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Marcus Hast
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What have I been up to the last year?
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Last night of the vacation led to insomnia led to reading the december issue of Communications of the ACM. It was fascinating that they had 3 separate articles on the topic of software engineering / software construction that were both similar and very different. I didn't link the articles because they are unfortunately behind a paywall at ACM if you're not a member.

First there is "Making the Case for a 'Manufacturing Execution System' for Software Development" which wants to introduce traceability into all software construction processes. Not a totally bonkers idea, but unless there are some serious improvements in software support then it's a good way to grind production to a halt. It will be a lot of fun for people who find it more interesting to fill out forms than producing running software that does something useful. (The author seemed to work at ABB so that's not entirely surprising.)

The second "The Responsive Enterprise: Embracing the Hacker Way" basically opens with the premise that the fastest growing companies in the world are mostly software focused. (The one not software focused was Gilead Sciences which is a biotech company I haven't heard of before.) The  observation is that companies that focus on software can improve at a much faster rate than the older companies. Eg we can see today how the "hacker mentality" at Uber, Tesla and Airbnb are all working to disrupt the taxi, car and hotel industries. The central concept of the article is to structure companies after control theory systems with feedback loops. There should always be a demand and use of testing, verification and data for decisions in this model. Eg it looks at how Facebook and Amazon deploy several times a day and use A/B testing live to check if they are building the correct thing.

Finally "A New Software Engineering" is the return of Ivar Jacobsson with another methodology. This one is "paradigm shifting" and in my mind almost comically out of touch. The core idea is to separate the different aspects of software engineering into different "alphas" like Requirements, Work, Way-of-working etc. and then making it possible to mix different methods in these sub-category to create a functional methodology that is customized to your team. All in all not a completely stupid idea, but in my experience a team of reasonably intelligent developers (which fortunately all developers I work with are) are able to do this without attending a seminar. They do this by applying the concept of "getting shit done" and changing what they do to find what works best. Oddly enough reasonably intelligent people don't need new fancy concepts of "kernels" (not the OS nor math kinds) or "alphas" to do this. It works just by not being idiots. But then again, it would be a stretch to call such a thing a "paradigm shift".

I also find it fascinating the Ivar Jacobsen is still stuck in the idea of comparing software engineering to civil engineering and architecture. It seems to me like the the reasons those fields can have fundamental engineering procedures and processes in the way they do is because they are based on things fundamentally constrained by the physical world. You have concepts such as "gravity" and "material strength". When you write code these are not at all necessarily given. It's like trying to make one method that should be valid to build all possible structures, and vehicles on Earth; and also handle different planets and space stations... And using materials you make up during the process.

In general I find it fascinating to see what intelligent people who spend a lot of time thinking about a specific problem or area can come up with as they often find really cool ideas buried deep. But I guess sometimes it goes wrong as well...
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Hack N Slash 1.0 - Source code release!: http://youtu.be/UtmmyQKBp8s
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Today it's two years since The Verge had their first article on Oculus Rift. Pretty cool to see how far it's gotten since then...

Just seeing the cool projects people have done with the "Dev kit 1" is fun but even more exciting is the stuff Michael Abrash et al have been doing at Valve with experiments in presence in VR. In a recent talk he described it as the opposite of suspension of disbelief. The virtual experience is sufficiently real that you have to make a conscious effort to convince your body that there is in fact not a 10 story drop in front of you and it is safe to take a step forward as you are standing in an empty room with some goggles strapped to your face.
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