November 15, 2009

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Skepticism Is What Software Development Needs Now

I've blogged in the past about the rather alarming amount of hearsay and pseudoscience in software development.

Today I tried a little social experiment. On a social network. Which I thought was fitting.

I asked on Twitter whether typing speed was a significant factor in programmer productivity. As far as I'm aware, there's no data on this, so the answer of a scientist would have to be "we don't know". You may have your theories about whether it would help with flow if you typed faster, or whether writing more code in less time would mean you make more mistakes and waste even more time fixing them. But none of these theories has been put to the test.

Bottom line is, we just don't know.

I got quite a mix of responses, many of which had similar theories. But few said those magic words: I don't know.

As it happens, there's a whole bunch of stuff we just don't know in software development. Most of the accepted wisdom can be traced back to proclamations made with little or no evidence to back them up.

Refactoring makes change easier? Does it? I mean, really, does it? Where's the evidence to support that?

Sure, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence. And I'm every bit as guilty of saying with an air of certainty that refactoring makes change easier and other spurious proclamations. But there's plenty of anecdotal evidence for alien abductions, faith healing and the Loch Ness monster.

Now, I'm pretty sure refactoring does make it easier to change software, if you do enough of it and do it effectively. But I have not a shred of convicing evidence for that. I just believe it. Very strongly. Probably as strongly as Tony Blair believes bombing civilians in Iraq was the right decision. He is very, very wrong. How do I know I'm not wrong about refactoring? I don't. I take it on faith. Which isn't good enough, really, I'm afraid.

If we're to distinguish ourselves from the loonies sittings out in the Nevada desert wearing tin-foil hats waiting for aliens to show up and give us world peace, we need to start adopting a more practical kind of skepticism, and start subjecting some of these old wives tales to a more scientific kind of scrutiny.

Posted 8 years, 6 months ago on November 15, 2009