Software Engineer’s Blog

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Making of a professional software developer!

I came across an interesting lecture on professional software development by Robert Martin, a promotion part of video lecture series on clean code. I would recommend every software developer, and aspiring ones, to listen to. I believe that you will find this as quite thought provoking, and inspiring, just as his many other lectures are.  You would find it gently nudging you out of comfort zone into challenges of evolving into a true professional

Head count of manpower involved in software development has multiplied manifold from the time I started my career in software development more than two and a half decades back. Technology involved has changed, and software development environment has changed as well. World of software, and its role in the world, too has changed quite a lot since then…. and, as software reached out to every walk of life,   complexity and expectations too has increased manifold.

As we have reiterated many times over, software is essentially a construction in mind in first before it is executed in computer. It gets created in the minds of users, customers, developers, testers, … and often these do not connect breaking dynamic equilibrium of balance as software evolve. Making it still harder, complexity and disconnect increases exponentially with increase in the number of minds involved. It does not make any sense to wish these complexities away. These are here to stay. It can only get more complex and challenging, as we depend more and more on software.

Key to being a professional is to get on top of these. That is, a true professional would stand up for what he believe in, what he likes to do, take up the initiative, own up the commitment and deliver to the commitment. A true professional will see commitments as extremely important, not a casual word. We work as we work as a team, and a whole chain of commitments depends on your commitment. Many business, and many lives, depends on it and if commitments are not honored all of them are affected. It is your responsibility to see that commitments made by you are honored within time, budget and quality expectations.  That is, you are absolutely in charge of the situation, rather than its victim.

Note: Video of interviews with a super star from Indian film industry and another one with a master batsman from Indian cricket embedded here, both worked their way up fighting many odds. Both are involved in a profession which calls for individual excellence and team work for success. Both are professional who made indelible in their space, and are reflecting back on their rich experience. I believe spirit of professionalism cuts across many disciplines. It may differ on details but fundamentals remain the same. It is about conviction, self belief, working hard for what you believe in, working as a team and and winning against many odds, in the right spirit

I believe, technologies, processes, methodologies and tools have evolved to a great extent by now and these can help us address the key challenges, if we can put these together in the right way, as people/team enabler. Well, it is important to get it right.

Also, it is important to stay clear of dogmas, and realize that when we direct attention towards moon by pointing in that direction, the pointing finger is not moon. It might sound trivial but it is common to see finger being confused as moon. What do I mean by that?

I have seen process quality standards like CMMI degenerating into a compliance ritual. Insistence (by whom? It is interesting to know) on excessive documentation leads to outdated, and even lack of (gets postponed as it is time consuming), documentation. Later documentation is done purely to satisfy auditing needs. That is, an initiative intended to help you manage collapse on its own weight. The real problem is not with CMMI but in its adoption

I have also seen free and honest communication getting compromised in so-called ‘agile’ environment with regular meetings turn into witch hunting and ‘save my skin’ interactions. That is, the term ‘agile’ gets stripped of its core values and gets used as a matter of convenience rather than any good. Again, what fails is not ‘agile’ but its adoption

Automation initiative, that starts with purchase of a commercial software for software development, get stuck in learning some esoteric aspects of the tool rather than addressing true automation needs. Again, problem is not automation rather how automation is approached and implemented

It is curious to see the patterns of wrong adoption repeating itself. While technologies, processes, methodologies and tools can help us in addressing key challenges, often, it is the related technical details grab attention through advocacy of vociferous loyalists and marketing machinery, rather than applying them right. The fact that these are enablers in the first place is conveniently forgotten

Looking around, it look forward to a phase in software development, a phase that physics had gone through between Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton … a phase of consolidation, period of drastic and intense changes with far reaching impact. We have seen some of these continuing even into early 20th century through Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg , et al…. and as an industry, we continue to deal with more unknown factors than known ones, till the dust settle

I hope to see software development eventually settling down to become a profession, in its true sense… It has changed over years but still it needs to go a long way before it can truly be called a responsible profession.

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April 21, 2012 Posted by | Agile, Business, Collaboration, lessons learned, Management, Sociology, software engineering, Software Engineering Career, Software Testing | Leave a comment

Lifecycle of a buzzword: A cynical perspective

In my tenure in IT industry spanning more than two decades by now, I have seen rise and fall of many buzzwords. Some of them are: Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge Base Computer Systems in 1980s, Rapid Application Development and Object Orientation in 1990s, Use cases and Stories in 2000s, … and the list goes on… debate goes on ‘object oriented or structured?’, ‘agile or CMMI?’, ‘agile or UP?’, ‘use cases or stories?’

