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Cargo Cult Programming

News Cargo Cult Science Recommended books Recommended Links CMM (Capability Maturity Model) Lysenkoism and politization of science Groupthink
Bootlickocracy:  Nicholas Carr's "IT Does not Matter" Fallacy  Skeptical view on the OO  CMM (Capability Maturity Model) Agile Crap Slightly Skeptical View on Extreme Programming IT offshoring Skeptic
Real Insights into Architecture Come Only From Actual Programming Brooks law Pseudoscience and Scientific Press Scientific Fraud Quotes Humor Etc

Richard Feynmann suggested, in his "Cargo Cult Science" speech, that scientists may form cult similar to a certain Micronesian cults. The term cargo cult is a reference to aboriginal religions that grew up in the South Pacific, especially New Guinea and Micronesian islanders, in the years during and after World War II. There was no one Cargo Cult so this proper name is a misnomer - no one who participated in a cargo cult actually knew that they were doing so.

The vast amounts of war materials that were air-dropped into these islands during the Pacific campaign against the Empire of Japan necessarily meant drastic changes to the lifestyle of these islanders as manufactured clothing, canned food, tents, weapons and other useful goods arrived in vast quantities to equip soldiers - and also the islanders who were their guides and hosts. When the war moved on, and ultimately when it ended, the airbases were abandoned and no new "cargo" was then being dropped. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders tried to imitate practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors and airmen use. They carved headphones from wood, and wore them while sitting in control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses. Some built life-size mockups of airplanes out of straw, and created new military style landing strips, hoping to attract more airplanes.

Anthropologist Marvin Harris has linked the social mechanisms that produce cargo cults to those of Messianism. In his  Caltech commencement speech, which became a chapter in the book "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!" Feynman pointed out that cargo cultists create all the appearance of an airport--right down to headsets with bamboo "antennas" -- yet the airplanes don't come. Feynman argued that scientists often produce studies with all the trappings of real science, but which are nonetheless pseudoscience and unworthy of either respect or support. A very similar term voodoo science was coined by professor and scientific skeptic Robert L. Park.   who outlined several warning signs (close to pathological science, as discussed by physicist Irving Langmuir in 1953).

There is great analogy between cargo cults techniques and Soft propaganda. Among common techniques  which would be relevant to programming I would mention the following:

  1. Making claims about superiority of OS or programming language directly to the popular media, rather than to professional press and conferences (pure propaganda).
  2. Making claims that a conspiracy has tried to suppress their favorite operating system of programming language.
  3. Anecdotal evidence is used to back up the claim.
  4. True believers mentality in support of the their claim.
  5. Abuse of jargon and re-implementing older technologies under the new fancy names. Attempts to reinvent the bicycle under the new fancy name and putting a smoke screen on any apparent analogies or prior implementations.
  6. Working in self-selected isolation from the other communities.
  7. Claims about "purity" of approach which implies the "impurity" of alternatives.  For example, created using  "pure agile software development methodology" 
  8. 'Black and White fallacy' aims at presenting only two choices to the public. Either you with us or with enemies mentality. 'Unstated assumption' that any other choice is bad and represents betrayal is used although it is not stated explicitly. But it is obviously implied.
  9. Name-calling also called stereotyping or labeling. Name-calling is a direct attack on an opponent. If it is likely to annoy the audience, indirect name-calling is used. In this case, sarcasm is employed. That is related to standard technique of demonizing the enemy during the war, make the people with an opposing standpoint, appear inferior. The use of the term 'gooks' for NLF soldiers during the Vietnam War-era is an example of this type of propaganda. Obtaining disapproval is another technique of obtaining disfavor of an idea by signifying that the opposite idea/approach is of the 'hated lot' .

Cargo cult science can be viewed as a special case of scientific misconduct which includes but is not limited to fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism as well as intentional theft of, or damage to, research equipment or experiments. Cargo cult programming is a perversion of programming very similar to cargo cult science. Here is how it is defined by Eric Lippert who popularized the term:

During the Second World War, the Americans set up airstrips on various tiny islands in the Pacific.  After the war was over and the Americans went home, the natives did a perfectly sensible thing -- they dressed themselves up as ground traffic controllers and waved those sticks around.  They mistook cause and effect -- they assumed that the guys waving the sticks were the ones making the planes full of supplies appear, and that if only they could get it right, they could pull the same trick.  From our perspective, we know that it's the other way around -- the guys with the sticks are there because the planes need them to land.  No planes, no guys.  

The cargo cultists had the unimportant surface elements right, but did not see enough of the whole picture to succeed. They understood the form but not the content.  There are lots of cargo cult programmers -- programmers who understand what the code does, but not how it does it.  Therefore, they cannot make meaningful changes to the program.  They tend to proceed by making random changes, testing, and changing again until they manage to come up with something that works.  

We can distinguish between several common forms of cargo cult programming:

  1. The most common form of cargo cult programming characterized by the extreme adherence to the form instead of content ( CMM and to lesser extent  extreme programming  are good examples). 
  2. Another form is closely connected with outsourcing and related communication problems. This variant of cargo cult programming often includes absurd  "to the word" following of the specification even if it contains blunders and/or was completely detached from reality.
  3. The ritual usage of fashionable technologies like OO ten years ago are a third popular form and actually is the mildest cases of the same (is not OO good in all case ? ;-).
  4. Rare and extreme cases include debugging without understanding underling language that was described by Weinberg.

Steve McConnell applied the term to software engineering in a very narrow sense in his article of the subject is IEEE Software From the Editor Column (I doubt that he in his capability of Editor-in-chief of IEEE Software could attach CMM model ;-). He correctly noted that the key distinction is clueless imitation of a particular activity (project management philosophy in his very narrow example):

When used knowledgeably, either development style can produce high quality software economically and quickly. But both development styles have pathological lookalikes that don’t work nearly as well, and that can be difficult to distinguish from the genuine articles.

The process-imposter organization bases its practices on a slavish devotion to process for process’s sake. These organizations look at process-oriented organizations such as NASA’s Software Engineering Laboratory and IBM’s former Federal Systems Division. They observe that those organizations generate lots of documents and hold frequent meetings. They conclude that if they generate an equivalent number of documents and hold a comparable number of meetings they will be similarly successful. If they generate more documentation and hold more meetings, they will be even more successful! But they don’t understand that the documentation and the meetings are not responsible for the success; they are the side effects of a few specific effective processes. We call these organizations bureaucratic because they put the form of software processes above the substance. Their misuse of process is demotivating, which hurts productivity. And they’re not very enjoyable to work for.

The commitment-imposter organization focuses primarily on motivating people to work long hours. These organizations look at successful companies like Microsoft; observe that they generate very little documentation; offer stock options to their employees; and then require them to work mountains of overtime. They conclude that if they, too, minimize documentation, offer stock options, and require extensive overtime, they will be successful. The less documentation and the more overtime, the better! But these organizations miss the fact that Microsoft and other successful commitment-oriented companies don’t require overtime. They hire people who love to create software. They team these people with other people who love to create software just as much as they do. They provide lavish organizational support and rewards for creating software. And then they turn them loose. The natural outcome is that software developers and managers choose to work long hours voluntarily. Imposter organizations confuse the effect (long hours) with the cause (high motivation). We call the imposter organizations sweatshops because they emphasize working hard rather than working smart, and they tend to be chaotic and ineffective. They’re not very enjoyable to work for either.

Cargo cult software engineering is easy to identify. Cargo cult software engineers justify their practices by saying, "We’ve always done it this way in the past," or "our company standards require us to do it this way"—even when those ways make no sense. They refuse to acknowledge the tradeoffs involved in either process-oriented or commitment-oriented development. Both have strengths and weaknesses. When presented with more effective, new practices, cargo cult software engineers prefer to stay in their wooden huts of familiar, comfortable and-not-necessarily-effective work habits. "Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity," the old saying goes. It’s also a sign of cargo cult software engineering.

...In this magazine and in many other publications, we spend our time debating whether process is good or individual empowerment (in other words, commitment-oriented development) might be better. This is a false dichotomy. Process is good, and so is individual empowerment. The two can exist side by side. Process-oriented organizations can ask for an extreme commitment on specific projects. Commitment-oriented organizations can use software engineering practices skillfully.

The difference between these two approaches really comes down to differences of style and personality. I have worked on several projects of each style, and have liked different things about each style. Some developers enjoy working methodically on an 8 to 5 schedule, which is more common in process-oriented companies. Other developers enjoy the focus and excitement that comes with making a 24x7 commitment to a project. Commitment-oriented projects are more exciting on average, but a process-oriented project can be just as exciting when it has a well defined and inspiring mission. Process-oriented organizations seem to degenerate into their pathological lookalikes less often than commitment-oriented organizations do, but either style can work well if it is skillfully planned and executed.

The fact that both process-oriented and commitment-oriented projects have pathological lookalikes has muddied the debate. Some projects conducted in each style succeed, and some fail. That allows a process advocate to point to the process success and commitment failures and claim that process is the key to success. It allows the commitment advocate to do the same thing.

