Improving Wetware

Because technology is never the issue

Alan Cooper and Modern Craftsmanship

Posted by Pete McBreen 01 Mar 2008 at 19:56

A great talk by Alan Cooper on modern Craftsmanship.

A great video called An Insurgency of Quality - mp4

Beau Smith has a good writeup/transcript. Video used to be at Brightcove.TV but they are no longer hosting the video.

C is still a viable language

Posted by Pete McBreen 27 Jan 2008 at 19:55

Michael Feathers wrote an article for Beautiful Code called On Loving C.

“C has its quirks, but in retrospect, they are a lot less mysterious than the quirks of many other languages.” Well put, there are many languages out there that are really obtuse, containing many more quirks than C.

Thoughts on the future of software

Posted by Pete McBreen 21 Jan 2008 at 20:06

Crosstalk has a good article this month on where are the future software engineers. In part the article is the usual rant against the teaching of Java as a first programming language, but it is more nuanced than that.

The authors point out that the mathematical requirements are shrinking, and the students are not really being taught the basics any more. Sure Java is nice and easy to learn but it is not a suitable preparation for working in embedded and real-time systems.

I’m still pondering how this relates to software craftsmanship, since traditionally many craftsmen have either a comp sci or sw eng background.

Article references ACM Computing Curricula 2005 overview report, which is also an interesting read.

Some quotes that might be useful

Posted by Pete McBreen 27 Oct 2007 at 19:53

“The elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” Christopher Hitchens

“Wishful thinking is one thing, and reality another.” Jalal Talabani

“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.” - Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001)

“It’s harder than you might think to squander millions of dollars, but a flawed software development process is a tool well suited to the job.” Alan Cooper The Inmates are running the asylum

In Praise of C and C++

Posted by Pete McBreen 23 Jul 2007 at 19:51

I wrote this article for InformIT back in 2002, and someone on Reddit discovered it this week.

“While Java and C# have been receiving all of the publicity of late, a lot of software is still being written in C and C++. Indeed, many traditional languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, and Ada are still in widespread use. Although I harbor a certain fondness for COBOL, and have written more Java code over the past five years than is probably good for me, I’m finding more and more that I’m drawn back to C and C++.”

“I’m coming back to C and C++ in part because I prefer stable development environments, and because I’ve come to appreciate the power of object-oriented scripting languages, particularly Ruby. Ruby is evolving rapidly, but then I don’t try to write really long-lived code in a scripting language. I use scripting languages for code that I want to be able to write rapidly, to test ideas or to implement some valuable functionality quickly.”

Java is not in the news as much, but Ruby is growing in popularity thanks to Rails.

Overall I still stand by what I wrote back then,

“What this means for developers is that the future of C and C++ is secure for a long time. Other languages might have nicer development environments and be marginally more productive, but for the core business logic of mission-critical applications I still prefer C and C++. I’d choose other languages for the rapidly evolving parts of the application such as the user interface and the web front-end, but for the core of the application I have nothing but praise for C and C++.”

I wonder how many Rails apps out there have some key bit of functionality coded in C while Ruby handles the rest of the application?

Idiomatic Ruby

Posted by Pete McBreen 18 Jul 2007 at 20:07

Nice article on Idiomatic ruby.

More Certification ideas

Posted by Pete McBreen 04 Jul 2007 at 19:50

In Certification? Bring It On! Raganwald seems to think that his recent experiences with people asking about degrees can be alleviated by a new style certification.

Unlike other ideas, all that this type of certification covers in one subject.

The one subject? Testing and Quality Control. That’s right. All I care about is that if you are asked to make bulletproof software, you know how.

Inspired by the mistaken ideas that all that matters in a restaurant is that the chef will not poison you, this misguided attempt at vertification assumes that all that really matters is that “someone can be relied upon to write software that is safe”. Unfortunately, there is the assumption that someone who can pass an exam can deliver.

An unwarrrantied assumption in most cases.

What does 25 years of improvement look like?

Posted by Pete McBreen 02 Jul 2007 at 19:49

At a time when a developer can be called a “senior architect” with only 5 years experience, what do you call someone with 25 or 35 years experience?

Unfortunately, for the most part we can no longer call them developers, because there are few developers with 25+ years experience. Most have either drifted into other fields, been moved into management or are now independent consultants. It is rare for a developer to be able to keep improving their craft skills for 25 years because they get sidetracked into other things.

Other fields of endevour do not have this problem, so I suspect that the economic incentives in software development are skewed such that it makes little sense to get really good at being a developer.

Rejecting Software Engineering

Posted by Pete McBreen 28 Jun 2007 at 19:48

Eric Wise wants to become known as a software craftsman. His view is that craftsmen attempt to select tools, patterns, and practices and with them craft beautiful, working software.

His post has interesting parallels to the book Software Crafstmanship.

Hiring Good Developers

Posted by Pete McBreen 21 Jun 2007 at 19:47

Some thoughts on finding good developers to work on your projects.

To attract good developers you have to let them know what kind of application you are building, because there are two important questions that developers need to be answered about any development job - will this build my skills and reputation, and is this the kind of application I enjoy creating.

If you just list the technology in the project listing it is a negative because it implies you just want a coder to follow directions, so immediately you go to the bottom of the list of possible clients.