I am not disputing the value of these but rather questioning the hype that comes around these as they emerge. These hype help business of promoters but adversely affect their proper interpretation and implementation. It is equivalent to percolating modern innovations and approaches in healthcare through marketing machinery, skilled in marketing than healthcare.

Hardly any scientific analysis can happen without demystifying buzzwords first, and that requires going to its very origin. I do this regularly, try to see through these hype, just as I am sure many others like me in the industry also do. In the process, I have also noticed a pattern to meteoric rise and fall these buzzwords, going through different phases as below. Quite often, this is carefully orchestrated for obvious reasons.

Discovery: Each of these emerge out of experiments in a relatively small group; some one or a team taking extra care to pull out key factors those helped and those worked against. Those helped soon are packaged into best practices, spiced up with adequate marketing masala .

Evangelization: At this point, it takes a curious turn that marketing machinery is now active looking for ‘nails’ for this new found ‘hammer’ . That is, inventing problems for new found ‘silver bullet’ is a business imperative to justify cost put into packaging the solution!

Adoption: This effort, in general, is richly rewarded, finding fertile ground in the minds of ‘managers’ looking for ‘quick-fix silver bullets’.

In most of the cases that I have come across, problems are project specific though might have some resemblance to problems elsewhere. Solutions from outside, based on experiences in solving similar problems elsewhere, can help providing objective assessment and guidance but cannot simply solve these problems, by themselves. It is so because problems, in their very nature, are unique, intrinsic and integral to the project. External agencies (consultant, contractor, methodology, tool, ..) can help to identify but uprooting must necessarily be internal act.

At Mount Everest: What follows is a war of buzzwords; at times, one winning over another at times in terms of mind share to become ‘de facto’ standard…. Curiously, this is beginning of decay and rotting starts within, largely unnoticed… Each buzzword acquire new meanings far away from its original form….Originators are now caught between dilemma of what they created or dumping it…They go about issuing clarifications and revisions, further adding to noise…

Big Bang: What follows is disillusion and decline. Horror stories of failure emerge out of cupboard and world is on the look out for a new buzzword … and the life starts all over again.

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Agile, Business, lessons learned, Management, software engineering, Unified Process, Value Based Software Engineering | Leave a comment

Outsourcing: sustaining business growth

Companies in India have been into outsourcing model, with reasonable amount of success so far. Many companies of recent origin has been shot to prominence, living standards of a section (yes, it is only a tiny fraction still but rest of India is still starving) has improved, quality of infrastructure is improving (of course, not yet how it should be but it is changing). Good but I think, it is not yet time for India Inc to rest on its laurels.

Why talk about it now? I came across an interesting write up ‘When will TCS become the next Accenture?’. It is an eye opener; it should be one. As per the write up, TCS ranks as #1 in software services/outsourcing and it is (but it is only) 9th largest software services company in the world; where are the rest? What is India Inc’s share in global business?

Being successful is one thing, sustaining and building up on earlier successes is yet another. if first part is hard, second is harder. I am not referring to packaging and marketing. They are required but that is not sufficient in itself. It is also about watching the ground we stand, it is about assessing the battlefield, and realigning strategies to evolving world.

What I find particularly interesting in the write up is ’employee utilization’. It brings hard questions on many intangible aspects of how business is functioning. What was ‘good enough’ for the past is not ‘good enough’ for the times ahead. It is not just about TCS. It is about India Inc

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Business, Management, Sociology, software engineering | Leave a comment

As web evolves into a social infrastructure

Web has been around for long as a platform for social interaction, and it is time to recognize it as part of social infrastructure very much like healthcare, transportation etc. But while potential benefits of web are discussed widely, related risks are not. With its root in research and open source community, it operates still largely on trust.

Many layers are added on as it is evolving into a platform for social interaction across the world but those were after predators catching their gullible victims. This may be fair from the point of evolution theory (struggle for existence and survival of the fittest) but as a way of evolution of infrastructure for social interaction, it sound barbaric and, therefore, not acceptable for for a civilized society.

