I am Continuing on the last week’s thread on software engineering. For those of you who might think that this is possibly linked to software, I think if you change some words here the principle behind this debate is appropriate for any profession that you are in. What I am trying to decode is ‘If I screw up , who is responsible ?’. Here I refers to ‘software engineer’, but feel free to substitute that with something else and see if that can make you engage in this article.

One of my long time mentor Arun , summarized his view as a response to the article as below. Please visit the  thread’s comments to see the complete views.

“Software, arguably, has caused less harm for the impact it has achieved than any other new technology – bridge building, rocket science, or even automobiles. Caveat emptor will work in software as it has in many other areas. People buy from organizations and organizations are accountable. I believe an equally greater concern (and perhaps not obviously related) is that of free things, usually made possible by software’s infinitely scalable distribution model – facebook, google, gmail, news services, dropbox, etc. Free things which you depend on and in which you sign away all your rights give little accountability to even the organizations. Caveat emptor fails.”

I derive three important points from his summary.

  1. Software failures have been less harmful
  2. Organizations are accountable
  3. Opportunity cost of consuming ‘free’ stuff.

I wish to offer my points of view in the hope of starting and involving you all in a debate, that can possibly lead to something concrete and actionable, which is all what we possibly need in the long run. I request you to engage in the comments section of this article and hopefully we can arrive at something meaningful in the end. Even otherwise, I hope to present my views on this in the coming weeks , wearing the hat of a software engineer and wearing the hat of an organizational stakeholder.

Software failures has been less harmful

I casually Google searched for software failures and generally I find the results to be scary.

I also remember the Volkswagen car recall was owed to a software glitch. Whatever happened to the pride and precision of German Engineering ? Has it become germane ?

The impact of software in all areas of life in increasing at a pace that it is getting difficult to keep pace with it. Synthetic Biology, Cancer Research, Driverless cars… The list seems to be endless.

While it is definitely true software has been less harmful, is it evolving to stay that way ?

Can we possibly continue to tread safely with that assumption ?

Organizations are accountable

While I agree to this, I do not see the merit in me messing up and my boss or whoever in the chain losing their job!. It just doesn’t seem to be fair or does not make sense. However I think this statement has a larger implication and organization is responsible for creating that culture of software engineering . Are we  subconsciously piggy backing defects in the barb of agility ? Are we mis-interpreting fail-fast ?

We have seen people who championed six sigma extinct and have we misunderstood their reason for extinction  or is it that we have become increasingly tolerant of poor products.

Are market forces determining the yard stick of quality in anything we undertake ?

Where and how should organizations draw a line on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable ?

Opportunity cost of consuming ‘free’ stuff

In a famous novel by Irving Wallace, ‘The Second Lady’, he concludes the novel with an intriguing ‘Only she knows’

However, now it would have been different.  Now it is ‘Dr Batra’ knows (courtesy google).

Everyone except my home knows where I am , what I was possibly doing and how much time I spent, in what mode I went.

Honey, I just open sourced my life !!. There are only moments, no private moments. Earlier I used to very secretive about where I am going, but now I openly post photos about wherever I am and gain brownie points with Google. If I can’t hide it, I may as well expose it myself !I

Ideas like ‘Filter Bubble’  that exposed the downside of free stuff have gone into eerie silence.

In any case , ignorance is bliss, and as the famous song goes ‘what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger ‘

I think we have succumbed into a trap, where we are becoming more machine driven and the beauty is that we are enjoying it.

I hope we can recover in time to find the sweet spot that can give us the much needed balance.

This article may look like a drift, but in my view it provides a context to how we can possibly be better software engineers and may be better human beings as well!

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)