* Posts by bfwebster

16 posts • joined 30 Mar 2012

Accenture sued over website redesign so bad it Hertz: Car hire biz demands $32m+ for 'defective' cyber-revamp


A new case study for my software engineering course

I teach a senior-level university course in 'real-world software engineering', which focuses heavily on why so many large-scale software projects are seriously late and over-budget, or fail altogether.

It's been a while since I've seen so many classic failure patterns and factors in a single article. I'm linking to this from the class website and may use it as a case study for the Fall 2019 semester (just finished the Winter 2019 semester, but sent the link out via Slack to all my students).

'Incomprehensible failure' – Canada's $1bn Phoenix payroll IT fiasco torched by auditors


Not incomprehensible at all, sad to say. Most of the core issues here have been well documented for decades. The problem is that most people in IT (especially upper management) don't read established basic works like _The Mythical Man-Month_ (Brooks) or _Peopleware_ (DeMarco & Lister).

Failed IT projects has been my major area of professional focus for over 20 years; I've advised major corporations, testified before the US Congress, given lectures, published articles, acted as an expert witness in lawsuits involving failed projects. I currently teach a senior-level (US) university course on software engineering, and the two books above are among the required reading. What is utterly depressing is how predictable most failed IT projects are and how they all typically stem from a handful of well-known root causes, most of which involve a tremendous amount of wishful (but erroneous) thinking.

Remember those holy tech wars we used to have? Heh, good times


Let's see. Being Of An Age, I can remember lots of fun tech wars:

RPN v. algebraic notation (calculators)

assembler v. high-level language


C v. Pascal

Basic v. everyone else

command line v. GUI


little-endian v. big-endian

garbage collection v. alloc/free

Mac v. Atari ST v. Amiga v. IBM PC

And that's just off the top of my head.

What’s the real point of being a dev? It's saving management from themselves


I literally wrote an entire book on this syndrome

Back in 1995 -- after shipping a desktop publishing system built using Objective-C, for Nextstep -- I published a book titled "Pitfalls of Object-Oriented Development" (M&T Books, 1995). The first few chapters were pretty much about this tendency. Here are a just a few of the many pitfalls discussed:

Pitfall 1.1: Going object-oriented for the wrong reasons.

Pitfall 1.2: Thinking objects come for free.

Pitfall 1.3: Thinking objects will solve all problems.

Pitfall 1.4: Thinking that object technology is mature.


Pitfall 2.1: Not educating and enlisting management before the fact.

Pitfall 2.2: Underestimating the resistance.

Pitfall 2.3: Overselling the technology.

Pitfall 2.4: Getting religious about object-oriented development.

Pitfall 2.5: Not recognizing the politics of architecture.

Pitfall 2.6: Getting on the feature-release treadmill.

Pitfall 2.7: Betting the company on objects.


Pitfall 3.1: Adopting objects without well-defined objectives.

Pitfall 3.2: Cramming objects down the developers’ throats.

Pitfall 3.3: Abandoning good software engineering practices.

Pitfall 3.4: Not defining and using an effective methodology.

Pitfall 3.5: Attempting too much, too soon, too fast.

And so on, and so forth. What I have since discovered, as per the article above, is that this applies to any new technology or methodology. Some things never change. ..bruce..

'We think autonomous coding is a very real thing' – GitHub CEO imagines a future without programmers


Been hearing this for over 40 years

The fallacy that happens again and again is the presumption that the value in coding lies in combining things that already work. It isn't. The value is in inventing new things that haven't been done. Otherwise, you're simply solving the same problem that's already been solved, and there's very little value in that.

A great piece to read is "The Five Orders of Ignorance", an appendix in Philip Armour's book _The Laws of Software Process_.

Who really gives a toss if it's agile or not?


I literally less than an hour ago gave my CS 428 ("Software Engineering") class here at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah, USA) my final lecture for the semester, which included this slide:

Process is not a panacea or a crutch or a silver bullet

Methodologies only work as well as the people using it

Any methodology can be distorted to give the answer that upper management wants (instead of reality)

When adopting a new methodology:

-- Do one or two pilot projects

-- Do one non-critical real-world project

-- Then, and only then, consider using it for a critical project

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of a given methodology before starting a project with it. Also, make sure a majority of team members have successfully completed a real-world project using that methodology.

Pair programming – you'll never guess what happens next!


Here's a simpler, less onerous approach

I had someone describe a different technique to me a few decades ago that, I think, captures some of the benefits of pair programming without, you know, actual pair programming:

At the end of the day, grab a fellow programmer and go over with her/him all of the code changes you've made that day.

In that case, the pairing is maybe 15-30 minutes (if that), and you will, in fact, code more intelligently and cautiously if you're going to have to describe what you did (and why) to one of your fellow programmers at the end of each day.

