There is a great post by Harry Pierson over at his DevHawk blog site describing “what can we learn from looking at the success of mainstream text-based programming languages to help us in the development of higher abstraction modeling languages that are actually useful.”
As I have written elsewhere, I am a huge fan of raising the level of abstraction to deal with complexity in our software world. This is part of what I call the industrialization of software. No, I don’t mean making programming fully automatic, as it will never be that way. It is too large and complex to do so. However, I am probably as frustrated as Mini-Microsoft’s quest to make Microsoft a leaner meaner machine in my quest to make software development more of a predictable and repeatable process. It seemingly ain’t going to happen over night and may not happen in my lifetime!
John Walker, figured out the industrialization of the engineering design world when his invention, AutoCAD hit the market in 1982. He said, “if you can’t model it, you can’t build it”. Damn right! In 2005 and in the software industry, we still have not figured it out, yet. We are still bashing away with the stone age equivalent of hammers and chisels, whereas the engineering design world has AutoCAD to describe incredibly large and complex building structures, airplanes, engines, electronic circuit diagrams and just about everything else you can think of by modeling blueprints that are meaningful. People use these blueprints to turn models into real world constructs that you and I use every day. How about that cell phone? Or your iPOD? Or your car? Or that plane you just flew in on? Or this?
So what’s up with our software world? Why do we refuse to adapt the successes of other industries, like the engineering design world, and leverage those successes in our software world? What are we afraid of? Why are we stuck using (still) low level programming languages that we toil with at all hours of the day and night to produce inferior software products? If we were designing and constructing commodity cars by hand and even fabricating the tools used to build the cars by hand, we would be laughed out of the industry. How come software development seems to be different? Where is our AutoCAD for software development?
This may seem like a bit of a rant or maybe I have unrealistic expectations as to the maturity level of our software industry. However, I still can’t believe, yours truly after being in the software development business for 15 years, still have to manually add an imports or using source code statement every time I add a reference to an assembly in Visual Studio. What the ?? Not that I am picking on Visual Studio – I happen to think it is an excellent IDE along with introducing Software Factories, Domain Specific Languages, Guidance Automation Toolkits, etc. While these tools and processes are definitely raising the level of abstraction in dealing with software complexity and advancing the industrialization of software, it still seems not enough to me. We still lack standards like in the electronics design world for plug and play integrated circuits that I can order from a catalog. Or even standard electronic diagram symbols that describe everything electronic in which anyone trained in the industry can glean, in moments, what the circuit diagram is saying, with no ambiguity. Are we there yet in our software world?
Moreover, we still have a world of programmers that refuse to even consider modeling as a first class software artifact – they consider it pretty pictures. I know we have had issues in the past with CASE tools and with earlier versions of UML and other code generation tools. But, I have software developers that I have worked with that won’t even give it a thought – they immediately get out their favorite source code editor and start writing code - so much for design. And it seems the younger they are, the more I see this behavior or even the old school guys who have become “code crafters” where they take their craft extremely seriously and are totally affronted in the thought of using a “modeling” tool. I am not sure I understand either group’s motivation for this behavior. Where did it come from? How come I (and a few others) don’t have this behavior?
What’s my point? I don’t have one – I am just pondering, out loud, what it is going to take to bring the industrialization of software into reality – and how long?