In defence on hacking

I read a very interesting essay today – Hacknot – To Those About to Hack
that talks about why planning upfront always pays in the long run. There is a very nice story that illustrates the value of planning upfront.

I think that when people write essays like this they tend to provide an analogy that suits the point that they’re trying to make, for e.g. in this case Pro BDUF and Agile bashing.

There are a couple of reasons why the analogy is not quite relevant in this case. Firstly software is not like chopping wood, it’s not like construction infact any comparison that tries to compare software development with any kind of physical object creation is flawed. Physical objects have limitations with respect to the time and effort required to shape them or construct them. The values of these physical constants are irrelevant when it comes to software and in some cases the physical limitations do not exist at all.

Secondly the requirements in almost every software product that I’ve worked on always change after the initial code has been implemented, first because the customer/user is himself not very clear on what is required. It’s quite difficult to describe a large state machine for a CS grad let alone a layman. Also usability design itself is an iterative process for for a product with a UI the requirement churn rate is absurdly high when compared to any physical engineering activity.

So given that requirements are bound to change doesn’t it make sense to practice the one thing that you know for sure is going to happen i.e. change. No amount of planning is going to prepare you for change, you need to practice for change day in and day out by following the training regime of agile methods. TDD, pair programming, daily meetings, refactoring, rejection of BDUF etc. these things prepare the programmer for the inevitable.

I can imagine a version of the story that favors the Agile camp in which the carpenter in the middle of the day decides that he does not need a big log of wood at all! But the fact that wood chopping is a physical activity again prevents me from going ahead on that analogy.

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