June 10, 2005

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Software Development & The Economy

I have a real bee in my bonnet today, following a lunchtime conversation with an idiot who is convinced that the software industry has had it's golden age, and that the UK government should be focusing it's education resources elsewhere.

As computing devices become more and more ubiquitous in our everyday working and private lives, our ability to deliver software that works becomes ever more critical to the economy. Most large organisations now run software that is core to their business processes, and without which they're ability to operate would be severaly impared. Most of that software is developed or customised especially for them. It could easily be argued that the ability to develop good software is a core component of an organisation's ability to adapt and keep a competitive edge.

And yet, it's this hidden component of the modern economy that gets scant attention from the media, the government and the public at large. It could be due to igborance on their part - a lack of understanding of the role that softwrae now plays in their daily lives, and a lack of appreciation for the importance of software projects to the development of their economy.

At the tip of the iceberg, there's the sheer amount of money spent on software projects - hundreds of billions of pounds every year. The software industry - not just including the big IT vendors like IBM and Microsoft - is HUGE. It's every bit as significant to the economy as oil, banking, defence or the media, and in more ways that one.

But the money spent on developing software is tiny compared to the money tied up in its use. Banks, insurance companies, hospitals, TV stations, theme parks - they all rely on software in their everyday operations. Without software, airbuses would literally fall out of the sky, and your cable TV picture would go blank. You wouldn't be able to pay for your meal with your credit card. You wouldn't be able to purchase a ticket for your train journey to work (indeed, the trains wouldn't be running, full stop!)

Rightly or wrongly, the fate of modern western civilisation is now inextracably linked to the software it uses. And this change has taken just ba few decades - speeding up exponentially every year.

Aside from the huge sums of money invested in software development, and the massive (and almost total) reliance of many industries on software these days, there's also the accelerating pace of change that this software is fuelling. All sorts of business operations are being speeded up by software and the computing and communications platforms it runs on. With their metabolisms moving faster and faster, organisations, markets, economies and societies are mutating at a frightening rate. Time was when a good idea for a business could last you decades. Now you're lucky if the competition haven't already taken the next step before the ink's dry on your patent application. The time and cost of adapting software to keep your organisation ahead of the game is also a critical component of your competitive edge.

I firmly believe that in 50 year's time, a list of the world's most prosperous nations will reveal a list of the world's best software developers. And yet, our ability to develop software doesn't appear to be on the government's radar. They have this vague, wishy washy idea that IT is good, and that we should do something sort of, kind of IT related... But there doesn't seem to be any acknowledgement that we should be working on getting better at building software.

Since I plan to stay in the UK, I fear for what might happen if other nations recognise the potential benefits, and plough their resources into massive national programs of education in software engineering, and of widespread and long term software process improvement in it's key businesses and public institutions. There's certainly no sign of it happening over here any time soon...
Posted 15 years, 8 months ago on June 10, 2005