Imitating form without understanding content can often be found among outsourcers. In this specific circumstances it is often called voodoo programming, or "stepping of the same rake again and again" 

The concept of "cargo cult programming" is especially applicable to software maintenance. As Eric Lippert  aptly noted in his blog post Syntax, Semantics, Micronesian cults and Novice Programmers:

There are lots of cargo cult programmers -- programmers who understand what the code does, but not how it does it. Therefore, they cannot make meaningful changes to the program. They tend to proceed by making random changes, testing, and changing again until they manage to come up with something that works.

Probably the most popular form of cargo cult programming is CMM (Capability Maturity Model)

It is certainly not limited to the software engineering.  In fact, this is just a very subject-specific case of Lysenkoism.

Cargo cult programming can also refer to the results of (over-)applying a design principle blindly without understanding the reasons behind that design principle in the first place. An example would be a novice being taught that commenting code is good, and then adding comments for lines that are self-explanatory or need no comment; other examples involve overly complex use of design patterns or certain forms of coding style.

A related term in software engineering is cargo cult software engineering, coined by Steve McConnell.

McConnell describes software development organizations that attempt to emulate more successful development houses, either by slavishly following a software development process, or by taking a commitment oriented development approach.

In both cases, McConnell contends that competence ultimately determines whether a project succeeds or fails, regardless of the development approach taken; furthermore, he claims that incompetent "impostor organizations", that merely emulate the form of successful software development organizations are, in fact, engaging, in what he calls Cargo cult software engineering.

NEWS CONTENTS

Old News

[Oct 03, 2017] Silicon Valley is turning into a series of micromanaged sweatshops (that's what "agile" is truly all about)

Notable quotes:
"... We've seen this kind of tactic for some time now. Silicon Valley is turning into a series of micromanaged sweatshops (that's what "agile" is truly all about) with little room for genuine creativity, or even understanding of what that actually means. I've seen how impossible it is to explain to upper level management how crappy cheap developers actually diminish productivity and value. All they see is that the requisition is filled for less money. ..."
Oct 03, 2017 | discussion.theguardian.com

mlzarathustra , 21 Sep 2017 16:52

I agree with the basic point. We've seen this kind of tactic for some time now. Silicon Valley is turning into a series of micromanaged sweatshops (that's what "agile" is truly all about) with little room for genuine creativity, or even understanding of what that actually means. I've seen how impossible it is to explain to upper level management how crappy cheap developers actually diminish productivity and value. All they see is that the requisition is filled for less money.

The bigger problem is that nobody cares about the arts, and as expensive as education is, nobody wants to carry around a debt on a skill that won't bring in the bucks. And smartphone-obsessed millennials have too short an attention span to fathom how empty their lives are, devoid of the aesthetic depth as they are.

I can't draw a definite link, but I think algorithm fails, which are based on fanatical reliance on programmed routines as the solution to everything, are rooted in the shortage of education and cultivation in the arts.

Economics is a social science, and all this is merely a reflection of shared cultural values. The problem is, people think it's math (it's not) and therefore set in stone.

[Jul 25, 2017] Knuth Computer Programming as an Art

Jul 25, 2017 | www.paulgraham.com

CACM , December 1974

When Communications of the ACM began publication in 1959, the members of ACM'S Editorial Board made the following remark as they described the purposes of ACM'S periodicals [2]:

"If computer programming is to become an important part of computer research and development, a transition of programming from an art to a disciplined science must be effected."
Such a goal has been a continually recurring theme during the ensuing years; for example, we read in 1970 of the "first steps toward transforming the art of programming into a science" [26]. Meanwhile we have actually succeeded in making our discipline a science, and in a remarkably simple way: merely by deciding to call it "computer science."

Implicit in these remarks is the notion that there is something undesirable about an area of human activity that is classified as an "art"; it has to be a Science before it has any real stature. On the other hand, I have been working for more than 12 years on a series of books called "The Art of Computer Programming." People frequently ask me why I picked such a title; and in fact some people apparently don't believe that I really did so, since I've seen at least one bibliographic reference to some books called "The Act of Computer Programming."

In this talk I shall try to explain why I think "Art" is the appropriate word. I will discuss what it means for something to be an art, in contrast to being a science; I will try to examine whether arts are good things or bad things; and I will try to show that a proper viewpoint of the subject will help us all to improve the quality of what we are now doing.

One of the first times I was ever asked about the title of my books was in 1966, during the last previous ACM national meeting held in Southern California. This was before any of the books were published, and I recall having lunch with a friend at the convention hotel. He knew how conceited I was, already at that time, so he asked if I was going to call my books "An Introduction to Don Knuth." I replied that, on the contrary, I was naming the books after him . His name: Art Evans. (The Art of Computer Programming, in person.)

From this story we can conclude that the word "art" has more than one meaning. In fact, one of the nicest things about the word is that it is used in many different senses, each of which is quite appropriate in connection with computer programming. While preparing this talk, I went to the library to find out what people have written about the word "art" through the years; and after spending several fascinating days in the stacks, I came to the conclusion that "art" must be one of the most interesting words in the English language.

The Arts of Old

If we go back to Latin roots, we find ars, artis meaning "skill." It is perhaps significant that the corresponding Greek word was τεχνη , the root of both "technology" and "technique."

Nowadays when someone speaks of "art" you probably think first of "fine arts" such as painting and sculpture, but before the twentieth century the word was generally used in quite a different sense. Since this older meaning of "art" still survives in many idioms, especially when we are contrasting art with science, I would like to spend the next few minutes talking about art in its classical sense.

In medieval times, the first universities were established to teach the seven so-called "liberal arts," namely grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Note that this is quite different from the curriculum of today's liberal arts colleges, and that at least three of the original seven liberal arts are important components of computer science. At that time, an "art" meant something devised by man's intellect, as opposed to activities derived from nature or instinct; "liberal" arts were liberated or free, in contrast to manual arts such as plowing (cf. [6]). During the middle ages the word "art" by itself usually meant logic [4], which usually meant the study of syllogisms.

Science vs. Art

The word "science" seems to have been used for many years in about the same sense as "art"; for example, people spoke also of the seven liberal sciences, which were the same as the seven liberal arts [1]. Duns Scotus in the thirteenth century called logic "the Science of Sciences, and the Art of Arts" (cf. [12, p. 34f]). As civilization and learning developed, the words took on more and more independent meanings, "science" being used to stand for knowledge, and "art" for the application of knowledge. Thus, the science of astronomy was the basis for the art of navigation. The situation was almost exactly like the way in which we now distinguish between "science" and "engineering."

Many authors wrote about the relationship between art and science in the nineteenth century, and I believe the best discussion was given by John Stuart Mill. He said the following things, among others, in 1843 [28]:

Several sciences are often necessary to form the groundwork of a single art. Such is the complication of human affairs, that to enable one thing to be done , it is often requisite to know the nature and properties of many things... Art in general consists of the truths of Science, arranged in the most convenient order for practice, instead of the order which is the most convenient for thought. Science groups and arranges its truths so as to enable us to take in at one view as much as possible of the general order of the universe. Art... brings together from parts of the field of science most remote from one another, the truths relating to the production of the different and heterogeneous conditions necessary to each effect which the exigencies of practical life require.
As I was looking up these things about the meanings of "art," I found that authors have been calling for a transition from art to science for at least two centuries. For example, the preface to a textbook on mineralogy, written in 1784, said the following [17]: "Previous to the year 1780, mineralogy, though tolerably understood by many as an Art, could scarce be deemed a Science."

According to most dictionaries "science" means knowledge that has been logically arranged and systematized in the form of general "laws." The advantage of science is that it saves us from the need to think things through in each individual case; we can turn our thoughts to higher-level concepts. As John Ruskin wrote in 1853 [32]: "The work of science is to substitute facts for appearances, and demonstrations for impressions."

It seems to me that if the authors I studied were writing today, they would agree with the following characterization: Science is knowledge which we understand so well that we can teach it to a computer; and if we don't fully understand something, it is an art to deal with it. Since the notion of an algorithm or a computer program provides us with an extremely useful test for the depth of our knowledge about any given subject, the process of going from an art to a science means that we learn how to automate something.

Artificial intelligence has been making significant progress, yet there is a huge gap between what computers can do in the foreseeable future and what ordinary people can do. The mysterious insights that people have when speaking, listening, creating, and even when they are programming, are still beyond the reach of science; nearly everything we do is still an art.

From this standpoint it is certainly desirable to make computer programming a science, and we have indeed come a long way in the 15 years since the publication of the remarks I quoted at the beginning of this talk. Fifteen years ago computer programming was so badly understood that hardly anyone even thought about proving programs correct; we just fiddled with a program until we "knew" it worked. At that time we didn't even know how to express the concept that a program was correct, in any rigorous way. It is only in recent years that we have been learning about the processes of abstraction by which programs are written and understood; and this new knowledge about programming is currently producing great payoffs in practice, even though few programs are actually proved correct with complete rigor, since we are beginning to understand the principles of program structure. The point is that when we write programs today, we know that we could in principle construct formal proofs of their correctness if we really wanted to, now that we understand how such proofs are formulated. This scientific basis is resulting in programs that are significantly more reliable than those we wrote in former days when intuition was the only basis of correctness.

