Jerry Weinberg's workshops and writings have taught, encouraged, and inspired many people over the years. In this interview by Beth Layman, Jerry gives insightful and entertaining answers about the state of the practice, becoming a technical leader, and the future of software engineering.
What should a person say when introducing Jerry Weinberg? Should one say that he is an icon, a leader in the field of software engineering? Brilliant? The author of more than 30 books, including The Psychology of Computer Programming; Handbook of Walkthroughs, Inspections, and Technical Reviews ; and Quality Software Management (four volumes)? Or should one say that he's just a really nice guy? He is all of these things and more to many of us in the field. His workshops and writings have taught, encouraged, and inspired us over the years. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me interview him for SQP. We talked about the state of the practice, becoming a technical leader (incidentally, yet another title of one of his books), and the future of software engineering. I hope SQP readers will find his answers as insightful and entertaining as I did.
Weinberg on Software Engineering State of the Practice
SQP: What do you consider the major milestones of software engineering discipline in the last three decades? In other words, what concepts or methods introduced and adopted in the last 30 years have changed the face of software engineering most dramatically?
JW: Well, I don't think there have been any.
JW: Yes. Well, I think, first of all, if you really mean the "adopted" part, in the sense of changing the whole discipline, we haven’t reached that stage yet. If you review the information from surveys like the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) conducts, by far, most software organizations are operating at what they call level 1 and what I call level 0. Sure, we hear and read about companies that are doing good things so there are concepts that have been adopted—things that would change the industry if they were adopted by some substantial portion of the people, but right now our industry as a whole has not changed at all.
SQP: What about things like reviews and testing—surely these are more widely practiced?
JW: Well, certainly, testing is more recognized as a separate function now. And, that has helped certain organizations. But, in many organizations, it has just made them sloppier developers; they are just more encouraged to throw stuff over the wall to testing. So, I would say that there may be some new testing concepts here and there, but nothing that has swept the field even 50 percent or 30 percent.
SQP: You've written a number of books advocating various concepts and methods. Do you believe there are any that, if adopted, would change the face of the state of the practice?
JW: Ah, now that's a different question. I'm reminded of this farmer that one of my former students, who is now an ag [agricultural] extension agent, told me about. My student was out introducing some new technology for something like planting corn. He invited this farmer to a meeting to discuss the new technology, but the farmer said, "No, I don't think I'll go." My student said, "But, why not? This is something new that would improve your crops!" And the farmer said, "Oh, I already don't use half of the things that I know would improve my crops, so what's the point in getting another one?"
I'd say that's about the state of where we are. We have a few things, a few fundamental things that if people would do consistently, then we could start to take off. One is requirements work. Now, I'm not just talking about sitting down up front and writing down everything you want. There are clearly cases where this will not work.