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State of Flow: How do we tell truths that might hurt?::journal

How do we tell truths that might hurt?

Channing Walton - Sunday October 29, 2006

Edsger W.Dijkstra wrote an interesting letter in June 1975 hoping to bring some honesty in to the field of computer science. I don’t think we heeded his concerns.

So what have we learnt …

Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians.

So instead we think that bright young graduates who know only Java, no maths and no hard science can program the enterprise systems running our largest financial institutions. Furthermore, in some cultures, if you’ve not been promoted out of programming by your 30’s there must be something seriously wrong with you.

The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities.

We happily use a ridiculous concoction of XML, text files, scripts, boiler-plate code, etc and think we’re doing fantastic, cutting-edge work. The devious influence at work.

FORTRAN – the infantile disorder-, by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use.

We’ve done a little better hoorah! We’re using Java and C++ !!!

It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.

Well that problem is now solved, most students haven’t programmed anything except a video recorder by the time they arrive at university.

The problems of business administration in general and database management in particular are much too difficult for people that think in IBMerese, compounded with sloppy English.

Well this says everything that needs to be said about the ridiculous state of enteprise databases.

Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability.

Very true, very hard to attain when the rush to use sparkly new tools overwhelms common sense.

By claiming that they can contribute to software engineering, the soft scientists make themselves even more ridiculous. (Not less dangerous, alas!) In spite of its name, software engineering requires (cruelly) hard science for its support.

Go no further that the shelves of you local bookshops to see this is still true.

and now for the real smackdown:

Projects promoting programming in “natural language” are intrinsically doomed to fail.

Bring on those DSLs!! I don’t mind those which actually make sense in the domain. DSLs that try to make code look like English are ridiculous. They’re ambiguous, confusing and do not make the code easy to read, use or understand.

Rant over ;)