Philosophy of Software Development

In Work-Oriented Devlopment of Software Artifacts, Pelle Ehn describes his experiences on a series of projects that explored making software easier to use, more appropriate to its final use, and made by both programmers and end users. For me, the high point of the book was the way in which he considers software development in the context of four philosophers: Descartes, Marx, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein.

A person working in the style of Descartes considers there to be an external reality worth describing, and turns her efforts toward capturing that reality in requirements, in models, and in the code. The first half-century of software development is filled with the Cartesion work style.

A person working in the style of Marx first asks, “Whom does this new system benefit? What changes in the social power structure accrue from its deployment?” This is a good question to consider, whether or not you like Marx.

A person working in the style of Heidegger considers the system for its efficacy as a tool. Ideally, the user does not “see” the system at all, but rather, sees through the system to the task being performed. For example, when I am typing, I don’t “see” the word processor, I see the page growing text. An accomplished pianist sees the music being formed, not the piano; a good carpenter sees the nail going into the wood, not the hammering tool. Heidegger’s frame can help us produce systems more fit for use.

It is only the style of Wittgenstein that directly opposes the style of Descartes. A person working in this style views the unfolding of the software design as the unfolding of a language game, in which new words are added to the language over time.

via Pelle Ehn, Wittgensteins Language Game – Agile Software Development — www.e-reading.ws.

 

They never taught me this in university.

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