Why does it take so long?

Why does it take so long to write really good software? Unfortunately, it seems that the devil is always in the detail, and things take longer than expected. I’m definitely not the only software developer where I have a bright idea, and I can conceptually see exactly what I want the software to do, but actually getting it to do that turns out to be a long and arduous battle.

Unfortunately, software is not a forgiving medium: for every situation where you can see roughly what you want, you then have to describe it in precise and excruciating detail to a CPU that has no intelligence whatsoever.

Another thing is writers block. If I’m enthused about something, then I can just code and code and code, but tricky details being what they are, sometimes, you have hours or days when the old grey cells don’t quite want to get themselves round the problem.

Another productivity issue is the extent to which you want to reuse code. Some people like being “hobby kit” programmers: they are very happy to take freely available bits of code off the web, and them sew them, patchwork quilt wise, into a product. The catch is of course that when it comes to code licensing, it’s not necessarily all theirs, and although it’s invisible to the end user, some of the hacks that get written to get unrelated modules of code to co-operate can be just plain ugly. A quicker way to get a product, but down the line, the developers start muttering, ewww. yuck!

Me, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, and I can write the code myself, I will. The downside with that is that after a decent software engineering degree, with the exception of things requiring specialist knowledge, I should be able to write the code for most things. Which means of course, that my default attitude seems to be “oh, I’ll just write a few more thousand lines, and it’ll be there.” Streaming systems, no problem, Object hierarchies, no problem, parsers, no problem, vector and matrix math, no problem, database persistence systems, no problem, interpreters, no problem…….

The problem is that when you want to write everything exactly the way you like it to be, it takes absolutely ages. It used to be that by the time I’d written five or six thousand lines of code, I couldn’t help but end up with some sort of a working program. Nowadays, I can write twenty or thirty thousand lines of internal structure, and still end up with a simple test program that has nothing but a text box, and two buttons on it! Ahhh…. such is the path of progress.