The failures of software "engineering" (was) Re: Stroustrup's

Michael M. Butler (butler@comp*
Sat, 21 Mar 1998 20:59:58 -0800

The software industry is burdened by many entropic practices. See below for
glaring generalizations.

Most people who write code (at least, in my experience over 20 years, here
in Silicon Valley and in Minneapolis) do not truly treat the process as an
engineering discipline. "Real" engineers are taught to keep notebooks, and
some do. Software "engineers" mostly aren't, and mostly don't--and regular
people who develop software, say dink around with databases or
spreadsheets, certainly mostly don't. Where's the payoff? I have _results_
to obtain! Etc.

Professional programmers are rewarded for heroics; many tend to have a
strong maverick or maestro streak (which has good and bad points); and they
don't have any idea of what their "batting average" (ex.: coding error rate
per KLOC) is--to name a few shortcomings.

This is not meant as finger pointing; when I made my living programming, I
was the same way. Still am, to too great a degree. Discipline is hard, and
if it isn't emphasized it goes away.

To my mind, the things mentioned in "Bjarne's" interview are emblematic of
a general "out of focus" problem; blaming the language is an easy out.
"Bjarne" is really finding fault with bandwagons and fads du jour and the
resultant lock-in and job-security b.s.

And he's right about that. Hype is not conducive to good design. Good
design is hard. Following fads is easy. And giving the boss what he expects
is "smart".

Similar groupthink and yesmanism have led to failure even in supposedly
"zero defects" environments: vide NASA and Challenger. C++ was not a
factor, but the substrate issues were. But returning to your question...

Languages that _don't_ put a burden on expression get a bad rap, too. But
some of them are the best languages in the world for quickly writing
bug-free software, as frequent embedded system use supports. Go figure.


At 05:19 PM 3/21/98 -0800, you wrote:
>Can someone tell me whether this is bogus interview?
>Obviously, it has all the makings of a hoax, but even if these are not
>Stroustrup's words, I think some of the points raised are valid(having
>wondered about the merits of C++ myself), and they are very important in
>determining whether the software industry may be burdened by entropic
>I know there are lots of programmers on this list-- what do you think of
>the idea of a language putting a burden on expression? (maybe this question
>is also a linguistic/philsophical one... if everyone switched to Esperanto,
>would this increase the efficiency of communication?)
>From: Kevin Chu <>
>Subject: Stroustrup's Confession
>Date: Tuesday, March 17, 1998 4:15 PM
>->Stroustrup Confesses about C++
<...article we've probably all read already at least once mostly elided>
>->Stroustrup: Who'd believe it anyway? Although, can you send
>-> me a copy of that tape?
>->Interviewer: I can do that.

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