Parallels Between Software Development and Writing Processes

Subject: Parallels Between Software Development and Writing Processes
From: george -dot- hayhoe -at- SRS -dot- GOV
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 1995 11:55:00 -0400

Dave Taylor aptly observed that there are definite parallels between
the software development and writing processes. I have noticed the
similarities as well, particularly the reluctance of both developers
and writers to do the up-front work which makes delivery of the final
product so much easier and typically improves the product as well.

When I taught writing, I tried to convince students that 75% of their
time should be spent in audience analysis, research about the subject,
and similar "pre-writing" tasks. If done well, I stressed, these steps
make the actual writing a simple matter. For some reason I never
understood, most of them didn't buy it, and instead preferred to stare
at a blank piece of paper until ideas and words--often disjointed and
fraught with all kinds of errors--came to them. Apparently they
thought that this approach was quicker and easier.

On and off for the past ten years, I've been helping software
developers at my company formulate their software development
methodology. It is a model of what such a document should be but is
more often ignored than observed. Why? Because it stresses the need
to engineer software rather than simply write code. The preferred
approach here--as elsewhere, I suspect--is too often the same as in
the old joke about the project manager whose first words after
receiving a request for a new application are "Smith, you go find out
what the users want; Jones, you start coding NOW!"

Anyone else noticed this tendency in software shops where you've worked? Is
this simply a manifestation of human nature, or is there some other cause?

--George Hayhoe (george -dot- hayhoe -at- srs -dot- gov)
Assistant to the President for Recognition Programs, STC


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