The field of "automatic programming" is one of the major areas of artificial intelligence research today. Its proponents would love to be able to give a lecture entitled "Computer Programming as an Artifact" (meaning that programming has become merely a relic of bygone days), because their aim is to create machines that write programs better than we can, given only the problem specification. Personally I don't think such a goal will ever be completely attained, but I do think that their research is extremely important, because everything we learn about programming helps us to improve our own artistry. In this sense we should continually be striving to transform every art into a science: in the process, we advance the art.

Science and Art

Our discussion indicates that computer programming is by now both a science and an art, and that the two aspects nicely complement each other. Apparently most authors who examine such a question come to this same conclusion, that their subject is both a science and an art, whatever their subject is (cf. [25]). I found a book about elementary photography, written in 1893, which stated that "the development of the photographic image is both an art and a science" [13]. In fact, when I first picked up a dictionary in order to study the words "art" and "science," I happened to glance at the editor's preface, which began by saying, "The making of a dictionary is both a science and an art." The editor of Funk & Wagnall's dictionary [27] observed that the painstaking accumulation and classification of data about words has a scientific character, while a well-chosen phrasing of definitions demands the ability to write with economy and precision: "The science without the art is likely to be ineffective; the art without the science is certain to be inaccurate."

When preparing this talk I looked through the card catalog at Stanford library to see how other people have been using the words "art" and "science" in the titles of their books. This turned out to be quite interesting.

For example, I found two books entitled The Art of Playing the Piano [5, 15], and others called The Science of Pianoforte Technique [10], The Science of Pianoforte Practice [30]. There is also a book called The Art of Piano Playing: A Scientific Approach [22].

Then I found a nice little book entitled The Gentle Art of Mathematics [31], which made me somewhat sad that I can't honestly describe computer programming as a "gentle art." I had known for several years about a book called The Art of Computation , published in San Francisco, 1879, by a man named C. Frusher Howard [14]. This was a book on practical business arithmetic that had sold over 400,000 copies in various editions by 1890. I was amused to read the preface, since it shows that Howard's philosophy and the intent of his title were quite different from mine; he wrote: "A knowledge of the Science of Number is of minor importance; skill in the Art of Reckoning is absolutely indispensible."

Several books mention both science and art in their titles, notably The Science of Being and Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi [24]. There is also a book called The Art of Scientific Discovery [11], which analyzes how some of the great discoveries of science were made.

So much for the word "art" in its classical meaning. Actually when I chose the title of my books, I wasn't thinking primarily of art in this sense, I was thinking more of its current connotations. Probably the most interesting book which turned up in my search was a fairly recent work by Robert E. Mueller called The Science of Art [29]. Of all the books I've mentioned, Mueller's comes closest to expressing what I want to make the central theme of my talk today, in terms of real artistry as we now understand the term. He observes: "It was once thought that the imaginative outlook of the artist was death for the scientist. And the logic of science seemed to spell doom to all possible artistic flights of fancy." He goes on to explore the advantages which actually do result from a synthesis of science and art.

A scientific approach is generally characterized by the words logical, systematic, impersonal, calm, rational, while an artistic approach is characterized by the words aesthetic, creative, humanitarian, anxious, irrational. It seems to me that both of these apparently contradictory approaches have great value with respect to computer programming.

Emma Lehmer wrote in 1956 that she had found coding to be "an exacting science as well as an intriguing art" [23]. H.S.M. Coxeter remarked in 1957 that he sometimes felt "more like an artist than a scientist" [7]. This was at the time C.P. Snow was beginning to voice his alarm at the growing polarization between "two cultures" of educated people [34, 35]. He pointed out that we need to combine scientific and artistic values if we are to make real progress.

Works of Art

When I'm sitting in an audience listening to a long lecture, my attention usually starts to wane at about this point in the hour. So I wonder, are you getting a little tired of my harangue about "science" and "art"? I really hope that you'll be able to listen carefully to the rest of this, anyway, because now comes the part about which I feel most deeply.

When I speak about computer programming as an art, I am thinking primarily of it as an art form , in an aesthetic sense. The chief goal of my work as educator and author is to help people learn how to write beautiful programs . It is for this reason I was especially pleased to learn recently [32] that my books actually appear in the Fine Arts Library at Cornell University. (However, the three volumes apparently sit there neatly on the shelf, without being used, so I'm afraid the librarians may have made a mistake by interpreting my title literally.)

My feeling is that when we prepare a program, it can be like composing poetry or music; as Andrei Ershov has said [9], programming can give us both intellectual and emotional satisfaction, because it is a real achievement to master complexity and to establish a system of consistent rules.

Furthermore when we read other people's programs, we can recognize some of them as genuine works of art. I can still remember the great thrill it was for me to read the listing of Stan Poley's SOAP II assembly program in 1958; you probably think I'm crazy, and styles have certainly changed greatly since then, but at the time it meant a great deal to me to see how elegant a system program could be, especially by comparison with the heavy-handed coding found in other listings I had been studying at the same time. The possibility of writing beautiful programs, even in assembly language, is what got me hooked on programming in the first place.

Some programs are elegant, some are exquisite, some are sparkling. My claim is that it is possible to write grand programs, noble programs, truly magnificent ones!

Taste and Style

The idea of style in programming is now coming to the forefront at last, and I hope that most of you have seen the excellent little book on Elements of Programming Style by Kernighan and Plauger [16]. In this connection it is most important for us all to remember that there is no one "best" style; everybody has his own preferences, and it is a mistake to try to force people into an unnatural mold. We often hear the saying, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like." The important thing is that you really like the style you are using; it should be the best way you prefer to express yourself.

Edsger Dijkstra stressed this point in the preface to his Short Introduction to the Art of Programming [8]:

It is my purpose to transmit the importance of good taste and style in programming, [but] the specific elements of style presented serve only to illustrate what benefits can be derived from "style" in general. In this respect I feel akin to the teacher of composition at a conservatory: He does not teach his pupils how to compose a particular symphony, he must help his pupils to find their own style and must explain to them what is implied by this. (It has been this analogy that made me talk about "The Art of Programming.")
Now we must ask ourselves, What is good style, and what is bad style? We should not be too rigid about this in judging other people's work. The early nineteenth-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham put it this way [3, Bk. 3, Ch. 1]:
Judges of elegance and taste consider themselves as benefactors to the human race, whilst they are really only the interrupters of their pleasure... There is no taste which deserves the epithet good , unless it be the taste for such employments which, to the pleasure actually produced by them, conjoin some contingent or future utility: there is no taste which deserves to be characterized as bad, unless it be a taste for some occupation which has a mischievous tendency.
When we apply our own prejudices to "reform" someone else's taste, we may be unconsciously denying him some entirely legitimate pleasure. That's why I don't condemn a lot of things programmers do, even though I would never enjoy doing them myself. The important thing is that they are creating something they feel is beautiful.

In the passage I just quoted, Bentham does give us some advice about certain principles of aesthetics which are better than others, namely the "utility" of the result. We have some freedom in setting up our personal standards of beauty, but it is especially nice when the things we regard as beautiful are also regarded by other people as useful. I must confess that I really enjoy writing computer programs; and I especially enjoy writing programs which do the greatest good, in some sense.

There are many senses in which a program can be "good," of course. In the first place, it's especially good to have a program that works correctly. Secondly it is often good to have a program that won't be hard to change, when the time for adaptation arises. Both of these goals are achieved when the program is easily readable and understandable to a person who knows the appropriate language.

Another important way for a production program to be good is for it to interact gracefully with its users, especially when recovering from human errors in the input data. It's a real art to compose meaningful error messages or to design flexible input formats which are not error-prone.

Another important aspect of program quality is the efficiency with which the computer's resources are actually being used. I am sorry to say that many people nowadays are condemning program efficiency, telling us that it is in bad taste. The reason for this is that we are now experiencing a reaction from the time when efficiency was the only reputable criterion of goodness, and programmers in the past have tended to be so preoccupied with efficiency that they have produced needlessly complicated code; the result of this unnecessary complexity has been that net efficiency has gone down, due to difficulties of debugging and maintenance.

The real problem is that programmers have spent far too much time worrying about efficiency in the wrong places and at the wrong times; premature optimization is the root of all evil (or at least most of it) in programming.

We shouldn't be penny wise and pound foolish, nor should we always think of efficiency in terms of so many percent gained or lost in total running time or space. When we buy a car, many of us are almost oblivious to a difference of $50 or $100 in its price, while we might make a special trip to a particular store in order to buy a 50 cent item for only 25 cents. My point is that there is a time and place for efficiency; I have discussed its proper role in my paper on structured programming, which appears in the current issue of Computing Surveys [21].

Less Facilities: More Enjoyment

One rather curious thing I've noticed about aesthetic satisfaction is that our pleasure is significantly enhanced when we accomplish something with limited tools. For example, the program of which I personally am most pleased and proud is a compiler I once wrote for a primitive minicomputer which had only 4096 words of memory, 16 bits per word. It makes a person feel like a real virtuoso to achieve something under such severe restrictions.

A similar phenomenon occurs in many other contexts. For example, people often seem to fall in love with their Volkswagens but rarely with their Lincoln Continentals (which presumably run much better). When I learned programming, it was a popular pastime to do as much as possible with programs that fit on only a single punched card. I suppose it's this same phenomenon that makes APL enthusiasts relish their "one-liners." When we teach programming nowadays, it is a curious fact that we rarely capture the heart of a student for computer science until he has taken a course which allows "hands on" experience with a minicomputer. The use of our large-scale machines with their fancy operating systems and languages doesn't really seem to engender any love for programming, at least not at first.

