The Problem with Software
Why Smart Engineers Write Bad Code
320 pp., 6 x 9 in, 9 b&w illus.
- Published: October 23, 2018
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: September 28, 2018
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An industry insider explains why there is so much bad software—and why academia doesn't teach programmers what industry wants them to know.
Why is software so prone to bugs? So vulnerable to viruses? Why are software products so often delayed, or even canceled? Is software development really hard, or are software developers just not that good at it? In The Problem with Software, Adam Barr examines the proliferation of bad software, explains what causes it, and offers some suggestions on how to improve the situation.
For one thing, Barr points out, academia doesn't teach programmers what they actually need to know to do their jobs: how to work in a team to create code that works reliably and can be maintained by somebody other than the original authors. As the size and complexity of commercial software have grown, the gap between academic computer science and industry has widened. It's an open secret that there is little engineering in software engineering, which continues to rely not on codified scientific knowledge but on intuition and experience.
Barr, who worked as a programmer for more than twenty years, describes how the industry has evolved, from the era of mainframes and Fortran to today's embrace of the cloud. He explains bugs and why software has so many of them, and why today's interconnected computers offer fertile ground for viruses and worms. The difference between good and bad software can be a single line of code, and Barr includes code to illustrate the consequences of seemingly inconsequential choices by programmers. Looking to the future, Barr writes that the best prospect for improving software engineering is the move to the cloud. When software is a service and not a product, companies will have more incentive to make it good rather than “good enough to ship."
“Adam Barr's smart, deft, wry tour of decades of hard-won expertise in making software well demonstrates that we already know a lot more than we think. It will prove hugely valuable both for developers who want to fathom their workday challenges and interested laypeople seeking deeper insight into how software's nature shapes our world.”
Scott Rosenberg, Technology Editor, Axios and Author of Dreaming in Code
“This book is valuable reading for both academics and practitioners. It is an in-depth look at the complexities of software and the problems of software development. It presents a historical walkthrough of the promises of the various programming languages and methods along with their strengths and weaknesses, in trying to solve the complex problem of building quality software. The author provides numerous examples, many from his own vast experience. He makes the case for the poor state of academic software engineering education in preparing a software engineer for the profession and the lack of industry's willingness to evolve and support innovation.”
Victor Basili, Professor Emeritus, Computer Science, the University of Maryland
"So much has been written on the how and the why of good software. The Problem with Software offers an unflinching view of what sucks and backs it up with historical context! Now that we know The Problem, perhaps we can find The Solution. Those with both software engineering and computer science backgrounds will appreciate Adam Barr's valuable historical context. Now the real question—why wasn't I taught from this book in school?!"
Scott Hanselman, Principal Program Manager, Open Source.NET and host, The Hanselminutes Tech Podcast