Software development metaphors

Jeff at Coding Horror gives a pointer to a summary of metaphors:

oftware: do you write it like a book, grow it like a plant, accrete it like a pearl, or construct it like a building? As Steve McConnell notes in Code Complete 2, there’s no shortage of software development metaphors:

A confusing abundance of metaphors has grown up around software development. David Gries says writing software is a science (1981). Donald Knuth says it’s an art (1998). Watts Humphrey says it’s a process (1989). P. J. Plauger and Kent Beck say it’s like driving a car, although they draw nearly opposite conclusions (Plauger 1993, Beck 2000). Alistair Cockburn says it’s a game (2002). Eric Raymond says it’s like a bazaar (2000). Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas say it’s like gardening. Paul Heckel says it’s like filming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1994). Fred Brooks says that it’s like farming, hunting werewolves, or drowning with dinosaurs in a tar pit (1995). Which are the best metaphors?

I think we’re leaving one metaphor on the table which more accurately reflects the way software is built in the real world: flail around randomly and pray you succeed by force of pure dumb luck. Sometimes it even works. Not very often, but just enough to confuse people who should know better into thinking they’re smart, when what they really were is lucky.

The answer, of course, is whichever metaphor helps you and your team get to the end of the project. Personally, I see them as more of a battle cry, a way for a team to communicate a shared vision and a set of values. They’re heavy on imagery and metaphor, and light on specific, concrete advice.

Take a look!


One Response to “Software development metaphors”

  1. September reading list - Paul Stephen Borile Says:

    […] Software development metaphors […]

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