It's not obvious how to apply this principle to increase programmers' enjoyment of their work. Surely programmers would groan if their manager suddenly announced that the new machine will have only half as much memory as the old. And I don't think anybody, even the most dedicated "programming artists," can be expected to welcome such a prospect, since nobody likes to lose facilities unnecessarily. Another example may help to clarify the situation: Film-makers strongly resisted the introduction of talking pictures in the 1920's because they were justly proud of the way they could convey words without sound. Similarly, a true programming artist might well resent the introduction of more powerful equipment; today's mass storage devices tend to spoil much of the beauty of our old tape sorting methods. But today's film makers don't want to go back to silent films, not because they're lazy but because they know it is quite possible to make beautiful movies using the improved technology. The form of their art has changed, but there is still plenty of room for artistry.

How did they develop their skill? The best film makers through the years usually seem to have learned their art in comparatively primitive circumstances, often in other countries with a limited movie industry. And in recent years the most important things we have been learning about programming seem to have originated with people who did not have access to very large computers. The moral of this story, it seems to me, is that we should make use of the idea of limited resources in our own education. We can all benefit by doing occasional "toy" programs, when artificial restrictions are set up, so that we are forced to push our abilities to the limit. We shouldn't live in the lap of luxury all the time, since that tends to make us lethargic. The art of tackling miniproblems with all our energy will sharpen our talents for the real problems, and the experience will help us to get more pleasure from our accomplishments on less restricted equipment.

In a similar vein, we shouldn't shy away from "art for art's sake"; we shouldn't feel guilty about programs that are just for fun. I once got a great kick out of writing a one-statement ALGOL program that invoked an innerproduct procedure in such an unusual way that it calculated the mth prime number, instead of an innerproduct [19]. Some years ago the students at Stanford were excited about finding the shortest FORTRAN program which prints itself out, in the sense that the program's output is identical to its own source text. The same problem was considered for many other languages. I don't think it was a waste of time for them to work on this; nor would Jeremy Bentham, whom I quoted earlier, deny the "utility" of such pastimes [3, Bk. 3, Ch. 1]. "On the contrary," he wrote, "there is nothing, the utility of which is more incontestable. To what shall the character of utility be ascribed, if not to that which is a source of pleasure?"

Providing Beautiful Tools

Another characteristic of modern art is its emphasis on creativity. It seems that many artists these days couldn't care less about creating beautiful things; only the novelty of an idea is important. I'm not recommending that computer programming should be like modern art in this sense, but it does lead me to an observation that I think is important. Sometimes we are assigned to a programming task which is almost hopelessly dull, giving us no outlet whatsoever for any creativity; and at such times a person might well come to me and say, "So programming is beautiful? It's all very well for you to declaim that I should take pleasure in creating elegant and charming programs, but how am I supposed to make this mess into a work of art?"

Well, it's true, not all programming tasks are going to be fun. Consider the "trapped housewife," who has to clean off the same table every day: there's not room for creativity or artistry in every situation. But even in such cases, there is a way to make a big improvement: it is still a pleasure to do routine jobs if we have beautiful things to work with. For example, a person will really enjoy wiping off the dining room table, day after day, if it is a beautifully designed table made from some fine quality hardwood.

Therefore I want to address my closing remarks to the system programmers and the machine designers who produce the systems that the rest of us must work with. Please, give us tools that are a pleasure to use, especially for our routine assignments, instead of providing something we have to fight with. Please, give us tools that encourage us to write better programs, by enhancing our pleasure when we do so.

It's very hard for me to convince college freshmen that programming is beautiful, when the first thing I have to tell them is how to punch "slash slash JoB equals so-and-so." Even job control languages can be designed so that they are a pleasure to use, instead of being strictly functional.

Computer hardware designers can make their machines much more pleasant to use, for example by providing floating-point arithmetic which satisfies simple mathematical laws. The facilities presently available on most machines make the job of rigorous error analysis hopelessly difficult, but properly designed operations would encourage numerical analysts to provide better subroutines which have certified accuracy (cf. [20, p. 204]).

Let's consider also what software designers can do. One of the best ways to keep up the spirits of a system user is to provide routines that he can interact with. We shouldn't make systems too automatic, so that the action always goes on behind the scenes; we ought to give the programmer-user a chance to direct his creativity into useful channels. One thing all programmers have in common is that they enjoy working with machines; so let's keep them in the loop. Some tasks are best done by machine, while others are best done by human insight; and a properly designed system will find the right balance. (I have been trying to avoid misdirected automation for many years, cf. [18].)

Program measurement tools make a good case in point. For years, programmers have been unaware of how the real costs of computing are distributed in their programs. Experience indicates that nearly everybody has the wrong idea about the real bottlenecks in his programs; it is no wonder that attempts at efficiency go awry so often, when a programmer is never given a breakdown of costs according to the lines of code he has written. His job is something like that of a newly married couple who try to plan a balanced budget without knowing how much the individual items like food, shelter, and clothing will cost. All that we have been giving programmers is an optimizing compiler, which mysteriously does something to the programs it translates but which never explains what it does. Fortunately we are now finally seeing the appearance of systems which give the user credit for some intelligence; they automatically provide instrumentation of programs and appropriate feedback about the real costs. These experimental systems have been a huge success, because they produce measurable improvements, and especially because they are fun to use, so I am confident that it is only a matter of time before the use of such systems is standard operating procedure. My paper in Computing Surveys [21] discusses this further, and presents some ideas for other ways in which an appropriate interactive routine can enhance the satisfaction of user programmers.

Language designers also have an obligation to provide languages that encourage good style, since we all know that style is strongly influenced by the language in which it is expressed. The present surge of interest in structured programming has revealed that none of our existing languages is really ideal for dealing with program and data structure, nor is it clear what an ideal language should be. Therefore I look forward to many careful experiments in language design during the next few years.

Summary

To summarize: We have seen that computer programming is an art, because it applies accumulated knowledge to the world, because it requires skill and ingenuity, and especially because it produces objects of beauty. A programmer who subconsciously views himself as an artist will enjoy what he does and will do it better. Therefore we can be glad that people who lecture at computer conferences speak about the state of the Art .

References

1. Bailey, Nathan. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary. T. Cox, London, 1727. See "Art," "Liberal," and "Science."

2. Bauer, Walter F., Juncosa, Mario L., and Perlis, Alan J. ACM publication policies and plans. J. ACM 6 (Apr. 1959), 121-122.

3. Bentham, Jeremy. The Rationale of Reward. Trans. from Theorie des peines et des recompenses, 1811, by Richard Smith, J. & H. L. Hunt, London, 1825.

4. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia 1. The Century Co., New York, 1889.

5. Clementi, Muzio. The Art of Playing the Piano. Trans. from L'art de jouer le pianoforte by Max Vogrich. Schirmer, New York, 1898.

6. Colvin, Sidney. "Art." Encyclopaedia Britannica, eds 9, 11, 12, 13, 1875-1926.

7. Coxeter, H. S. M. Convocation address, Proc. 4th Canadian Math. Congress, 1957, pp. 8-10.

8. Dijkstra, Edsger W. EWD316: A Short Introduction to the Art of Programming. T. H. Eindhoven, The Netherlands, Aug. 1971.

9. Ershov, A. P. Aesthetics and the human factor in programming. Comm. ACM 15 (July 1972), 501-505.

10. Fielden, Thomas. The Science of Pianoforte Technique. Macmillan, London, 927.

11. Gore, George. The Art of Scientific Discovery. Longmans, Green, London, 1878.

12. Hamilton, William. Lectures on Logic 1. Win. Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1874.

13. Hodges, John A. Elementary Photography: The "Amateur Photographer" Library 7. London, 1893. Sixth ed, revised and enlarged, 1907, p. 58.

14. Howard, C. Frusher. Howard's Art of Computation and golden rule for equation of payments for schools, business colleges and self-culture .... C.F. Howard, San Francisco, 1879.

15. Hummel, J.N. The Art of Playing the Piano Forte. Boosey, London, 1827.

16. Kernighan B.W., and Plauger, P.J. The Elements of Programming Style. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1974.

17. Kirwan, Richard. Elements of Mineralogy. Elmsly, London, 1784.

18. Knuth, Donald E. Minimizing drum latency time. J. ACM 8 (Apr. 1961), 119-150.

19. Knuth, Donald E., and Merner, J.N. ALGOL 60 confidential. Comm. ACM 4 (June 1961), 268-272.

20. Knuth, Donald E. Seminumerical Algorithms: The Art of Computer Programming 2. Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1969.

21. Knuth, Donald E. Structured programming with go to statements. Computing Surveys 6 (Dec. 1974), pages in makeup.

22. Kochevitsky, George. The Art of Piano Playing: A Scientific Approach. Summy-Birchard, Evanston, II1., 1967.

23. Lehmer, Emma. Number theory on the SWAC. Proc. Syrup. Applied Math. 6, Amer. Math. Soc. (1956), 103-108.

24. Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi. The Science of Being and Art of Living. Allen & Unwin, London, 1963.

