The reality of software development

February 9, 2009

The (London) Times had a front page recently on the juggernaut that is the NHS IT project. First there was a letter making the lunatic proposal that we commission our university computer departments to write the code 1. There’s a nice response from Alan Pollard (British Computer Society) that makes the position clearer

Few IT projects fail because of technology. IT falls victim to overexpectation, unco-ordinated decision making, lack of clear objectives and relentless cost paring without a corresponding and realistic reduction in the desired outcome. All these are driven by those setting out the needs for planning, managing and approving the project. Today’s IT professional has to be far more than just a computer scientist. He or she has to be skilled in psychology, business matters, diplomacy, project management and politics.

1) The depth of misunderstanding the letter shows is breathtaking, do you really want your health to depend on something a student wrote for their coursework? At least medical students spend a few years training before being allowed out on their own. The attitude to the status of my profession reminds me of a story I heard from a trombone player I met who’d played in a legendary Goodal Ring Cycle. Crawling out of the theatre, exhausted after hours of playing leitmotif’s, he was cornered by someone from the audience. “That was fantastic! A wonderful performance! I was transported! etc, etc.” (pause) “By the way, what do you do for a living?”

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