Great post. This is unique content and much more stimulating that the typical "Java is dead!" post. I read it for the headline and was shocked to see a reference to Professor Knight, my CS340 professor at UVa! He was into formal specification methods based on math and set theory, and documented in mathematical formulas.
While I appreciated the accuracy of that approach in school, I realized its limitations in the real world. I work for a consulting firm, not with safety-critical systems, but with other important, mission-critical systems. I don't think most of the customers, developers, or testers can easily read or understand formal specifications. Even with the most accurate specification, it comes down to thorough testing and monitoring to know if it's met.
I believe in Humphrey's "Law" that customers don't know what they want until after the system is in production (maybe not even then). Complex problems aren't fully understood in the beginning on paper. Quick iterations and prototype testing in the wild often raise important, unforeseen issues hidden by complexity and false assumptions. I really love Henrik Kniberg's post on how his kids won a Lego robot competition by using an iterative design/build/test approach and going against common trends.
I think the right balance of upfront design, iterative testing, and software professionalism is required to make any system, especially safety-critical systems, work correctly.
Thanks for writing and keep it up!
Thanks for the kind words, Steve.
I totally agree with your comments.
I read an old engineering book a few years back and the author talked about how the Brits built the wings for a particular fighter aircraft with which the author was involved.
They needed the wings to be 'just strong enough'. Any extra material wasted preciously resources but it also required more fuel, reduced range, reduced speed, and reduced maneuverability. They didn't have a supercomputer to run a simulation. So they built the wings iteratively. They started with a wing they thought wasn't strong enough, turned it over and loaded it with sandbags until it broke. Then they reinforced the weak point and repeated until the wing was strong enough. Brilliant, right?
Have a good one.
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