The is the second post about becoming a computer scientist after a career in software engineering. The first part may be found here.
Only a student would think that software developers mostly write computer programs. Coding is a blast–it’s why you get into the field–but the great majority of professional programming time isn’t spent coding. It goes into the processes and tools that allow humans to work together, such a version control and Agile procedures; maintenance; testing and bug fixing; requirements gathering, and documentation. It’s hard to say where writing interesting code is on that list. Probably not third place. Fourth or fifth perhaps?
Fred Brooks famously showed that the human time that goes into a line of code is inversely-quadratic in the size of the project (I’m paraphrasing outrageously.) Coding gets the glory, but virtually all of the significant advances in software engineering since Brooks wrote in the mid-1970’s have actually been in the technology and management techniques for orchestrating the efforts of dozens or even hundreds of people to cooperatively to write a mass of code that might have the size and complexity of War and Peace. That is, if War and Peace were first released as a few chapters, and had to continue to make sense as the remaining 361 chapters come out over a period of many months or even years. Actually, War and Peace runs about half a million words, or 50,000 lines, which would make it quite a modest piece of software. In comparison, the latest Fedora Linux release has 206 million lines of code. A typical modern car might have 150 million. MacOS has 85 million. In the 1970’s four million lines was an immense program.Continue reading