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From Art Form to Engineering Discipline?


This is the title of a new paper that is to be published in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing by Christopher McDonald.  This paper starts to answer how software processes became so formal and heavy-handed in the 70’s and 80’s.  It is interesting to see Barry Boehm advocate waterfall in the 70’s and then back away from it in the 80’s with his spiral process.  It is also interesting to see that iterative software was alive and well in the late 80’s and the Agile movement did not invent it (as many Agile zealots will want you to believe).

Following this paper’s narrative; you can see that Software Engineering was born out of the so-called “Software Crisis” of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  The answer was scientific management espoused by Frederick Winslow Taylor.  This did not work as they were comparing apples and oranges.  Taylor was dealing with the mindless work of blue-collar factories workers; while software is engaged in by highly educated, creative white collar workers.

It seems that a lot the first ideas of “Software Engineering” came from this factory analogy.  Interchangeable parts and software components is another example.  There is a reference to the quality movement in the early 1900’s that I’d like to explore more fully.

Overall, this is a good read and elucidating history of Software Engineering.  As the military’s influence on software development wanes; it becomes less relevant.  But the history shows you how we got to where we are today in software development.

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About Leonard Woody
Software Engineer

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