gregbo (gregbo) wrote,

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When is software "good enough?"

Dave Taylor has another thoughtful essay, this time on the subject of whether/when it makes sense to strive for perfection in software. As it turns out, he, I and Dan Heller (aka argv, author of mush) had a debate over this in email, many many years ago. I recall my position being (primarily) motivated by some criticism that had been aimed at some people who I worked with at SRI for buggy code, and my reasoning that at least part of the problem would be solved if people used better (more efficient) algorithms. (There were other issues, such as the usual concern of developers of not having enough time to completely test their code before releasing it.) But I was also feeling somewhat insecure about my own abilities in that regard, particularly since at the time there were some people who'd just been hired who had a lot more problem-solving ability than I did (as evidenced by having a greater understanding than I did of algorithms at the time).

Dave made many of the same arguments back then that he just posted. One that I remember was that under some conditions it's good enough to write a shell script even though a full implementation in a standard programming language might be called for, on the grounds that it's something that can be quickly implemented. Dan's response, after a few exchanges between Dave and myself, was that he was in total agreement with Dave, and the basis for his opinion was that programming was a hobby for him, not just a career.

Well ... I have never really considered myself to be a hacker. I think I have tried, over the years, to strike some kind of a balance between doing "the right thing" and doing something that users, customers, or a proxy for same (ie. management) thought was necessary. I have certainly seen the dark side of "good enough" software – it may have been good enough to work for six weeks of transition while bringing someone up to speed to take over my reporting responsibilities so I could join the index build team, but it wasn't good enough (and was never intended to be) to be a replacement for Yahoo's log processing, and would have had to be in order for me to remain employed there ... So while I certainly respect Dave and Dan's arguments, I have to admit a certain frustration, perhaps because I've been burned ...

BTW, one of the "heritage" radio stations in the SF bay area, KFRC, changed to a new format, which features (among other things) pop songs from the mid-to-late 1980s. There was a station on the air back then called KYUU that played many of the songs KFRC plays now. KYUU's frequency was 99.7, which is KFRC's now as well. I mention this because I was a regular KYUU listener around the time Dave, Dan, and I had this debate.

(Why do I remember this, but don't remember what the DNS options are for tcpdump?)

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