How Software Development Has Transformed In Front Of My Eyes?

“Software development is technical activity conducted by human beings.” Niklaus Wirth

It’s been about 30 years since I started my career as a Software Developer and while I don’t wear my coders hat as often as I like, I still think of myself as a developer. In my conversations with the many smart developers at ThinkSys I can’t escape the feeling though that software development now is a completely different species from what it was when veterans like me started out, and this transformation has particularly accelerated in the last few years. Indulge me as I look back at what has changed – some of this may resonate with you too!

First, though, what’s driving this change? There’s not far to look – a combination of the Cloud, Internet, and Mobility is the primary factor. This combination has changed the way people use software, as has the purpose for which they use that software. Marc Andreesen famously spoke of software eating the world – essentially this has come true and pretty much every aspect of our life is being driven by software. This integration of life and technology has made customers more demanding, and more prone to consider moving their business if their expectations are not met. What does this mean for software development? To my mind this is what is driving the “release fast, iterate often” movement in software development.

Given that need, the traditional SDLC, driven by the “Waterfall Model” has obviously been found wanting. That was too rigid, too linear, and just not nimble enough to meet the new demands. The Agile Manifesto offered a ready alternative and companies enthusiastically adopted it. As the Cloud and SaaS-based models of delivering software took over Agile got even more accelerated and transformed into Continuous Delivery of software. This transformation is now more or less complete. Last year an Atlassian survey found that 77% of all software development organizations practiced Agile development, and 50% practiced Continuous Delivery (CD).

I had written about how software development teams have changed with the advent of Agile and DevOps. The change in the team has been necessitated by a change of process. The software development process has become more granular, testing is now carried out in parallel to development, automation is much more central, business and domain owners are much more closely integrated into the software design, and there is a continuous effort to elicit and integrate customer feedback into the software. In parallel, software development teams have become more distributed and multi-locational. This has made the creation of software a much more collaborative process. In fact, the Atlassian survey mentioned earlier found that 78% of the software organizations were using a Distributed Version Control System (like Git).

Another big change we have seen is in the way software is architected. Self-contained, monolithic architectures started making way for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), that focused on the creation of modular elements that delivered business services. This has now further transformed into Microservices, with even more granular, potentially reusable services carved up from the old monolith. Apart from the need for speed, what drove this change was also the peculiarities of the Cloud and Mobile. There is now a greater emphasis on a small footprint and more efficient usage of resources. Another sea-change is in the emphasis on “Usability” at every stage. In the early days, there was almost a sense that software would be used by “experts” and the attention was on functionality. Today software lives and dies by the User Experience. So much attention is now lavished on the UI and the UX – how it looks, how easy is it to use, and how intuitive it is to get to learn is now key. Eric Raymond said, “The easiest programs to use are those which demand the least new learning from the user.”

As it happens, we have found a better way to make software, and the programming languages have kept pace. As I watched we have moved from C to Java, .Net, and PHP to Python and Ruby now As I watched we have moved from C to Java, .Net and JavaScript to JQuery and Angular/React now. Coding has become closer to how we naturally express ourselves. Along with these languages came their incredibly powerful libraries that made coding easier, faster, and more intuitive. In parallel came the open source wave – several special-purpose, community-contributed pieces of code that helped meet the very same objective, while being reusable too. This is where much change is anticipated, in ways that we may not even consider possible. There is talk of how developers may need to become data scientists in the future – a nod to the anticipated impact of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

However much the process of software development has changed, one thing I can be sure of is that software will always be built to address the needs of customers and that the intent will always be to deliver value, with quality. In that quest, it will always be design that is paramount. One quote from Louis Sruggley goes, “Without requirements or design, programming is the art of adding bugs to a text file.” Some things will never change, I guess!

Comments
  • Grant Parks says:

    The need for skilled engineers drastically outpaced the supply as the Web took off. Far too many people have gotten into the field who don’t have the knack to design and write well-structured systems/applications. The difference has been made up for with “tools” leading to a generation that knows how to install and configure, but not write software. These tools have led to a self-created over complexification and the output is still bad. Focusing on environment/ecosystem means even less focus and understanding of how to design objects and application code. It’s a really sad state of affairs, because these people are now the majority of the industry, thus their methods are *the* way it’s done now. Bad, uncohesive systems with coupled code and no concept of well-layered applications.

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