So to attract good developers, sell them on your idea of what you want to build. Specify the technology if you must, but that will cut down the number of people who will be interested in doing the work. You will also have to find some way of signaling that you have the budget to afford the type of people you want. It would also help if you could let people know the timeline and commitment involved - is it a small part-time task or full time total involvement year long task.

Craftsmanship and Certification

Posted by Pete McBreen 06 Jun 2007 at 19:40

It seems that once again some people are pushing to create a certification program for software developers.

This time they are promoting the idea that prefessionalism requires a certifying body with recognized certifications just like accountants etc. Luckily the author of the article is alert ot the problems of credentialism, so maybe the movement will be stillborn, but we need to stay vigilant to ensure that our craft does not get stuck in teh stone age due to some corporate welfare scam of IT credentials mandating that everyone who wants to work in It needs to know about mainframe JCL.

Uncertainty in Software Development

Posted by Pete McBreen 20 Apr 2007 at 19:45

I never cease to be amazed by project managers who give lip service to the idea that there are some unknowns in their project plan and then give precise estimates for their schedule.

It seems as if intellectually we can see that there are unknowns, but when it comes to our projects we think we are special and we can precisely predict how long our project will take.

Sometimes I forget that I like Ruby

Posted by Pete McBreen 12 Mar 2007 at 12:25

Had a fun experience today

irb(main):001:0> 7.7
=> 7.7
irb(main):002:0> 7.8
=> 7.8
irb(main):003:0> 7.7-7.8
=> -0.0999999999999996

Yes I know it is a Float, but everything else just works so I was lulled into a false sense of security, after all the other two bits worked OK

irb(main):006:0> 7.7 + 0.1
=> 7.8
irb(main):007:0> 7.8 - 0.1
=> 7.7

But that 7.8 - 7.7 just did not want to play nice.

Backup script for typo blogs

Posted by Pete McBreen 14 Feb 2007 at 08:42

Ruby script for backing up blogs is here. Feedback from testers is appreciated.

Your blog is saved into a YAML file and can either be uploaded back to the original blog or a different one.

Backup or Restore the content of a blog to/from YAML whose host server supports the MetaWebLog API. (Currently supports typo|wordpress|blogger)

Script was originally created by Derek Mahar for migrating posts between blogs and then changed extensively to serve as a backup/restore utility by Pete McBreen

Sample command lines (program prompts for blog password)

ruby backup\_blog.rb username backup.yaml 25 typo backup

ruby backup\_blog.rb username backup.yaml num\_posts typo restore

(the num_posts argument is unused on restore)

Note: typo has bug whereby it ignores createdDate when creating URL, but does show correctly posted x days ago. Clicking on the link on the home page fails but it generates feed OK — puzzling — not fixed yet.

Code uses the metaweblog API

source_posts =

and then saves the posts to a YAML file

f =, "w")
f.puts source_posts.to_yaml

Tools are interesting, important, and irrelevant

Posted by Pete McBreen 08 Feb 2007 at 12:52

My interview for the Sticky Toolkit with Joey McAllister is now online.

The best question was when I was asked about changes I have seen in development over the past few years. This was mainly because One change I have seen for the worse is the habit of producing ravioli documentation… [that just repeats] what the parameters to the method are and what it returns.

Doesn't everyone think about testing like this?

Posted by Pete McBreen 04 Feb 2007 at 02:05

Michael Bolton recently pointed out on an agile testing list that few people think of
Testing as questioning the product in order to evaluate it or Testing as an empirical, technical investigation of the product, done on behalf of stakeholders, with the intention of revealing quality-related information of the kind that they seek.

This is interesting to me because the Testing as finding defects is not very high value and test driven development is a technique to allow developers to think through issues, rather than something that protects the stakeholders interests.

Yes Testing-as-design and Testing-as-confirmation are interesting, but they are not typically the things that make or break a project.

Professionalism and Engineering

Posted by Pete McBreen 19 Jan 2007 at 02:46

Been thinking about how craftsmanship interacts with professionalism and engineering. Real engineers seem to have professionalism sorted, in that they have personal accountability and responisibility for their work.

Software developers do not have that yet because we know that our stuff may/will crash. Indeed most software licences state that there is no guaranteee that the sofwtare will even work.

Reality vs. Theory

Posted by Pete McBreen 14 Jan 2007 at 10:58

In software development, the reality about what is happeing often disagrees with theory as Michael Riddle points out.

Philosophy of Testing

Posted by Pete McBreen 22 Dec 2006 at 11:44

A really great article by by James Bach Philosophers of Testing that explains how philosophy is closely related to the art of testing.

The quote at the end really sums it up That’s how I became a philosopher: My father believes that I must think for myself, and I always agree with my father.

A classic quote

Posted by Pete McBreen 08 Dec 2006 at 11:27

The Bjarne Stroustrup interview continues with a great quote.

The idea of programming as a semiskilled task, practiced by people with a few months’ training, is dangerous. I couldn’t agree more.

Bjarne goes on to say We wouldn’t tolerate plumbers or accountants that poorly educated. We don’t have as an aim that architecture (of buildings) and engineering (of bridges and trains) should become more accessible to people with progressively less training. Indeed, one serious problem is that currently, too many software developers are undereducated and undertrained.