Thursday, May 26, 2016

On the Nature of Software Development

I'll get straight to the point. What most non-developers and novice developers probably fail to appreciate is what makes software good, what makes software "high quality". What makes software good is its continuous incremental, iterative development. It is like those ancient Japanese swords the sword-smiths had to produce by countless iterations of annealing their steel.

I can't say I know the viewpoints and thoughts of all non-developers and end-users but I suspect they don't fully appreciate this fact because they can't see how many iterations the end-product they use has gone through earlier. Like the user of an ancient Japanese sword who can appreciate its superb quality, they can't see beyond its excellence, to what it took to create it.

A good software product serves many users. That's how it survives more fitly than others. It must find its ecological niche if it is to survive. All of those users have a different usage-profile for any given product. For the software app to become successful it must serve many of such user-groups well. But for its original developer it is impossible to know beforehand what such  usage profiles might be and what their requirements might evolve to in future.

This is because the world changes all the time. Competing products emerge which perhaps do some of those features better, causing users for which that feature is a high priority to switch. But the developer can not know what products the current and future competition is up to. They can only make an educated guess which is more or less wrong. Only as users start using the software, it becomes more evident how it could actually serve its users better.

In the end a mature software application becomes as comfortable as an old brown shoe Beatles sang about. Like an old brown shoe a mature software application eventually starts bursting at the seams because the platform it is built on becomes out-dated. Maybe it was Cobol before web.  But there is no other wear and tear than platform-erosion, in the virtual world. Therefore it can stay popular long after its hey-day. Ideally by the time its original platform becomes out-dated it has incarnated itself on to the newer platforms of the day.

Anyway,  non-developers, managers, sales-team, what have you, probably fail to fully appreciate what makes a software-application great:  Its incremental and continuous iterative improvement and adaptation, to the needs of its different user-groups, over time.

© 2016 Panu Viljamaa. All rights reserved

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