. There is a new mailing list Agile Work who's purpose is to discuss just this. Typically we're seeing Agile methods being applied in marketing and other departments of companies that have already moved their development over to agile (Capital One is the best example).

Thanks for the pointer, Mark. I've just subscribed, but I think I'll probably lurk (at least for a while).

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