25. Malevinsky, Moses L. The Science of Playwriting. Brentano's, New York, 1925.

26. Manna, Zohar, and Pnueli, Amir. Formalization of properties of functional programs. J. ACM 17 (July 1970), 555-569.

27. Marckwardt, Albert H, Preface to Funk and Wagnall's Standard College Dictionary. Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1963, vii.

28. Mill, John Stuart. A System Of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive. London, 1843. The quotations are from the introduction, S 2, and from Book 6, Chap. 11 (12 in later editions), S 5.

29. Mueller, Robert E. The Science of Art. John Day, New York, 1967.

30. Parsons, Albert Ross. The Science of Pianoforte Practice. Schirmer, New York, 1886.

31. Pedoe, Daniel. The Gentle Art of Mathematics. English U. Press, London, 1953.

32. Ruskin, John. The Stones of Venice 3. London, 1853.

33. Salton, G.A. Personal communication, June 21, 1974.

34. Snow, C.P. The two cultures. The New Statesman and Nation 52 (Oct. 6, 1956), 413-414.

35. Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures: and a Second Look. Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Copyright 1974, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. General permission to republish, but not for profit, all or part of this material is granted provided that ACM's copyright notice is given and that reference is made to the publication, to its date of issue, and to the fact that reprinting privileges were granted by permission of the Association for Computing Machinery.

[May 17, 2017] Who really gives a toss if it's agile or not

Notable quotes:
"... According to sources, hundreds of developers were employed on the programme at huge day rates, with large groups of so-called agile experts overseeing the various aspects of the programme. ..."
"... I have also worked on agile for UK gov projects a few years back when it was mandated for all new projects and I was at first dead keen. However, it quickly become obvious that the lack of requirements, specifications etc made testing a living nightmare. Changes asked for by the customer were grafted onto what become baroque mass of code. I can't see how Agile is a good idea except for the smallest trivial projects. ..."
"... The question is - is that for software that's still in development or software that's deployed in production? If it's the latter and your "something" just changes its data format you're going to be very unpopular with your users. And that's just for ordinary files. If it requires frequent re-orgs of an RDBMS then you'd be advised to not go near any dark alley where your DBA might be lurking. ..."
"... Software works on data. If you can't get the design of that right early you're going to be carrying a lot of technical debt in terms of backward compatibility or you're going to impose serious costs on your users for repeatedly bringing existing data up to date. ..."
"... At this point, courtesy of Exxxxtr3333me Programming and its spawn, 'agile' just means 'we don't want to do any design, we don't want to do any documentation, and we don't want to do any acceptance testing because all that stuff is annoying.' Everything is 'agile', because that's the best case for terrible lazy programmers, even if they're using a completely different methodology. ..."
"... It's like any exciting new methodology : same shit, different name. In this case, one that allows you to pretend the tiny attention-span of a panicking project manager is a good thing. ..."
"... Process is not a panacea or a crutch or a silver bullet. Methodologies only work as well as the people using it. Any methodology can be distorted to give the answer that upper management wants (instead of reality) ..."
"... under the guise of " agile ?". I'm no expert in project management, but I'm pretty sure it isn't supposed to be making it up as you go along, and constantly changing the specs and architecture. ..."
"... So why should the developers have all the fun? Why can't the designers and architects be "agile", too? Isn't constantly changing stuff all part of the "agile" way? ..."
May 17, 2017 | theregister.co.uk
Comment "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice," according to Chinese revolutionary Deng Xiaoping.

While Deng wasn't referring to anything nearly as banal as IT projects (he was of course talking about the fact it doesn't matter whether a person is a revolutionary or not, as long as he or she is efficient and capable), the same principle could apply.

A fixation on the suppliers, technology or processes ultimately doesn't matter. It's the outcomes, stupid. That might seem like a blindingly obvious point, but it's one worth repeating.

Or as someone else put it to me recently in reference to the huge overspend on a key UK programme behind courts digitisation which we recently revealed: "Who gives a toss if it's agile or not? It just needs to work."

If you're going to do it do it right

I'm not dismissing the benefits of this particular methodology, but in the case of the Common Platform Programme , it feels like the misapplication of agile was worse than not doing it at all.

Just to recap: the CPP was signed off around 2013, with the intention of creating a unified platform across the criminal justice system to allow the Crown Prosecution Service and courts to more effectively manage cases.

By cutting out duplication of systems, it was hoped to save buckets of cash and make the process of case management across the criminal justice system far more efficient.

Unlike the old projects of the past, this was a great example of the government taking control and doing it themselves. Everything was going to be delivered ahead of time and under budget. Trebles all round!

But as Lucy Liu's O-Ren Ishii told Uma Thurman's character in in Kill Bill : "You didn't think it was gonna be that easy, did you?... Silly rabbit."

According to sources, alarm bells were soon raised over the project's self-styled "innovative use of agile development principles". It emerged that the programme was spending an awful lot of money for very little return. Attempts to shut it down were themselves shut down.

The programme carried on at full steam and by 2014 it was ramping up at scale. According to sources, hundreds of developers were employed on the programme at huge day rates, with large groups of so-called agile experts overseeing the various aspects of the programme.

CPP cops a plea

Four years since it was first signed off and what are the things we can point to from the CPP? An online make-a-plea programme which allows people to plead guilty or not guilty to traffic offences; a digital markup tool for legal advisors to record case results in court, which is being tested by magistrates courts in Essex; and the Magistrates Rota.

Multiple insiders have said the rest that we have to show for hundreds of millions of taxpayers' cash is essentially vapourware. When programme director Loveday Ryder described the project as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to modernise the criminal justice system, it wasn't clear then that she meant the programme would itself take an actual lifetime.

Of course the definition of agile is that you are able to move quickly and easily. So some might point to the outcomes of this programme as proof that it was never really about that.

One source remarked that it really doesn't matter if you call something agile or not, "If you can replace agile with constantly talking and communicating then fine, call it agile." He also added: "This was one of the most waterfall programmes in government I've seen."

What is most worrying about this programme is it may not be an isolated example. Other organisations and departments may well be doing similar things under the guise of "agile". I'm no expert in project management, but I'm pretty sure it isn't supposed to be making it up as you go along, and constantly changing the specs and architecture.

Ultimately who cares if a programme is run via a system integrator, multiple SMEs, uses a DevOps methodology, is built in-house or deployed using off-the-shelf, as long as it delivers good value. No doubt there are good reasons for using any of those approaches in a number of different circumstances.

Government still spends an outrageous amount of money on IT, upwards of £16bn a year. So as taxpayers it's a simple case of wanting them to "show me the money". Or to misquote Deng, at least show us some more dead mice. ®

Prst. V.Jeltz

Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

So agile means "constantly adapating " ? read constantly bouncing from one fuckup to the next , paddling like hell to keep up , constantly firefighting whilst going down slowly like the titanic?

thats how i read it

Dogbowl
Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

Ha! About 21 years back, working at Racal in Bracknell on a military radio project, we had a 'round-trip-OMT' CASE tool that did just that. It even generated documentation from the code so as you added classes and methods the CASE tool generated the design document. Also, a nightly build if it failed, would email the code author.

I have also worked on agile for UK gov projects a few years back when it was mandated for all new projects and I was at first dead keen. However, it quickly become obvious that the lack of requirements, specifications etc made testing a living nightmare. Changes asked for by the customer were grafted onto what become baroque mass of code. I can't see how Agile is a good idea except for the smallest trivial projects.

PatientOne
Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

"Technically 'agile' just means you produce working versions frequently and iterate on that."

It's more to do with priorities: On time, on budget, to specification: Put these in the order of which you will surrender if the project hits problems.

Agile focuses on On time. What is delivered is hopefully to specification, and within budget, but one or both of those could be surrendered in order to get something out On time. It's just project management 101 with a catchy name, and in poorly managed 'agile' developments you find padding to fit the usual 60/30/10 rule. Then the management disgard the padding and insist the project can be completed in a reduced time as a result, thereby breaking the rules of 'agile' development (insisting it's on spec, under time and under budget, but it's still 'agile'...).

Doctor Syntax
Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

"Usually I check something(s) in every day, for the most major things it may take a week, but the goal is always to get it in and working so it can be tested."

The question is - is that for software that's still in development or software that's deployed in production? If it's the latter and your "something" just changes its data format you're going to be very unpopular with your users. And that's just for ordinary files. If it requires frequent re-orgs of an RDBMS then you'd be advised to not go near any dark alley where your DBA might be lurking.

Software works on data. If you can't get the design of that right early you're going to be carrying a lot of technical debt in terms of backward compatibility or you're going to impose serious costs on your users for repeatedly bringing existing data up to date.

Doctor Syntax
Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

"On time, on budget, to specification: Put these in the order of which you will surrender if the project hits problems."

In the real world it's more likely to be a trade-off of how much of each to surrender.

FozzyBear
Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

I was told in my earlier years by a Developer.

For any project you can have it

  1. Cheap, (On Budget)
  2. Good, (On spec)
  3. Quick.( On time)

Pick two of the three and only two. It doesn't which way you pick, you're fucked on the third. Doesn't matter about methodology, doesn't matter about requirements or project manglement. You are screwed on the third and the great news is, is that the level of the reaming you get scales with the size of the project.

