Lessons from An Engineer

A slideshow of What I Learned in Engineering School presents a number of lessons for software development if you look at them the right way.

For example:

A skyscraper is a vertically cantilevered beam. The primary structural design consdieration is not resistance to vertical (gravity) loads, but resistance to lateral loads from wind and earthquakes. For this reason, tall structures function and are designed conceptually as large beams cantilevered from the ground.

Just like how we have to test software. A building is supposed to stand up, so simplistically speaking, you’d think it would have to be strong and rigid against gravity. But there are other forces at work to account for.

So with a piece of software: simplistically, it’s designed to perform a task, and simplistic testing makes sure it does that task adequately. However, when looking at it from the tester’s perspective, you have to account for other forces besides the drive to get to the software’s goal. You’ve got to account for the real world, people making mistakes, and interactions that are sometimes hard to predict in a requirements guide or on a napkin.

And:

Work with the natural order. The locks of the Panama Canal are operated without pumps. Gravity moves millions of gallons of water from lakes to the lock chambers, where ships are raised and lowered 85 feet in passing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As long as precipitation refills the lakes,the locks continue to function.

Your software will work better for your users if it conforms to their knowledge, their expectations, and their habits. Also, your processes will work better if you take into account your corporate (or organizational) environment, people, habits, and whatnot. You can’t come in and make everybody change to the better way you know just because you know it’s better. You have to take stock of what’s already going on and craft the better processes without trying to push water uphill.

At any rate, it’s worth a read with an eye to the lessons you can apply to software development.

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