I am glad to see that Government of India is wide awake to this concern. I am also concerned about potential intrusion into privacy given that corruption still looms large in the corridors of power. Balance between security of society and privacy of individual is very delicate. I hope they get it right!

July 2, 2010 Posted by | Business, Collaboration, Google, Governance, Sociology, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

IT 2010 and beyond!

Have you been looking at your crystal ball to see where IT is headed? Read Gartner Highlights: Key Predictions for IT Organizations and Users in 2010 and Beyond .

Particularly interesting, looking at it from India, is the prediction that ‘India-centric IT services companies will represent 20 percent of the leading cloud aggregators in the market by 2012’ is interesting.

Prediction that ‘mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide by 2013’ indicates a changing landscape of computing. Computing was once a terrain for techno-geeks; it is now an irreplaceable aspect for everyday life, tool for business and platform for collaboration. Is it not yet time we get serious about it?

January 18, 2010 Posted by | Business, Collaboration, Product Engineering, software engineering, Software Quality, Value Based Software Engineering, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

Software Engineering, and changing software development business

Pardon me if my statement “software engineering is hard” sounds like a cliche. Lest it sound like I am parroting what Grady Booch has already stated “software development has been, is, and will remain a fundamentally hard profession” , let me elaborate. Here, my reference is not about software development being hard due to inherent complexities and invisible changes. It is rather about doing business in a changing world. What does that mean?

If one were to hibernate for about five years, world of software that you see would be quite a lot different. Changes may not be fundamental but there are significant changes. Well, as always, devil is in the details.

Let me elaborate going a little more specific now. Let us look at from two perspectives.

i) Analysis and design: Object Oriented Analysis and Design was quite in the hype early 1990s. I too joined the bandwagon, going around with the hammer looking for nails. Books on object orientation from those days talked at length about finding abstractions (identifying nouns etc) from requirements but these provided no scope for working with technical solutions. This was largely left to the discretion of individual practitioners. Experience of these practitioners were absorbed into standard Object Oriented Analysis and Design methodology taking it to its present bloated form. This happened in a span of 5-10 years

ii) Software Testing and Software Test Automation: Way back in 1990s, when popular testing tools like IBM Rational Robot (then called SQA Robot) and HP (Mercury) WinRunner came into being, popular success of web could hardly be envisaged. What was started off as tool to testing Windows GUI application had to extend itself into test web based application. These challenges continue as web 2.0, SoA, SaaS and mobile applications emerge. Point here is, when projects are undertaken in respective technologies, necessary tool support is not yet in place often. It is left to the individual teams to create custom solutions, which subsequently get into available tool sets.

These details are rarely look into, at decision making levels. Management of software development business are still desperately looking for mythical silver bullet solutions. Tool vendors still continue to promise magic wand solutions without looking into details before making such promises; well, it is again business! Developers are caught between …

I am not proposing a miracle solution. No such solution exists. My effort all along my consulting practice has been, and will be, to get business into sufficient level of details in decision making and helping them implement the same. With the scope for factoring in “Success Critical Stakeholders”, I find Value Based Software Engineering to hold potential as framework for such a deliberation.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | Business, Collaboration, Product Engineering, software engineering, Unified Process, Value Based Software Engineering | 1 Comment

Software engineering and Business

As a software engineering practitioner, I had been trying to apply software engineering practices in my daily business life. For instance, I started working with object oriented approach from 1993. I started use case modeling from 2002. I had started adopting agile practices since 2003. I started using function point estimation since 2004. As a subject matter expert, trainer and consultant, I had been helping my customers adopt these, and many more.

I help my team and my customers adopt because I do believe in these practices, and its business value. That said, my observation and experience has been each of them has evolved as the way of doing, through success in specific projects, then generalized and applied in many similar ones. Absolute care is called for when applying to a business context to be successful, because each context is different; people, business imperatives, priorities, technology, customer, user, … these differ.

Success here refers to business success. For example, when a project team is enabled on requirements definition, compliance to a defined standards is incidental; Compliance to a standard is rarely a real business objective/benefit. It, in turn, for another business objective/benefit. Actual success would mean achieving business objectives of well defined requirements. It may ,for instance, be a better communication across the team, control on scope creep etc. There are many cases where documentations are created but never referred except for process audit. It is pointless if compliance to standards is achieved but not the business objectives

Why am I saying? If you look around, you will find many situations where hours, or even days, are spent on creating documentation to convince an external auditor. I have seen this happening many times over. What is the business value delivered? Valuable productive time is being spent on a work item that should have been in place. These should have been part of the process, or by-product of the process, is being created for the sake of review. If it is truly valuable, why not account for it? If realities of business does not allow time for such documentation, why create them in the first place? Why recreate just for the sake of process compliance?