After almost 20 years in the industry this has held true.

Dagg
Re: 'What's Real and What's for Sale'...

Technically 'agile' just means you produce working versions frequently and iterate on that.

No, technically agile means having no clue as to what is required and to evolve the requirements as you build. All well and good if you have a dicky little web site but if you are on a very / extremely large project with fixed time frame and fixed budget you are royally screwed trying to use agile as there is no way you can control scope.

Hell under agile no one has any idea what the scope is!

Archtech
Re: Government still spends an outrageous amount of money on IT

I hope you were joking. If not, try reading the classic book "The Mythical Man-Month".

oldtaku
'Agile' means nothing at this point. Unless it means terrible software.

At this point, courtesy of Exxxxtr3333me Programming and its spawn, 'agile' just means 'we don't want to do any design, we don't want to do any documentation, and we don't want to do any acceptance testing because all that stuff is annoying.' Everything is 'agile', because that's the best case for terrible lazy programmers, even if they're using a completely different methodology.

I firmly believe in the basics of 'iterate working versions as often as possible'. But why sell ourselves short by calling it agile when we actually design it, document it, and use testing beyond unit tests?

Yes, yes, you can tell me what 'agile' technically means, and I know that design and documentation and QA are not excluded, but in practice even the most waterfall of waterfall call themselves agile (like Kat says), and from hard experience people who really push 'agile agile agile' as their thing are the worst of the worst terrible coders who just slam crap together with all the finesse and thoughtfulness of a Bangalore outsourcer.

Adrian 4
It's like any exciting new methodology : same shit, different name. In this case, one that allows you to pretend the tiny attention-span of a panicking project manager is a good thing.

When someone shows me they've learned the lessons of Brooke's tarpit,. I'll be interested to see how they did it. Until then, it's all talk.

jamie m
25% Agile:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

kmac499
Re: 25% Agile:

From Jamie M

Working software is the primary measure of progress.

Brilliant few word summary which should be scrawled on the wall of every IT project managers office in Foot High Letters.

I've lived through SSADM, RAD, DSDM, Waterfall, Bohm Spirals, Extreme Programming and probably a few others.

They are ALL variations on a theme. The only thing they have in common is the successful ones left a bunch of 0's and 1's humming away in a lump of silicon doing something useful.

Doctor Syntax
Re: 25% Agile:

"Working software is the primary measure of progress."

What about training the existing users, having it properly documented for the users of the future, briefing support staff, having proper software documentation, or at least self documenting code, for those who will have to maintain it and ensuring it doesn't disrupt the data from the previous release? Or do we just throw code over the fence and wave goodbye to it?

Charlie Clark
Re: Limits of pragmatism

In France "naviguer à vue" is pejorative.

Software development in France* which also gave us ah yes, it may work in practice but does it work in theory .

The story is about the highly unusual cost overrun of a government project. Never happened dans l'héxagone ? Because it seems to happy pretty much everywhere else with relentless monotony because politicians are fucking awful project managers.

* FWIW I have a French qualification.

Anonymous Coward

Agile only works if all stakeholders agree on an outcome

For a project that is a huge change of operating your organisation it is unlikely that you will be able to deliver, at least the initial parts of your project, in an agile way. Once outcomes are known at a high level stakeholders have something to cling onto when they are asked what they need, if indeed they exist yet. (trying to ask for requirements for a stakeholder that doesn't exist yet is tough).

Different methods have their own issues, but in this case I would have expected failure to be reasonably predictable.

You wont have much to show for it, as they shouldn't at least, have started coding to a business model that itself needs defining. This is predictable, and overall means that no one agrees what the business should look like, let alone how a vendor delivered software solution should support it.

I have a limited amount of sympathy for the provider for this as it will be beyond their control (limited as they are an expensive government provider after all)

This is a disaster caused by the poor management in UKGOV and the vendor should have dropped and ran well before this.

Anonymous Coward

I'm a one man, self employed business - I do some very complex sites - but if they don't work I don't get paid. If they spew ugly bugs I get paniced emails from unhappy clients.

So I test after each update and comment code and add features to make my life easy when it comes to debugging. Woo, it even send me emails for some bugs.

I'm in agreement with the guy above - a dozen devs, a page layout designer or two, some databases. One manager to co-ordinate and no bloody jargon.

There's a MASSIVE efficiency to small teams but all the members need to be on top of their game.

Doctor Syntax
"I'm in agreement with the guy above - a dozen devs, a page layout designer or two, some databases. One manager to co-ordinate and no bloody jargon."

Don't forget a well-defined, soluble problem. That's in your case, where you're paid by results. If you're paid by billable hours it's a positive disadvantage.

Munchausen's proxy
Agile Expertise?

" I'm no expert in project management, but I'm pretty sure it isn't supposed to be making it up as you go along, and constantly changing the specs and architecture."

I'm no expert either, but I honestly thought that was quite literally the definition of agile. (maybe disguised with bafflegab, but semantically equivalent)

Zippy's Sausage Factory
Sounds like what I have said for a while...

The "strategy boutiques" saw "agile" becoming popular and they now use it as a buzzword.

These days, I put it in my "considered harmful" bucket, along with GOTO, teaching people to program using BASIC, and "upgrading" to Office 2016*.

* Excel, in particular.

a_yank_lurker
Buzzword Bingo

All too often a sound development ideas are perverted. The concepts are sound but the mistake is to view each as the perfect panacea to produce bug free, working code. Each has its purpose and scope of effectiveness. What should be understood and applied is not a precise cookbook method but principles - Agile focuses communication between groups and ensuring all on the same page. Others focus more on low level development (test driven development, e.g.) but one can lose sight the goal is use an appropriate tool set to make sure quality code is produced. Again, is the code being tested, are the tests correct, are junior developers being mentored, are developers working together appropriately for the nature of the projects are issues to be addressed not the precise formalism of the insultants.

Uncle Bob Martin has noted that one of the problems the formalisms try to address is the large number of junior developers who need proper mentoring, training, etc. in real world situations. He noted that in the old days many IT pros were mid level professionals who wandered over to IT and many of the formalisms so beloved by the insultants were concepts they did naturally. Cross functional team meetings - check, mentor - check, use appropriate tests - check, etc. These are professional procedures common to other fields and were ingrained mindset and habits.

Doctor Syntax
It's worth remembering that it's the disasters that make the news. I've worked on a number of public sector projects which were successful. After a few years of operation, however, the contract period was up and the whole service put out to re-tender.* At that point someone else gets the contract so the original work on which the successful delivery was based got scrapped.

* With some very odd results, it has to be said, but that's a different story.

goldcd

...My personal niggle is that a team has "velocity" rather than "speed" - and that seems to be a somewhat deliberate and disingenuous selection. The team should have speed, the project ultimately a measurable velocity calculated by working out how much of the speed was wasted in the wrong/right direction.

Anyway, off to get my beauty sleep, so I can feed the backlog tomorrow with anything within my reach.

Notas Badoff
Re: I like agile

Wanted to give you an up-vote as "velocity" vs. "speed" is exactly the sleight of hand that infuriates me. We do want eventual progress achieved, as in "distance towards goal in mind", right?

Unfortunately my reading the definitions and checking around leads me to think that you've got the words 'speed' and 'velocity' reversed above. Where's that nit-picker's icon....

bfwebster
I literally less than an hour ago gave my CS 428 ("Software Engineering") class here at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah, USA) my final lecture for the semester, which included this slide:

Process is not a panacea or a crutch or a silver bullet. Methodologies only work as well as the people using it. Any methodology can be distorted to give the answer that upper management wants (instead of reality)

When adopting a new methodology:

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of a given methodology before starting a project with it. Also, make sure a majority of team members have successfully completed a real-world project using that methodology.

Pete 2
Save some fun for us!

> under the guise of " agile ?". I'm no expert in project management, but I'm pretty sure it isn't supposed to be making it up as you go along, and constantly changing the specs and architecture.

So why should the developers have all the fun? Why can't the designers and architects be "agile", too? Isn't constantly changing stuff all part of the "agile" way?

[May 05, 2017] William Binney - The Government is Profiling You (The NSA is Spying on You)

Very interesting discussion of how the project of mass surveillance of internet traffic started and what were the major challenges. that's probably where the idea of collecting "envelopes" and correlating them to create social network. Similar to what was done in civil War.
The idea to prevent corruption of medical establishment to prevent Medicare fraud is very interesting.
Notable quotes:
"... I suspect that it's hopelessly unlikely for honest people to complete the Police Academy; somewhere early on the good cops are weeded out and cannot complete training unless they compromise their integrity. ..."
"... 500 Years of History Shows that Mass Spying Is Always Aimed at Crushing Dissent It's Never to Protect Us From Bad Guys No matter which government conducts mass surveillance, they also do it to crush dissent, and then give a false rationale for why they're doing it. ..."
"... People are so worried about NSA don't be fooled that private companies are doing the same thing. ..."
"... In communism the people learned quick they were being watched. The reaction was not to go to protest. ..."
"... Just not be productive and work the system and not listen to their crap. this is all that was required to bring them down. watching people, arresting does not do shit for their cause ..."
Apr 20, 2017 | www.youtube.com
Chad 2 years ago

"People who believe in these rights very much are forced into compromising their integrity"

I suspect that it's hopelessly unlikely for honest people to complete the Police Academy; somewhere early on the good cops are weeded out and cannot complete training unless they compromise their integrity.

