Marco Dorantes' WebLog

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes" -Edsger W. Dijkstra

Adaptive Methods for reality

Adaptive Methods for reality

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The attitude of mind to approach reality that has helped humans to explain and to predict phenomena (observed facts) consistently and precisely, the scientific mindset, is one among those things computer professionals could adopt to better understand software development fundamentals. There are two somehow conflicting aspects of the scientific attitude that make it so compelling just because that opposing effect.

First, that eagerness to bring all possible thoughts about a subject matter by previous and current thinkers to the working table, so new work can be based on rock solid arguments gained through rigorous work and tested conclusions. In contrast, how many current software professionals have a working knowledge of structured design methods? And of first, second and third generations of object-oriented analysis and design methods?

Second, in the essence of a scientific attitude is the constant disposition to disprove current beliefs, to refute our own viewpoints, an inexorable bias to distrust self-righteous thinking; that is, to put our conclusions under the most severe and ruthless testing conditions possible. Why? Kenneth Boulding said: "Knowledge increases not by the matching of mind images with the real world —which is impossible—, that is, not by the direct perception of truth, but by a relentless bias toward the perception of error. This is as true of folk knowledge as it is of science". In contrast, how often can we found people with a dogmatic view of their profession in software? “We only do this or that buzzword around here”, “This brand or fashion is the only true game in town”, etc.

The combination of those —rational and skeptic— attitudes is requisite for scientific progress, that is, the accretion of reliable knowledge about a subject matter within the reach of science (the natural world). Philosophers of science have factored those attitudes out of science and have made them available for use in other disciplines so they could also be able to advance the knowledge in their fields in a rigorous and reliable way; for instance, social sciences like sociology, economics, anthropology (which includes physical anthropology, archeology, ethnology, and linguistics), political science, and others.

The world of software is a world of the artificial, a world of logical constructs governed by a different set of relationships in sharp contrast with those from the physical world and very similar to that from the field of linguistics, where the relationship between the sign (symbol), the signified (concept) and the signifier (linguistic image) is subject of significant changes between a discrete point in time (synchronic linguistic) and its evolution (diachronic linguistic). As far as we are interested to know something about software development we better strengthen our critical thinking powers including those mental attitudes mentioned above.

I have seen those very same attitudes in practitioners of the now generally known agile methods for software development; a distinction is in order, the practitioners I am referring to are not those just using the buzzwords, but those that bet their careers on their professional values and principles; those reflective practitioners who backup their beliefs with their behaviors, those who take the scientific approach to reality as a tool, not as a religion. These guys are perpetual learners, de facto scientists in the field of software. For they, the name agile means just a starting point for a continuous cooperative understanding. The term agile means only a token to bring a conversational style, just like the term adaptive which, by the way, was the second candidate name word from that Snowbird, Utah meeting on February 2001. In my opinion, adaptive reflects better the contrast with absolutist predictive approaches and emphasizes the ever-changing and self-critical nature of modern (or post-modernist from a philosophical perspective) software development processes.

Adaptive methods imply —in addition— a dual mode of behavior from their practitioners, just like the progress of science needs a dualistic endeavor for unblocking situations. These modes could be called up like Evolutionary and Revolutionary, where the former refers broadly to a thinking style that search truth deeper in a single direction by kind of specializations and the latter means a thinking style that broaden the perspective by kind of generalizations; the traits could be like follow:

Evolutionary mode

Revolutionary mode

Craftspeople Seers
Team players Independent
Normal evolutionists Non-normal. Revolutionary.
Technical climbers-engineers. Problem climbers. Travelers. Valley crossers. Philosophers.

 

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