Software is fiction

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve never run across Richard Gabriel’s essay Lessons from the Science of Nothing at All before.

Suppose you wanted to design and build a gas stove, but no one had ever used gas to cook with before. In fact, assume that before this, all that had ever been used was a wood stove.

Here are some things you wouldn’t know: Will you use the gas flame to heat a piece of metal on which the pots and pans will sit, and that metal will transfer the heat, or will the flame be applied directly to the pots and pans? How will you control the temperature? Will you require that people move their pans from places of intense heat to places of less heat? Will you provide a gas flow controller that will reduce the amount of fuel to the flame? Will you move the flame closer or farther away from the pan or heat transfer metal? Will the heat be a manageable temperature for all kinds of cooking or only for limited use? Will cooks be afraid of using gas? How will you get it into the stove? Will it be stored or continuously supplied? How will you control the temperature of an oven using gas? Will a stove designed this way be affordable? Will the stove explode? Will the gas smell funny? Will the stove need to be inside or outside the house?

There are thousands of questions like this in every software project I’m calling unpredictable, and I’m also claiming that almost all software projects are unpredictable.

(Via Tim Bray.)

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