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Computers Are Hard: Building Software With David Heinemeier Hansson

Published by Slashdot on Thu, 15 Oct 2020

Wojtek Borowicz interviews David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails web development framework: Wojtek Borowicz: Software methodology is an industry of its own. There is Scrum, and Agile, and coaches, and books, and all of that. But you and your team at Basecamp don't follow these practices. Why' DHH: First of all, our approach to software development is heavily inspired by the Agile Manifesto and the Agile values. It is not so much inspired by the Agile practices as they exist today. A lot of Agile software methodologies focus on areas of product development that are not where the hard bits lie. They are so much about the procedural structures. Software, in most cases, is inherently unpredictable, unknowable, and unshaped. It's almost like a gas. It can fit into all sorts of different openings from the same basic idea. The notion of trying to estimate how long a feature is going to take doesn't work because you don't know what you're building and because humans are terrible at estimating anything. The history of software development is one of late or cancelled projects. If you were to summarize the entire endeavor of software development, you'd say: 'The project ran late and it got canceled.' Planning work doesn't work, so to speak. What we do at Basecamp we chose to label Shape Up, simply because that is where we find the hard work to be. We're trying to just accept the core constraint that it is impossible to accurately specify what software should do up front. You can only discover what software should do within constraints. But it's not like we follow the idea that it's done when it's done, either. That's an absolute abdication of product management thinking. What we say instead is: don't do estimates, do budgets. The core of Shape Up is about budgets. Not how long is something going to take but what is something worth. Because something could take a week or four months. What is it worth' [...] Wojtek Borowicz: So the problem with those methodologies is they put too much focus on estimating, which is inherently impossible with software' DHH: I'd go even further and say that estimation is bullshit. It's so imprecise as to be useless, even when you're dealing with fixed inputs. And you're not. No one is ever able to accurately describe what a piece of software should do before they see the piece of software. This idea that we can preemptively describe what something should do before we start working on it is bunk. Agile was sort of onto this idea that you need running software to get feedback but the modern implementations of Agile are not embracing the lesson they themselves taught.Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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