Comparing Enterprise Software to Writing, Spinning

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In the "wish I had thought of that" category, take a look at an article by sig at thingamy the blog that compares the current phase of the development of enterprise software to the development of writing. That's writing as in stringing together words in the real world, not in writing software in the middle of the night after the 15th cup of coffee. He compares program development with the development of written communication, from hieroglyphics to the invention of the alphabet as we know it today.


My analogy along these lines is that the development of enterprise software is still a cottage industry, still in the spinning wheel stage before the bobbin was invented (and added to the powered loom in series so that you could go right from wool or cotton to cloth). Special skills were required in the earliest stages of writing, according to sig. Only people with really good memories could keep track of the meaning of thousands of icons. Similarly only people with very good dexterity and small fingers could quickly spin the yarn or thread.


In sig's analogy, keeping the knowledge of the icons to a select few was in fact part of a deliberate attempt to keep resources scarce, an unspoken slap at the priesthood of the program development community (there are still very few priestesses). In my cottage-industry analogy, the resource is scarce because the work is backbreaking (or at least finger breaking) and very few want to do it.


Either way, the result is that the full potential of enterprise software is held back. You pick the analogy -- software development is still either pre-historic or pre-industrial. So what will it take to take enterprise software to the next level? Sig is looking for the equivalent of an alphabet (objects?). I am looking for the equivalent of an assembly line (software-development robots?).


The two views of the future are not incompatible and may be interdependent because the software development robots will use (and more importantly re-use and re-use) fewer and fewer objects. Chris Stone said 20 years ago when he founded the Object Management Group that the whole idea of measuring software development needed to get away from counting lines of code. Maybe the day when that happens is getting closer.


The priests out there protecting the meaning of the hieroglyphics better start educating the rest of us or get ready to get run out of town by the masses (Sig's view). The ladies spinning in their kitchens better get ready to move to a sweat shop in Manchester (my view).