Agent76 1 year ago (edited)
January 9, 2014

500 Years of History Shows that Mass Spying Is Always Aimed at Crushing Dissent It's Never to Protect Us From Bad Guys No matter which government conducts mass surveillance, they also do it to crush dissent, and then give a false rationale for why they're doing it.

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/01/government-spying-citizens-always-focuses-crushing-dissent-keeping-us-safe.html

Homa Monfared 7 months ago

I am wondering how much damage your spying did to the Foreign Countries, I am wondering how you changed regimes around the world, how many refugees you helped to create around the world.

Don Kantner, 2 weeks ago

People are so worried about NSA don't be fooled that private companies are doing the same thing. Plus, the truth is if the NSA wasn't watching any fool with a computer could potentially cause an worldwide economic crisis.

Bettor in Vegas 1 year ago

In communism the people learned quick they were being watched. The reaction was not to go to protest.

Just not be productive and work the system and not listen to their crap. this is all that was required to bring them down. watching people, arresting does not do shit for their cause......

[Dec 26, 2016] Does Code Reuse Endanger Secure Software Development?

Dec 26, 2016 | it.slashdot.org
(threatpost.com) 148 Posted by EditorDavid on Saturday December 17, 2016 @07:34PM from the does-code-reuse-endanger-secure-software-development dept. msm1267 quotes ThreatPost: The amount of insecure software tied to reused third-party libraries and lingering in applications long after patches have been deployed is staggering. It's a habitual problem perpetuated by developers failing to vet third-party code for vulnerabilities, and some repositories taking a hands-off approach with the code they host. This scenario allows attackers to target one overlooked component flaw used in millions of applications instead of focusing on a single application security vulnerability.

The real-world consequences have been demonstrated in the past few years with the Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL , Shellshock in GNU Bash , and a deserialization vulnerability exploited in a recent high-profile attack against the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency . These are three instances where developers reuse libraries and frameworks that contain unpatched flaws in production applications... According to security experts, the problem is two-fold. On one hand, developers use reliable code that at a later date is found to have a vulnerability. Second, insecure code is used by a developer who doesn't exercise due diligence on the software libraries used in their project.
That seems like a one-sided take, so I'm curious what Slashdot readers think. Does code reuse endanger secure software development?

[Dec 26, 2016] Ask Slashdot: Has Your Team Ever Succumbed To Hype Driven Development?

Dec 26, 2016 | ask.slashdot.org
(daftcode.pl) 332 Posted by EditorDavid on Sunday November 27, 2016 @11:30PM from the TDD-vs-HDD dept. marekkirejczyk , the VP of Engineering at development shop Daftcode, shares a warning about hype-driven development: Someone reads a blog post, it's trending on Twitter, and we just came back from a conference where there was a great talk about it. Soon after, the team starts using this new shiny technology (or software architecture design paradigm), but instead of going faster (as promised) and building a better product, they get into trouble . They slow down, get demotivated, have problems delivering the next working version to production.
Describing behind-schedule teams that "just need a few more days to sort it all out," he blames all the hype surrounding React.js, microservices, NoSQL, and that " Test-Driven Development Is Dead " blog post by Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson. ("The list goes on and on... The root of all evil seems to be social media.")

Does all this sound familiar to any Slashdot readers? Has your team ever succumbed to hype-driven development?

[Mar 7, 2007] Coding Horror Your Code OOP or POO by Jeff Atwood

I'm not a fan of object orientation for the sake of object orientation. Often the proper OO way of doing things ends up being a productivity tax. Sure, objects are the backbone of any modern programming language, but sometimes I can't help feeling that slavish adherence to objects is making my life a lot more difficult. I've always found inheritance hierarchies to be brittle and unstable, and then there's the massive object-relational divide to contend with. OO seems to bring at least as many problems to the table as it solves.

Perhaps Paul Graham summarized it best:

Object-oriented programming generates a lot of what looks like work. Back in the days of fanfold, there was a type of programmer who would only put five or ten lines of code on a page, preceded by twenty lines of elaborately formatted comments. Object-oriented programming is like crack for these people: it lets you incorporate all this scaffolding right into your source code. Something that a Lisp hacker might handle by pushing a symbol onto a list becomes a whole file of classes and methods. So it is a good tool if you want to convince yourself, or someone else, that you are doing a lot of work.

Eric Lippert observed a similar occupational hazard among developers. It's something he calls object happiness.

What I sometimes see when I interview people and review code is symptoms of a disease I call Object Happiness. Object Happy people feel the need to apply principles of OO design to small, trivial, throwaway projects. They invest lots of unnecessary time making pure virtual abstract base classes -- writing programs where IFoos talk to IBars but there is only one implementation of each interface! I suspect that early exposure to OO design principles divorced from any practical context that motivates those principles leads to object happiness. People come away as OO True Believers rather than OO pragmatists.

I've seen so many problems caused by excessive, slavish adherence to OOP in production applications. Not that object oriented programming is inherently bad, mind you, but a little OOP goes a very long way. Adding objects to your code is like adding salt to a dish: use a little, and it's a savory seasoning; add too much and it utterly ruins the meal. Sometimes it's better to err on the side of simplicity, and I tend to favor the approach that results in less code, not more.

Given my ambivalence about all things OO, I was amused when Jon Galloway forwarded me a link to Patrick Smacchia's web page. Patrick is a French software developer. Evidently the acronym for object oriented programming is spelled a little differently in French than it is in English: POO.

K. Scott Allen Cargo Cults

# re: Cargo Cults "Cargo Cult" also applies to certain executives at dot com boom era software startups.

On arrival, jubilant about their new VP positions at hapless startups, many execs tended to simply reimplement what had been done at their previous company ("hey, it worked from '96 to '99.")

"I'm gonna build us a sales pipeline and a sales forecast. Then we'll cross the chasm."

"Once we send this product to a focus group, we'll know exactly what to change."

"Engineers aren't working long enough hours. At XYZ we pulled 80 hour weeks and shipped on time. Show these guys a sense of urgency."

"Once we write our mission statement we'll all be on the same page and move forward together."

"We need an offsite meeting at a fancy hotel so we can brainstorm, bond with each other, and innovate."

Then the boom ended, but they kept doing the same things religiously. (Until they got fired.)

Maybe "cargo cult executives" never really went away.

Fabulous Adventures In Coding Cargo Cultism, Part Four Other Disciplines

Cargo Cultism, Part Four: Other Disciplines > Just a couple quick follow-ups.

Mike Spille has some good comments tying the relationship between cargo cult programmers and abstraction layers together.

Mike Gunderloy wonders if I've ever read Steve “Code Complete“ McConnell's Cargo Cult Software Engineering essay. I have now -- thanks! However, this essay is about cargo cultism amongst managers of software teams, not the developers themselves.

What this really shows is that imitating form without understanding content is a methodology in many disciplines. It is certainly not limited to the engineering professions! In fact, this problem in a completely unrelated discipline has been on my mind lately.

As Professor Thingo mentions in his recent blog entries, in addition to knowing a thing or two about scripting languages, I'm also an expert on the life and work of JRR Tolkien. I have the dubious distinction of being the first person to put a Tolkien fan page up on the Internet. For many years that page was the first result returned by Google searches for "Tolkien", which got me a lot of email from kids doing book reports and a number of unintentionally hilarious interviews with newspapers when the first Peter Jackson movie was released. The admins of the university server upon which the page resided finally noticed that I'd graduated eight years earlier and removed it some time last year; it had not been updated since 1997 and was a mass of dead links.

But I digress. I think that it is safe to say that the vast majority of fantasy genre fiction produced in the last fifty years apes the form of The Lord of the Rings without coming close to the quality of the content. Want to sell books? Put a map in the back, have a few plucky short guys with swords go up against evil incarnate to save the world, and wait for the royalties to roll in. (See Tom Shippey“s excellent book Author of the Century for an in-depth analysis of this fact.)

Peter Jackson, in one of his Oscar acceptance speeches thanked the Academy for looking beyond the form -- the elves and wizards and hobbits -- to the underlying moral thematic core of the work. And you have to look beyond it; most genre fantasy is derivative dreck, not to put too fine a point on it, and that prejudices people against it. (A notable exception would be the early work of Guy Kay, who was Christopher Tolkien's assistant when he was editing The Silmarillion. I haven't read any of Kay's recent work, so I don't know if it is still of such high quality.)

Cargo cultism is everywhere.

Fabulous Adventures In Coding Syntax, Semantics, Micronesian cults and Novice Programmers

I've had this idea in me for a long time now that I've been struggling with getting out into the blog space. It has to do with the future of programming, declarative languages, Microsoft's language and tools strategy, pedagogic factors for novice and experienced programmers, and a bunch of other stuff. All these things are interrelated in some fairly complex ways. I've come to the realization that I simply do not have time to organize these thoughts into one enormous essay that all hangs together and makes sense. I'm going to do what blogs do best -- write a bunch of (comparatively!) short articles each exploring one aspect of this idea. If I'm redundant and prolix, so be it.

