Archive for June, 2017

Is Software Engineering Possible?

June 7, 2017

When the textile industry arose in the 18th century, craft was the norm in manufacturing. As the industrial revolution progressed, one after another sector of the economy made the transition from craft to industry. In 1968 it was noticed that the creation of software was a craft in a world where industry was the norm. In that year a conference was convened to address that anomaly. Those present saw themselves as participants in a momentous occasion: after this conference, Software Engineering existed, which was not the case before.

In the final paragraph of my 2009 article “Software Engineering: From Craft to Industry?” [8], I ventured to disagree. From the final paragraph:

While the processing of material leaves an irreducible residue of work for humans, in the processing of information any work that is routine instantly vanishes. Extracting the routine part from an information processing task is a creative endeavour. It is called programming. In the building of a software system any time you think you have something routine to be handed over to managed cubicle-dwelling drones, [9], you are missing an opportunity for automation. In the building of a software system there is only room for creative work. It is Craft, irreducibly so.

At the time I had read John Allen’s “Whither Software Engineering?”. I found it fascinating, but dismissed it as unrealistic and I was not convinced of its urgency. This article explains why I changed my mind.