The Cracked Mirror

I remember reading somewhere (perhaps here but I can’t find the reference now) that the business of programming is the act of producing a simplified mirror-model of the business processes that it is trying to encapsulate.

This seems an intuitive statement. If I come to your company and make software to help your business it must capture at least some of the essence of what your business does. Indeed the programs that I and my colleagues write should in some way mirror the businesses that they belong to. If they don’t then we have to consider that I and my colleagues have probably failed.

In 1997 I entered the finance industry knowing almost nothing about finance. Pure green. So, eager to learn, I thought that if I looked at the code that I would be able to understand some of what was going on in the business. It turned out that this was as true as it was false. Yes the code mirrored the business but it turns out that that particular mirror was cracked. What I thought I understood about the business was distorted by irrelevant detail.

It’s obvious when I think about it now but the code that I was looking at had not been placed infront of me by an alien life-force (although some of the dudes were pretty strange) it had evolved. Code had been added to support business ventures that had subsequently been ended or even worse code had been added that was just plain wrong. In both these circumstances the users of the system compensated for the semantic gap between business and system, by doing what humans do best: working around the problem.

It seems then that this cracked mirror is inevitable because software decays. To really know what’s going on in your organisation you have to bang on doors. You have to ask the users the questions that make you look like Mr. Stupid. Only then can you build the model in your head of what is really going on.

What’s that you say? You’ve got business analysts? FIRE THEM! They don’t work people. I mean, yes they do work, but unless they are top-notch they create more problems than they solve.

Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir. Perhaps the choir went home. Perhaps I’ve been abducted by aliens and I’m still living in my 1997. Perhaps not.