Today I want to blog a bit about novice programmers. In future essays, I'll try to tie that into some ideas about the future of pedagogic languages and languages in general.

Novice programmers reading this: I'd appreciate your feedback on whether this makes sense or it's a bunch of useless theoretical posturing.

Experienced programmers reading this: I'd appreciate your feedback on what you think are the vital concepts that you had to grasp when you were learning to program, and what you stress when you mentor new programmers.

An intern at another company wrote me recently to say "I am working on a project for an internship that has lead me to some scripting in vbscript. Basically I don't know what I am doing and I was hoping you could help." The writer then included a chunk of script and a feature request. I've gotten requests like this many times over the years; there are a lot of novice programmers who use script, for the obvious reason that we designed it to be appealing to novices.

Well, as I wrote last Thursday, there are times when you want to teach an intern to fish, and times when you want to give them a fish. I could give you the line of code that implements the feature you want. And then I could become the feature request server for every intern who doesn't know what they're doing… nope. Not going to happen. Sorry. Down that road lies cargo cult programming, and believe me, you want to avoid that road.

What's cargo cult programming? Let me digress for a moment. The idea comes from a true story, which I will briefly summarize:

During the Second World War, the Americans set up airstrips on various tiny islands in the Pacific. After the war was over and the Americans went home, the natives did a perfectly sensible thing -- they dressed themselves up as ground traffic controllers and waved those sticks around. They mistook cause and effect -- they assumed that the guys waving the sticks were the ones making the planes full of supplies appear, and that if only they could get it right, they could pull the same trick. From our perspective, we know that it's the other way around -- the guys with the sticks are there because the planes need them to land. No planes, no guys.

The cargo cultists had the unimportant surface elements right, but did not see enough of the whole picture to succeed. They understood the form but not the content. There are lots of cargo cult programmers -- programmers who understand what the code does, but not how it does it. Therefore, they cannot make meaningful changes to the program. They tend to proceed by making random changes, testing, and changing again until they manage to come up with something that works.

(Incidentally, Richard Feynman wrote a great essay on cargo cult science. Do a web search, you'll find it.)

Beginner programmers: do not go there! Programming courses for beginners often concentrate heavily on getting the syntax right. By "syntax" I mean the actual letters and numbers that make up the program, as opposed to "semantics", which is the meaning of the program. As an analogy, "syntax" is the set of grammar and spelling rules of English, "semantics" is what the sentences mean. Now, obviously, you have to learn the syntax of the language -- unsyntactic programs simply do not run. But what they don't stress in these courses is that the syntax is the easy part. The cargo cultists had the syntax -- the formal outward appearance -- of an airstrip down cold, but they sure got the semantics wrong.

To make some more analogies, it's like playing chess. Anyone can learn how the pieces legally move. Playing a game where the strategy makes sense is the hard (and interesting) part. You need to have a very clear idea of the semantics of the problem you're trying to solve, then carefully implement those semantics.

Every VBScript statement has a meaning. Understand what the meaning is. Passing the right arguments in the right order will come with practice, but getting the meaning right requires thought. You will eventually find that some programming languages have nice syntax and some have irritating syntax, but that it is largely irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether I'm writing a program in VBScript, C, Modula3 or Algol68 -- all these languages have different syntaxes, but very similar semantics. The semantics are the program.

You also need to understand and use abstraction. High-level languages like VBScript already give you a huge amount of abstraction away from the underlying hardware and make it easy to do even more abstract things.

Beginner programmers often do not understand what abstraction is. Here's a silly example. Suppose you needed for some reason to compute 1 + 2 + 3 + .. + n for some integer n. You could write a program like this:

n = InputBox("Enter an integer")

Sum = 0
For i = 1 To n
Sum = Sum + i
Next

MsgBox Sum

Now suppose you wanted to do this calculation many times. You could replicate the middle four lines over and over again in your program, or you could abstract the lines into a named routine:

Function Sum(n)
Sum = 0
For i = 1 To n
Sum = Sum + i
Next
End Function

n = InputBox("Enter an integer")
MsgBox Sum(n)

That is convenient -- you can write up routines that make your code look cleaner because you have less duplication. But convenience is not the real power of abstraction. The power of abstraction is that the implementation is now irrelevant to the caller. One day you realize that your sum function is inefficient, and you can use Gauss's formula instead. You throw away your old implementation and replace it with the much faster:

Function Sum(n)
Sum = n * (n + 1) / 2
End Function

The code which calls the function doesn't need to be changed. If you had not abstracted this operation away, you'd have to change all the places in your code that used the old algorithm.

A study of the history of programming languages reveals that we've been moving steadily towards languages which support more and more powerful abstractions. Machine language abstracts the electrical signals in the machine, allowing you to program with numbers. Assembly language abstracts the numbers into instructions. C abstracts the instructions into higher concepts like variables, functions and loops. C++ abstracts even farther by allowing variables to refer to classes which contain both data and functions that act on the data. XAML abstracts away the notion of a class by providing a declarative syntax for object relationships.

To sum up, Eric's advice for novice programmers is:

BufferOverrun Eric Lippert on Cargo Cult Programming

This blog posting from Eric Lippert has a ton of good advice for new programmers. It's not specific to C++, but the principles all apply:
Syntax, Semantics, Micronesian cults and Novice Programmers
There are lots of cargo cult programmers -- programmers who understand what the code does, but not how it does it. Therefore, they cannot make meaningful changes to the program. They tend to proceed by making random changes, testing, and changing again until they manage to come up with something that works.
Bottom line... understand the meaning and purpose of every line of code before you try to change it.
Filed under: C++

Larry Osterman's WebLog Critical Driver or Cargo Cult Programming

I've been self hosting Vista on my laptop since sometime in January. Every Monday morning, without fail, I installed the latest build available from the "main" windows branch, and tried it.

There have been good builds and bad builds - the first few were pretty painful, everything since sometime in March has been wonderfully smooth.

But sometime late in May, things changed for the worse. Weekly builds installed just fine on my main development machine, but my laptop would get about 3/4ths of the way through the install and stop after a reboot complaining about a problem with the critical system driver <driver>.sys.

Of course, I filed a bug on the problem and moved on - every week I'd update my laptop and it'd fail. While I was away on vacation, the guys looking into the bug finally figured out what was happening.

The first part of the problem was easy - something was causing <driver>.sys to fail to load (we don't know what). But that didn't explain the unbootable system.

Well, the <driver>.sys driver is the modem driver for my laptop. Eventually one of the setup devs figured the root cause. For some totally unknown reason, their inf has the following lines:

[DDInstall.Services]
AddService=<driver>_Service_Inst

[<driver>_Service_Inst]
StartType=0

If you go to msdn and look up DDInstall.Services, you get this page.

If you follow the documentation a bit you find the documentation for the service install section which describes the StartType key - it's the same as the start type for Windows services.

In particular, you find:

StartType=start-code
Specifies when to start the driver as one of the following numerical values, expressed either in decimal or, as shown here, in hexadecimal notation.
0x0 (SERVICE_BOOT_START)
Indicates a driver started by the operating system loader.

This value must be used for drivers of devices required for loading the operating system.

0x1 (SERVICE_SYSTEM_START)
Indicates a driver started during operating system initialization.

This value should be used by PnP drivers that do device detection during initialization but are not required to load the system.

For example, a PnP driver that also can detect a legacy device should specify this value in its INF so that its DriverEntry routine will be called to find the legacy device, even if that device cannot be enumerated by the PnP manager.

0x2 (SERVICE_AUTO_START)
Indicates a driver started by the service control manager during system startup.

This value should never be used in the INF files for WDM or PnP device drivers.

0x3 (SERVICE_DEMAND_START)
Indicates a driver started on demand, either by the PnP manager when the corresponding device is enumerated or possibly by the service control manager in response to an explicit user demand for a non-PnP device.

This value should be used in the INF files for all WDM drivers of devices that are not required to load the system and for all PnP device drivers that are neither required to load the system nor engaged in device detection.

0x4 (SERVICE_DISABLED)
Indicates a driver that cannot be started.

This value can be used to temporarily disable the driver services for a device, but a device/driver cannot be installed if this value is specified in the service-install section of its INF file.

So in this case, the authors of the modem driver decided that their driver was a boot time critical driver - which, as the documentation clearly states is only intended for drivers required to load the operating system.

So I'll leave it up to you to decide - is this an example of cargo cult programming, or did the authors of this modem driver REALLY think that the driver is a critical system driver?

What makes things worse is that this is a 3rd party driver - we believe that their INF is in error, but we can't fix it because it's owned by the 3rd party. Our only choice is to baddriver it and prevent Vista from loading that particular driver. The modem chip in question hasn't been made for many, many years, the vendor for that chip has absolutely no interest in supporting it on Vista, so we can't get it fixed (the laptop is old enough that it's out of OEM support, so there's no joy from that corner either - nobody wants to support this hardware anymore).

Please note: This is NOT an invitation for a "If only the drivers were open source, then you could just fix it" discussion in the comments thread. The vendor for the modem driver owns the rights to their driver, they get to choose whether or not they want to support it, not Microsoft.



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