June 30th, 2005


Pavlos on Software: To achieve your schedule, work randomly for a few months

Well, not really randomly. I mean in an undirected way with a fair amount of domain knowledge.

Most software projects overrun. However, the interesting thing is that almost none of them overrun at the end of their development cycle. At the end of the cycle, projects are usually in tip-top shape. Everyone is working really hard, there's momentum and clarity and a list of bugs or work items in a database, programmers are programming, testers are testing, and all is really running quite efficiently. Note: We're talking here about healthy projects that overrun by some margin, not engineering disasters. It's not the activities at the end of the development cycle that cause a project to overrun, and little could be done to improve them.

Rather, typical projects overrun by several months at the beginning of their development cycle. At the beginning projects are usually a mess: Nobody knows what to do. The architect or designer is holding everyone up. People are afraid of building UI features in case the design changes. Testers are not contributing. There's no momentum or clarity. The worst thing is that pieces that stress each other out, for example back-end and UI, are not working together and so the people writing each part don't get to observe the more subtle bugs in their designs. It's clearly at this time that the slip occurs, and the fact that it's only acknowledged and considered a crisis at the end is just human unwillingness to face hard facts.

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The mean streets of Edinburgh...

So, today I've had the weird experience of being attacked in North Bridge, outside the old Scotsman building, by three drunken people who were maybe 17. Two of them were girls, which I guess pleases my wish for feminist empowerment, but in this case I would have suggested the guy imitate traditional feminine role models instead.

I was walking up the street in my usual mad scientist manner and was suddenly shoved from behind by one of the girls. I turned around, realised the assailant was a teenage woman apparently out of her face, and stood there for a while thinking "what the...". Along comes the obligatory protective man and starts making some impressive-sounding threats. So I grab the guy and shove him into a corner, trying to extricate my phone and call the police with my other hand, when the first girl manages to punch me in the face, fairly accurately but without any strength.

At this point I start politely asking some of the passers-by if they would call the police for me and they come and defuse the situation instead. The pathetic attackers move on to terrorise the shoppers of South Bridge. I kind of wish I had called the police to save everyone, including them, being hurt, but I didn't. Pah! Kids nowadays...

I was only ever attacked once before in Edinburgh, some ten years ago, in an equally pathetic and random way. About five years ago, three of us were nearly involved in a confrontation that might have been serious, but we defused it with some determination and cool-headedness. Overall I think this is quite lucky for living somewhere for 17 years and generally not being careful about where to go when.