Software evolves like culture, like language, like genes

Software continuously evolves, whether we like it or not. Software shapes us and we attempt to shape software; as part of a dynamic system with increasingly fast feedback loops. Today The Australian covers two interesting complementary topics relating to software:

1. Cloud computing round table with six of Australia’s top CIOs

If you take the time to listen to the conversation, the following concepts stick out: social, sharing, digital artefacts, digital natives, trust, privacy, security, mobile, risks, transactions, insurance; and also: simplification, modularity, standardisation, outsourcing, lock-in, low cost, and scalability.

  1. VIDEO: Cloud computing roundtable part one
  2. VIDEO: Cloud computing roundtable part two
  3. VIDEO: Cloud computing roundtable part three
  4. VIDEO: Cloud computing roundtable part four
  5. VIDEO: Cloud computing roundtable part five

Quite a lot of concepts, hopes, expectations – all looking forward to systems that are easier and more convenient to use. And yet, a look into the bowels of any software-intensive business reveals a different here and now, characterised by a range of systems that vary in age from less than a year to more than four decades, and …

an explosion of standards (1.1MB pdf);

… strong coupling within and between systems (the pictures below are the result of tool-based analysis of several millions of lines of production-grade software code);

The complexity inherent in large software artefacts

… and a shift in effort and costs from software creation to software maintenance that has caught many organisations by surprise (from Capers Jones, The economics of software maintenance in the twenty first century, February 2006).

Focus of software development professionals in the US, and percentage of software professional as part of the total US population

The statistics shouldn’t really be a surprise, at least not if software is understood for what is really is: a culture, a language, a pool of genes.

Big changes to software are comparable to changes in culture, language, and genes; they require interactions between many elements, they involve unpredictable results, and they can not be achieved with brute force – big changes take generations, literally. Which brings us to the second topic mentioned in The Australian today:

2. A pair of articles on the longevity of legacy software

  1. Old mainframe systems not extinct
  2. Demand for mainframe language skills remains strong

It is important for humans to learn to live in a plurality of software cultures, and to realise that embracing a new software culture is different from buying a new car. An old car is easily sold and forgotten, but old software culture stays around alongside the new arrivals.

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