October 23, 2014

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Won't Someone Please Think Of The Software?!

One hope I harbour for putting proper computing - especially programming - back into the British school curriculum is that, having had a go at making computers do stuff by typing text into them - today's kids will grow up to be the kind of responsible, enlightened adults who know from experience that it takes time and costs money to write software (and many times more to change software that's already been written.)

Because I've noticed that, right now, with a generation of adults most of whom have no practical experience of programming, that thought barely registers.

Exhibit A is the commentator insisting that scrapping Greenwich Meantime in the UK (our clocks go back an hour in the winter) would be an easy win for the government as it would be "a very popular move that would cost nothing". I beg to differ. Time and time zones and daylight savings and GMT and all that paraphernalia takes up a lot of source code; code that would need to be changed. Changing code is very expensive.

This is quite typical of how computer muggles think - or, more accurately, don't think - when it comes to matters involving software. More often than not, it just never crosses their minds.

Nowhere is this more visible than in politics; parties gleefully dream up policies like the now-very-very-late-and-getting-later Universal Credit benefits system or a national database of this-that-and-the-other or an online system for geo-tagging naughty donkeys, or whatever the hair-brained policy is, without giving any thought to how much the IT would cost, or if it's even feasible. (TIME SAVING TIP: If it involves IT and government, it's usually not feasible. "Hello, World" could cost billions and still not work after a decade, if the right - i.e., wrong - suppliers got involved. And they always do get involved.)

But this is the Information Age, and that ought to be a clue that anything any government, business, charity or other organisation wants to do on a large scale is going to involve processing large amounts of information, and that mean's it's going to involve computers and very probably new software or changes to existing software.

Even after all this hoo-hah about the Year Of Code and computing in schools and TechCityUK and all that palaver, politicians still haven't seen the light. The fact that political parties don't have a dedicated spokesperson for government computing says it all. They don't think about this stuff until they absolutely have to, by which time the bill has passed, the policy is set in stone and necks are on the chopping block. And once everyone's committed, it seems no amount of money is too much to flush down the toilet of bad IT strategies. Essentially, we have to wait until that government gets voted out and a new broom can come in and acknowledge her predecessors mistakes and scrap the programme, by which time hundreds of millions, or even billions, of public funds have been poured down the drain.

My appeal to them: won't someone please think of the software?!

Posted 3 years, 2 months ago on October 23, 2014