What is the issue? It is conflicting stakeholder interest, not mapped, not assessed, not tracked, not managed, … well, all stakeholders are not the same, and all stakeholder interests are not the same. Nor these remain the same; it may change with time. Practices which does not realize this, sooner or later degenerate into a ritual.

Let us accept. Practices of software engineering are not universal as in case of other engineering disciplines because underlying principles are not universal as in case of underlying scientific principles of other engineering disciplines; say scientific principles in mathematics or physics.

Software is a construction of human mind and software development is a teamwork. Therefore, management of software development business includes, but goes much beyond confines of, traditional science. Some of the underlying scientific fields are physics, mathematics, organizational behavior, economics, management science, and sociology

That makes it more than what a everyday business can chew; it is more of a potential research area. But life is not so complex either. We balance these forces everyday; we do it more out of experience and gut feel. Dynamic balancing is done in the context of everyday business. What interests me in value based software engineering is that it gives me a context and a framework for such balancing and a reasonably scientific analysis

January 4, 2010 Posted by | Business, software engineering, Software Quality, Value Based Software Engineering | 1 Comment

Value Based Software Engineering

More than four decades passed by since birth of software engineering!

The Standish Group‘s report, “CHAOS Summary 2009” indicates that only 32% of all projects are succeeding. This represents one end of the spectrum with the gloomy picture of failing projects. On the other end is pervasive influence of software in every walk of life and burgeoning business of software development.

Since 1968, many has professed software engineering. Software engineering defined as “systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach” has been both wide accepted and questioned. Fundamental questions remain unanswered:

1. Is software development a craftsmanship an engineering discipline? Why should the question be either/or ? I think it is both
2. Is “systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach” important or delivering value NOW is important? Again, I think the question is not either/or. It is interesting to see the definition of engineering from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. That is, meaning is given as the application of science and mathematics by which the properties of matter and the sources of energy in nature are made useful to people . More than “systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach” in itself but ensuring value is delivered to business, ensuring success of success-critical stakeholders is more important.
………………………………………… and many more

Value based software engineering seems to be providing a framework for assessment. It answers many questions and it is throwing up many more questions. These questions are poised to take software engineering to new heights

I am getting set to explore the space of “value based software engineering”. I plan to dedicate my new year for “value based software engineering”

January 2, 2010 Posted by | Business, software engineering, Software Quality, Value Based Software Engineering | Leave a comment

Architecting software in a new world

I came across an interesting O’Reilly web cast titled ‘O’Reilly Webcast: 10 Things Every Software Architect Should Know’. It is important ‘words of wisdom’ definitely for software architect

But, well, I believe much of it is quite relevant to many others as well, It is all the more so as software has become integral part of our every day life and software development is getting to be increasingly, as Grady Booch points out

December 20, 2009 Posted by | software engineering, IBM Rational, Model Driven Architecture, Software architecture, Unified Process, Rational Unified Process, Business, Web 2.0, UML, Unified Modeling Language | Leave a comment

Be the change!

This blog post is inspired a blog from my friend ‘Are we losing a long term Vision

I do not think this is a recent happening. This tendency used to there and will continue to be.

It takes conviction in oneself to be different; determination will follow. Conviction, determination, observation, and perseverance are critical to success.

I agree that there is visible mediocrity and lethargy even highest echelons in corporate hierarchy, just as with any other social segment. In my observation, it is intentional rather than accidental. It is a lack of application rather than a lack of skills. It is a matter of convenience, riding the wave created by some other leader in the past.

Well, it happens at the cost of the company. Is any one bothered? Patient is under close medical supervision while admitted into hospital, and under very close monitoring in the ICU. Routine sets in, after being discharged from the hospital. Do we take care even after that? How many of us do strictly follow medical instructions for healthy living? Personal health is one’s own priority and responsibility. If that is compromised, there is surprise that organization health is compromised

As many times in the past, this brings me back to Mahatma Gandhi to say ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’

November 18, 2009 Posted by | Business, Management | Leave a comment