Tesugen

I think that in software development, there’s a bias towards the rational. Or, not in software development per se, but in management, project management, process pushers, et cetera. And I wonder why this is the case.

Developing software is to a large extent about discovery: about discovering the needs of the future user; about discovering working solutions; about discovering an effective architecture for framing that solution, and so on.

I guess that science is the foremost field of discovery, and I’m convinced that scientists in general are very in touch with their “irrational side”. Countless are the examples of sudden flashes of insight, when the scientist is taking a shower, observing a street scene from a café, or gazing into the fireplace while slumped in an old armchair. My view of scientific discovery is as a cycle alternating between analysis and intuition (or what you might call it).

Some professions are skewed to the irrational instead. Many of them are indeed analytical at times, but mostly they deal with very fuzzy things, not caring at all whether what they are dealing with is scientifically provable. I’m thinking about graphic designers, industrial designers, people in advertising, architects. They seem open to almost any type of approach in solving a problem, as long as they feel it has a chance of getting them there. Their work is to a large extent about generating ideas.

Architects are particularly interesting, as construction is a field that software very often looks to for inspiration. Many in software development badly wants their profession to be like construction, but I think they have gotten the wrong impression about construction. Architects need to generate lots of ideas, find out which of them are plausible, taking into account the various factors in the project, such as budgets, the dynamics of the surroundings where the building is to be located, etc. In this regard it is very similar to software development. In addition, they are artists, as buildings are creations that need to be visually interesting.

Code in software is only seen by the programmers, who often give way to outside pressures and let the code turn into slums. I think the fact that the code isn’t seen by the users of software is one reason why software is too rational, and the reason that architects are artists can explain why architecture stays in relative balance between the rational and the irrational.

For scientists, the results matter the most, and scientists, I think, very often work with other scientists, so they aren’t perhaps under too much pressure to adapt to the market’s demands for predictability and rationality. After all, it’s obvious to anyone that you can’t say how long time it takes for a good idea to come. The actors on the market of course wants to know how long something will take, and thus how much it will cost. I think that scientists have been relatively protected from this.

Please let me know if you think I’m wrong.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on April 26, 2003. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.

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