- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (November 7, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0321117425
- ISBN-13: 978-0321117427
- Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.5 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 44 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering 1st Edition
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From the Back Cover
The practice of building software is a "new kid on the block" technology. Though it may not seem this way for those who have been in the field for most of their careers, in the overall scheme of professions, software builders are relative "newbies." In the short history of the software field, a lot of facts have been identified, and a lot of fallacies promulgated. Those facts and fallacies are what this book is about. There's a problem with those facts-and, as you might imagine, those fallacies. Many of these fundamentally important facts are learned by a software engineer, but over the short lifespan of the software field, all too many of them have been forgotten. While reading "Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering," you may experience moments of "Oh, yes, I had forgotten that," alongside some "Is that really true?" thoughts. The author of this book doesn't shy away from controversy. In fact, each of the facts and fallacies is accompanied by a discussion of whatever controversy envelops it. You may find yourself agreeing with a lot of the facts and fallacies, yet emotionally disturbed by a few of them! Whether you agree or disagree, you will learn why the author has been called "the premier curmudgeon of software practice." These facts and fallacies are fundamental to the software building field-forget or neglect them at your peril!
About the Author
Robert Glass is the founder of Computing Trends. He has written more than a dozen books on software engineering and on the lessons of computing failures. Robert is trusted by many as a leading authority on software engineering, especially by those who read his columns in Communications of the ACM and IEEE Software. Robert also publishes a newsletter, The Software Practitioner, and speaks frequently at software engineering events.
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Top customer reviews
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Pleasant to Read
Glass’s personality comes through in his writing which makes the book feel less academic and more fun to read (he is known as the “premier curmudgeon” of software practice). The writing is informal, but gets right to the point. Also, the book is succinct and moves along pretty quickly – each fact or fallacy only covers a couple of pages.
Think of this book more like a table of contents. Each fact or fallacy is quickly summarized with a discussion and controversy. Then Glass provides references and sources if you want to look further. A lot of the sources are his own books. A lot of the sources are well-regarded books like the Mythical Man Month, Peopleware, and Refactoring.
This book gets right to the point which means you can read it fast, and still get a lot out of it. I found myself agreeing with most of the facts and fallacies, disagreeing with a few, and being surprised by a few new ideas. I learned the most from the sections about estimation and maintenance. I also loved his opinion that we should teach new programmers to program by having them read programs (not write them).
More Opinion than Fact
A lot of the so-called “facts” feel more like opinions. But they are probably right, so it doesn’t matter much. Regardless, it would be nice to see more studies backing up the facts. For example, the fact that “For every 25 percent increase in problem complexity, there is a 100 percent increase in solution complexity” is a pretty extraordinary claim. It seems like it’s probably true-ish, but it seems too clean-cut to be true. How can this be true in every setting? Another one is “Enhancements represent roughly 60 percent of maintenance costs.” Is this really true? And how many studies have replicated these results? You’d need to go and do the due diligence to be sure.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for software engineers and managers of software engineers. It is a quick read and will have an immediate pay-off. If you learn one thing from this book it is the importance of being able to explain to management why things should be done a certain way. If you can explain the why and explain it well you will have happy managers and happy engineers.
The topics in the book do not go into details, however Glass provides many references to articles of origin, controversy or discussion where you can delve deeper into each fact or fallacy.
As Glass emphatically indicates, it is possible that you are not agree with some of the topics , but that does not make them any less interesting. Sometimes it seems he need go deeper on the arguments, but you can search in the references for details.
In the book you will not find anything original or new. Basically it's a compilation of these facts and fallacies discussed by many authors over the last 30 years.
I really recomend this book, even if you have a notion of the facts and fallacies in the book. It worth reading and have a handy reference list when you want to go deeper or when you want to recommend someone to read a specific topic.
For example, #32: "It is nearly impossible to test software at the level of 100% of its logic paths." I'd go farther and say it's usually dangerous even to try. If some pointy-haired manager decides that more coverage is better, programmers will dutifully optimize that metric. Error recovery is hard to test, so they'll edit out the error recovery. Integrity checks may be hard to trigger, so the integrity checks have to go. Trust me, this is not an improvement.
Or #51: "Residual errors will always persist." No argument there. "The goal should be to minimize or eliminate severe errors." That's one good goal, but there are lots of systems where the goal should be to continue service in the presence of errors, via error recovery, some fail-soft state, or other means. Even perfect software may violate its contract in the presence of hardware errors: given a one-in-a-billion error rate and 3GHz clock, errors happen three times per second. Even at one-per-trllion, they happen every five minutes or so.
Also, #46, a prioritized list of "-ilities" that define quality. Of course I disagree with his or any order. Heck, in one system I worked on, four different subsystems had four different lists. Reliability was paramount in one area - software failure would have to be repaired by unsoldering and replacing a chip. Other subsystems variously emphasized speed, compiled code size, and user-friendliness. In the bulk of the system, maintainability was at the top of the list (a fifth different priority list).
Although I generally like the content and style, a few things might have strengthened the book. Glass' favorite author, based on citation counts, is Glass. He's good, but so are other authors. This book isn't really self-contained. Lots of discussions are cursory (and he sometimes points that out), requiring a lot more elaboration of his part or a lot of reference-chasing time on the reader's part, assuming the reader can find the references at all.
Still, this is a welcome comment on the current state of affairs in software development. His one point - if there is only one - is that it's the same state we were in back in the 70s. Only the buzzwords have really changed. That point I agree with.