Too much control is crazy making

I thought of Charlie Chaplin’s classic film, Modern Times, after reading Stephen Swoyer’s piece on software factories, a concept for automating software development that Microsoft has beenchampioning lately. Modern Times was Chaplin’s protest against industrial society and the dehumanizing effect of the factory assembly line.

In one memorable scene, The Tramp is forced around and over the cogs and gears of a huge machine; in another, a machine feeds him lunch with the intent of keeping him working without a break.

Microsoft is touting the software factory as part of its campaign to promote Visual Studio 2005 Team System. What Microsoft means by software factory is not building software in the same way a manufacturer builds cars or appliances, but to apply a manufacturing discipline to software development, Swoyer writes.

Encapsulating the expertise of business managers and automating repetitive programming tasks would liberate enterprise software developers from having to start every new job fresh and would enable them to work more creatively.

Although Microsoft says its factory concept isn’t the same thing as working in a software sweatshop, I couldn’t help thinking it shares similarities with Henry Ford’s production line. Workers plugged standardized and interchangeable parts into each automobile as it moved past them on the assembly line. What made it work were the rigid standardization of parts and a highly controlled, repetitive assembly process.

That may be why developers Swoyer interviewed for this issue’s cover story don’t buy into the factory idea much, if at all. They argue creativity cannot be encapsulated; that software development is messy and cannot be controlled; and that code reuse on a large scale is unattainable.

And as Chaplin showed in the classic film, too much control and repeatability can make you a little crazy.

More Changes
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About the Author

Michael Alexander is editor-in-chief of Application Development Trends.