E.W.Dijkstra: "Why is software so expensive?"


The actual coding requires a great care and a non-failing talent for accuracy; it is labour-intensive and should therefore be postponed until you are as sure as sure can be that the program you are about to code is, indeed, the program you are aiming for. I know of one —very successful— software firm in which it is a rule of the house that for a one-year project coding is not allowed to start before the ninth month! In this organization they know that the eventual code is no more than the deposit of your understanding. When I told its director that my main concern in teaching students computing science was to train to think first and not to rush into coding, he just said “If you succeed in doing so, you are worth your weight in gold.” (I am not very heavy).

But apparently, many managers create havoc by discouraging thinking and urging their subordinates to “produce” code. Later they complain that 80 percent of their labour force is tied up with “program maintenance”, and blame software technology for that sorry state of affairs, instead of themselves. So much for the poor software manager. (All this is well-known, but occasionally needs to be said again.)

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