August 23, 2013

Software Ideas & Their Tendency Towards Ubiquity

One marked way in which ideas in software development sometimes behave like religious movements is their tendency towards ubiquity.

It all starts innocently enough, with some bright spark saying "hey, you know what's worked for me?" Usually, it's a point solution to a specific problem, like writing the test before we write the code, or scheduling work so that developers pick up the next most important task from the queue as soon as they've completed the last one.

Simple ideas to solve particular problems.

Religions too, can start out with a simple idea like "hey, let's all treat each other the way we'd wish others to treat us" and so on.

But before we know it, the thought leaders of these religious movements are asking questions like "What does God have to say about wearing Nike on a Thursday?" and "What sort of toppings are acceptable on a low-sodium bagel?" and their religion starts to burrow its way into every aspect of our daily lives, dictating everything from beard length to when we can and cannot eat certain kinds of dairy products. Not unsurprisingly, the original underlying idea can get lost, and we end up with religious zealots who will gleefully nail you to a tree for wearing the wrong kind of underpants during a month with a 'Y' in the name, but who seem to have no hang-ups about nailing people to trees in the first place.

So, too, do some ideas burrow their way into other aspects of the way we write software. There seems to be a built-in predaliction for some ideas - usually methodological, but I've seen it happen with tools, too - to grow to become all-encompassing, and for the original underlying idea to get forgotten.

And I can understand the motivations behind this; particularly for consultants. A hammer gets a much larger potential market if we claim it can tell the time, too. We can dramatically extend the scope of our influence by making what we're experts in apply to just about everything.







Posted 1 year, 5 months ago on August 23, 2013