Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dreaming in Code, Scott Rosenberg

For a while, Scott Rosenberg at Wordyard would send a free copy of his book to anyone who was willing to review it. Thanks, Scott! Here's mine:

I look at this book and remember the many times I was in the same situation as the Chandler folks were in: A product with lots of amorphous design that you can't get coding on because every time a little code gets written, the designers pull back and say, "Whoa, whoa! That's not what we meant at all!" Then you get pulled back into another design meeting and the process starts all over again.

I'm over that now. The company that I work for understands that the important thing is to get something out there that people can get their teeth into, to figure out whether it's any good or not. I think to myself that the bad old days are over...but it scares me to think that a lot of other coders still have to cope with the same sort of situation: the eternal debate between the designers, architects, and coders over who's fault it is that the code is buggy and the users hate the application.

Whether it was his original intention or not, Rosenberg brought back the intense frustration of these times with his description of the flailing of the Chandler product. I suspect a non-coder, and maybe even a lot of coders would look at it differently, thinking that hey, they were trying to do it right for a change, get the design down before they do the coding so the rest of it is just simple plugging and chugging, stuff any code monkey could do. It never works that way, though.

I get the feeling that what Rosenberg was really looking for was a happy ending. You spend lots of money, do the project right, maybe have some interesting pitfalls along the way, then you release the application, everyone loves it, the world changes, and the book ends. It didn't work that way, unfortunately, and a lot of the second half of the book leaves the realm of Chandler to discuss the philosophy of coding, bringing up agile development and the mythical man-month.

But in the end, it's very difficult to separate the software application from the book, and ultimately, since the ending of the one was vague and ambiguous, not with a bang but with a whimper, the ending of the other is too. Still, the book is one-of-a-kind; a detailed, unflinching look at a single software development effort. Every development team should be so lucky as to have a retrospective like this to look back on.

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