|Software as Alchemy or Science?|
The software industry operates in the 18th century. Software commerce is well developed, with software accepted as a necessity of daily business and trading throughout the world at many economic levels. But software manufacturing is still the task of individual artisans working largely without training, plans, specifications, process, quality control, or market recourse to the maker.
I am deeply offended, personally and professionally, by this archaic condition in our industry. I believe that software should and can be a science, an engineering discipline with controlled methods and predictable outcomes, science, not alchemy.
The following are direct citations from the Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM:
"Mass production methods are based on two general principles: (1) the division and specialization of human labour; and (2) the use of tools, machinery, and other equipment, usually automated, in the production of standard, interchangeable parts and products."
"The principle of the division of labour and the resulting specialization of skills can be found in many human activities, and there are records of its application to manufacturing in ancient Greece. The first unmistakable examples of manufacturing operations carefully designed to reduce production costs by specialized labour and the use of machines appeared in the 18th century in England."
"... in 1797 when Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, proposed the manufacture of flintlocks with completely interchangeable parts, in contrast to the older method under which each gun was the individual product of a highly skilled gunsmith and each part was hand-fitted."
"... Marc Brunel, a French-born inventor and engineer, established a production line to manufacture blocks (pulleys) for sailing ships, using the principles of division of labour and standardized parts. Brunel's machine tools were designed and built by Henry Maudslay, who has been called the father of the machine tool industry. Maudslay recognized the importance of precision tools that could produce identical parts;"
"By the middle of the 19th century the general concepts of division of labour, machine-assisted manufacture, and assembly of standardized parts were well established."
"In 1881, at the Midvale Steel Company in the United States, Frederick W. Taylor began studies of the organization of manufacturing operations that subsequently formed the foundation of modern production planning."
"[T]he basic principles of mass production [are]:
"Before the introduction of mass production techniques, goods were produced by highly skilled craftsmen who often prepared their basic raw materials, carried the product through each of the stages of manufacture, and ended with the finished product. Typically, the craftsman spent several years at apprenticeship learning each aspect of his trade; often he designed and made his own tools. He was identified with his product and his craft, enjoyed a close association with his customers, and had a clear understanding of his contribution and his position in society."
"[A]s technology advances, that part of the production operation that is most fatiguing, is least satisfying, and takes minimum advantage of the mental and physical flexibility of human effort is replaced by automatic machinery. Not only is productivity improved, but the remaining functions that require human effort can provide a more satisfying experience."
Copyright (c) 1996 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Why, then, have these lessons of the 18th and 19th centuries not yet taken root in the manufacture of software? That is the question which AIS attempts to address.