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Bill Dudney's Blog: Beware, The Lawyers Are Coming

In my role @ sys-con.com I got to do some very cool stuff.

Bill Dudney's Blog

In my role @ sys-con.com I got to do some very cool stuff. At JavaOne i many times was able to interview smart folks etc. Anyway one of the folks I talked with was Nigel Cheshire of Enerjy. They make cool tools to help you and your team build higher quality software (its very cool check it out). Nigel has a blog over at enerjy.com. I was digging around for some info I'm researching on the GDB chapter I'm writing now.

While looking through what google had to offer for my search. I found this. Interesting in many ways. The lawyers trying to grok software engr. (It would be fun to have a programmers training video on how to interact with a lawyer or 'how to talk to a lawyer if you must' kind of book). I think that the summarization is interesting and in many ways is not far from the mark.

Some of the "attorney's guide to software development" sends a bit of a shiver down my spine though.

"An examination of the source code will usually reveal extra steps 
that are not necessary to the computation of the results, but 
which will record information that relates to actual or potential 
error conditions. The mere existence of this kind of activity
 suggests that the programmers are trying to collect additional 
information in order to resolve problems they have seen, but
have been unable to isolate and fix."

Having been through a bit of lawerying my self I shutter to think of sitting on the witness stand with the opposing council grilling me...

  • Council: 'and did you know there were issues with this code'
  • Dudney: 'um well i guess i don't know there might have been problems'
  • Council: If I might draw the courts attention to exhibit A in which we see the logging statements of a raving lunatic

That just does not appeal to me at all.

What I'm really wondering is how long it will be (or if it ever will be) that software has all the fun taken out of it by lawyers. Agreed that its a pitiful that we as software folks can't get it right with all the book that have been written and all the experience that has been gained. So many failures and still we fail to internalize the 'Mythical Man Month'. But on the other hand not all failures can be blamed on the developers, many of the problems come from the malleability of the requirements and solution.

There is art here, not just science, not just engineering. The thing that scares me about lawyers arriving on the scene is that they would take all the art out of software (well maybe not all but a big chunk). In the areas that lawyers have scored big (suing Ford for the Pinto, building collapses etc). Standards have come in and taken all the freedom away from the builders. Now I'm certainly not arguing that Ford should have gotten away with the Pinto thing. That was evil and I'm glad there are standards for building cars and for buildings. But these things are very mechanical now. Or a lot more mechanical then they were before Ford came up with the Model T. Back in the early days there were so many different cars that it was hard to keep track of them. And sure many of them were grossly unsafe. But there was a lot of room for art. Today Lamborghini makes a beautiful work of art and meets all the safety constraints, but it costs a ton of money (literally, go weigh 200,000 $1 dollar bills).

Today in software we have the variety and art that was present in the early days of the car, and sure a lot of its is nuts and unsafe etc. (the good thing is that very few people have ever died from a website crash). And that is a good thing. But imaging if a lawyer could impose the use of 'industry standards' on us so that our companies don't get sued. What does that look like? Not pretty I'd imagine.

Read the rest of this posting here on Bill Dudney's blog...

More Stories By Bill Dudney

Bill Dudney is Editor-in-Chief of Eclipse Developer's Journal and serves too as JDJ's Eclipse editor. He is a Practice Leader with Virtuas Solutions and has been doing Java development since late 1996 after he downloaded his first copy of the JDK. Prior to Virtuas, Bill worked for InLine Software on the UML bridge that tied UML Models in Rational Rose and later XMI to the InLine suite of tools. Prior to getting hooked on Java he built software on NeXTStep (precursor to Apple's OSX). He has roughly 15 years of distributed software development experience starting at NASA building software to manage the mass properties of the Space Shuttle.

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