QOTD: 4 October 2007

Second, to see what rate of progress one can expect in software technology, let us examine the difficulties of that technology. Following Aristotle, I divide them into essence, the difficulties inherent in the nature of software, and accidents, those difficulties that today attend its production but are not inherent.

The essence of a software entity is a construct of interlocking concepts: data sets, relationships among data items, algorithms, and invocations of functions. This essence is abstract in that such a conceptual construct is the same under many different representations. It is nonetheless highly precise and richly detailed.

I believe the hard part of building software to be the specification, design, and testing of this conceptual construct, not the labor of representing it and testing the fidelity of the representation. We still make syntax errors, to be sure; but they are fuzz compared with the conceptual errors in most systems.

— Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., in “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering

In other words, good software depends on being able to faithfully and usefully represent reality.

One thought on “QOTD: 4 October 2007”

  1. Yes. The really interesting and fun part of this whole software game is how perverse the faithful and useful representation of reality can be. Microsoft Project, to take one example, is a faithful and useful representation of someone’s reality. I thank my lucky stars each day that someone isn’t me.

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