Mud sticks: Microsoft, Windows 10 and reputational damage


Re: Vote with your wallet

Uh, I think most of the folks who are ranting are not people who "bought" it, but rather existing Win7 (and Win8/8.1) users who are having it crammed down their throats by Microsoft, whether they want it or not.


Interesting timing for article

I ran across this after spending the morning using a 3rd party app (GWX Control Panel) to get rid of the Win10 "Let's Upgrade!" crap on my Win7Pro64 systems that was preventing me from getting all the other updates I wanted for Win7 without upgrading to Win10. On one system (the one I'm using to type this), the other updates are installing just fine (it's at 19 of 37); on another, however, Windows Update hangs (0% complete forever) in attempting to install updates.

As someone who has used Windows for 20+ years, I have a hard time expressing how royally pissed I am with Microsoft over their approach to the Windows 10 upgrade. And from what I can tell online, I am far from alone. I actually do plan to do upgrades to Windows 10 at some point (I have five systems running W764P and one running WHS11), but I'd like it to be at a time and in a manner of my own choosing.

A Brit in California moves to the Lone Star State – just swerve the TexMex grub


Re: friendly texans

We we moved to Houston in 1979, my [former] wife and I became friends with the couple next door in our apartment complex. They had a young (~5 yrs old) son whom they called by his initials, "J. F."

At least that's what I thought until I learned his name was actually "Jeff" and his mom made two syllables of it ("Jay-eff! Jay-eff, where are you?").

Our youngest (at the time) daughter Bethan (b. 1979) learned to speak while we were in Houston and kept a Texas twang to her voice until high school.


Lived in Texas twice -- still have fond memories

American, not British. Lived in Houston back in 1979-81 -- working first at NASA/JSC (for a major contractor), then at the Lunar & Planetary Institute. While I love Texas (and would be happy to move back), I can't recommend Houston as a city to live in -- besides the awful climate, in an urban sense it combines the worst of Los Angeles, Texas itself, and the Deep South (which is different from Texas) all in one place.

Lived in Dallas nearly 20 years later; enjoyed it very much. People are remarkably polite, friendly, and accepting.

And, yeah, Texas is big, especially if you're from Europe. When I lived in Houston, I discovered that El Paso was actually about 40 miles closer to San Diego -- three states over and on the Pacific Ocean -- than it was to Houston. An old refrain for travelers is, "The sun is riz / The sun is set / And we ain't out / Of Texas yet." Truer than you might think.

LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball


Do you realize that a large set of organic molecules have been detected throughout interstellar space, don't you? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_interstellar_and_circumstellar_molecules

HP sticks thumb in Microsoft's eye, extends Windows 7 option for new machines


Not enough models

Already been to their website -- I'd like to replace my aging HP Pavilion laptop with another one running Win7 -- and found they have a very limited selection of Win7 models. Otherwise, a brilliant idea.

And, yes, I agree with the "Win ME 3.0" comment. I ordered a ThinkPad from IBM back in the WinME days and had them install Win98 on it instead. I've got three desktops and a laptop all running Win7Pro, and I'll be damned if I will buy a new system running Win8x.

Tales from an expert witness: Prior art and patent trolls


"The fact that the patent was granted is harder to explain."

I also work as an expert witness in IT-related intellectual property litigation, including patent work. That one sentence sums up my frequent experience. While I have seen truly novel and inventive patents with no prior art, I have also seen quite a few that have caused me to burst out with, "What? They claim that as a novel invention? In [insert year of patent application], no less?" But there you have it.

'Unreliable, shambolic' ... a top CompSci prof slams Serco's UK crim tag tech


Thoughts from another IT expert witness

As someone who has been doing IT expert witness work for 14 years, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anderson's report. He's clearly well-qualified, and his report was quiet, restrained, but quite devastating; one is left to decide whether those on the other side are dishonest, incompetent, or both. Furthermore, he's careful not to reach a factual conclusion (whether the accused actually did try to get the device off) but to suggest a means for doing an independent review to see if the cited evidence matches actual results. Thanks for posting this. ..bruce..

Quitting your job? Here's how not to do it


Re: Good advice as usual

I happen to agree with you, i.e., don't accept a counter-offer and stay. I only did this once in my IT career (which is approaching 38 years now), and I ended up leaving anyway some six months later, on much less pleasant terms (and, by the way, quite burned out; I didn't program again for money for nearly four years).

If you're thinking of leaving, do your best to raise all the issues and see if you can get them resolved. If you can't, then find a new job (if you can) and leave -- but leave on the best terms possible.

Other than that, I agree with all the other advice in the article. ..bruce..


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