Friday, June 03, 2005

Cork, and croker and corkedness

Went to Cork yesterday for a talk of effective software development. They said then that the contents would be put on the web but I'm still waiting!

It was an interesting line-up. Michael Cusumano (who mentioned something about coming to UL at some point) and Tom Gilb were interesting speakers and the local industry heads were well worth hearing too. For me, the emphasis on the lack of precise in language that we as software heads and indeed as 'micks' use and the damage it leads to in software projects as the mismatch between what the customer is expecting and what the software team are developing gets ever wider as the project progresses.

Also, the question was asked from the audience as to how to get/find/catch good software engineers and the point was made by Tom Gilb that we should look at software engineering as separate and distinct from the soft-working (or was it softcreating) of coding, much as we now see the software Architect's role as distinct from the practice of coding. One thing that came out of that discussion was the need for greater ability in Irish software engineers and graduates in general to be more forthright and confident, and able to speak up at meetings and so on. Essentially, we don't teach social skills in our education system. While many thought the 3rd level institutes should be doing something around this, I personally feel we're losing that battle in 2nd level.

One speaker Cusumano emphasised the need for software development teams to be collocated to be successful. Not a great thing for Ireland if low cost based locations like India and China are going to be our competitors in the software creation marketplace.

Another spoke of the dangers in ambiguity in requiremens documents. I began to wonder if the reduced opportunities for face to face meetings and rich verbal communication inherent in non-collocated, distributed development teamd might not be a benefit as being separated forces us to ensure that much of the communications be written down. Writing as opposed to speaking tends to focus the mind more on the content and structure of the information we are delivering, and on the nature and needs of the other person we are delivering the information to. Both the focus on the person and the structure should lead to a reduction in the ambiguity of the content. We are more consciously aware of constructing something that we will not have the same opportunity to finesse in delivering, much as film acting or acting for camera differs from theatre acting. In writing, we have control over the construction phase but not over the delivery. In face to face communications like speech, we can become aware earlier on that our approach is a little off and change direction. In contrast, we have no such awareness or control over how our writing is delivered, so it (the written document) will plough on regards of the reaction and inflict ever increasing damage on top of the initial mistake whatever that may have been.

One of the odd things is that with writing, you have an actual record to assist in recovering from misunderstandings whereas with spoken communications, as much effort will go into establish what was actually said as into what was really meant. I should write more on this elsewhere.

Some people didn't notice my absence. Apparently you now have to give advance notice via your blog for anyone to recognise what you are up to. Note to self when next planning world's biggest robbery of turf, must enter in blog a week in advance.

The dubs are playing Meath on Sunday. The GAA needs a good run from the Dubs. And I'd like to see one too, only for Kerry to end it in September!

As for Cork itself, it's all to easy to forget how different Cork is to other places in Ireland. Or at least, how different Cork thinks it is. And it makes for bewildered looks on visitors faces when they hear people reference to the capital and they wonder if Ireland is like Australia, or Canada with the capital being somewhere other than the largest city.

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