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SEMAT and Development Principles

02.04.2010
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My first reaction to SEMAT was--is this practical? But as I've thought about it more, I've decided there are some principles of good software design and implementation they can probably agree upon and illuminate.

For context: I spent 15 years as a practicing nuclear engineer before becoming a practicing software developer.

"Engineering practice", as I found it in the field, is often as arbitrary as "software development practice". What is "good" is measured first by "what works", second by "what's elegant", and finally by "what's inexpensive", and is judged primarily by senior practitioners working against their own experience rather than some set of objective standards (though those exist as well). In hardware engineering, the time lapse between design review and implementation is quite often very long (especially large-scale design, e.g. power plants, where I worked). As a result, feedback loops are even longer and harder to manage. What dominates in the large scale seems to be "what worked"--and just as often, "what failed".

This seems to me to be exactly the type of thing we're developing now as developers--we now have lots of categories of languages for solving different types of problems and we're developing solid tools and techniques for measuring performance, managing projects, and closing the loop between design and implementation. The world for software developers is a FAR less arbitrary place, and has far more development of tools and techniques, than in 1976 when I started coding.

The body of common practice is regularly changing in hardware engineering, as analysis tools get better. When I graduated, one of my first tasks required a stress analysis, which I did with a calculator by hand. These days, an engineer would set that up in a desktop finite-element analysis program with a nice UI, and he'd get a better answer in less time. The principles are the same, though: determine, through an understanding of material behavior and machine design, what a specific application required of the machine and what combination of off-the-shelf components and custom machining could be used to implement that application. It's very much what I do today: I pick off-the-shelf components and custom components to create a design to meet certain requirements.

Can we, as a group, specify some of the principles on which those decisions get made? I suspect we can. While I'm only really fluent in one sub-part of OO design, I know of a few; consider the SOLID principles in OO design, various common design patterns, and the corpus of tools and techniques in Knuth's "The Art of Computer Programming".

From http://execdesign.blogspot.com 

Published at DZone with permission of Jerry Andrews, author and DZone MVB.

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