An Alternative to the Building Construction Metaphor for Software Development

I am currently reading “The Pragmatic Programmer” while riding the bus to work in the mornings. It’s pretty good and I read something earlier today that I thought was especially interesting, something I hadn’t thought about before at all and I would like to share it here.

This excerpt is on the subject of refactoring (Chapter 6 pg. 184). He begins by using the standard metaphor of construction of buildings for the process of software development, which I found interesting because I have heard this exact metaphor several times from various software architects. But then he goes on to say:
Well, software doesn’t quite work that way. Rather than construction, software is more like gardening – it is more organic than concrete. You plant many things in a garden according to an initial plan and conditions. Some thrive, others are destined to end up as compost. You may move plantings relative to each other to take advantage of the interplay of light and shadow, wind and rain. Overgrown plants get split or pruned, and colors that clash may get moved to more aesthetically pleasing locations. You pull weeds, and you fertilize plantings that are in need of some extra help. You constantly monitor the health of the garden, and make adjustments (to the soil, the plants, the layout) as needed.
Which is an amazing metaphor, I’ve never been able to quite put my finger one what I didn’t like about the construction metaphor but for lack of anything better I’ve been unable to refute it. The organic metaphor appeals to me much more. There have been a lot of good things in this book but this is the first thing I have read that is a completely new idea to me so I thought I would share it with you.

Author: justinmchase

I'm a Software Developer from Minnesota.

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