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Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative [Paperback]

Pete McBreen
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 23 2001 0201733862 978-0201733860 1
Introducing "software craftsmanship"- the programmer-centric way to build great software.
Putting the "people" back into software development- why "software engineering" isnt enough.
Transforming the developers relationship with users and customers.
Specific steps you can take today -- as a developer or project manager. Software Craftsmanship is a call to arms for programmers- an impassioned manifesto that restores the developer to a central role in large-scale projects, and shows developers how to master the skills they need to succeed in that role. Software Craftsmanship transcends "software engineering," demonstrating that quality software cant simply be "manufactured"- it must be built by craftspeople with pride in their work, and a personal commitment to excellence. In Software Craftsmanship, Pete McBreen focuses on the craft of software development, explaining why current "software engineering" techniques often fail, and offering programmers a new path to excellence. Just as the modern carpenter benefits from better tools, materials, and understanding, the modern programmer can benefit from better computers, reusable components, and more robust languages -- but only if he or she is prepared to treat the software profession as a true "craft." McBreen explains what software "craftsmanship" means, how its affects users, and how it changes the developers relationship with customers. He introduces the concepts of software apprentices and journeymen, shows what can (and cant) be learned from the software engineering movement, and presents specific steps you can take now to move towards craftsmanship in your work -- and your organization.
Pete McBreen has successfully used and taught object-oriented techniques since 1989. He has designed and taught O-O courses for clients such as Nortel, CDC, and the University of Calgary. He is a frequent speaker at TOOLS, OOPSLA, and other advanced developers conferences.

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From the Inside Flap

Craftsmanship is a return to the roots of software development: Good software developers have always understood that programming is a craft skill. Regardless of the amount of arcane and detailed technical knowledge that a person has, in the end, application development comes down to feel and experience. Someone can know all of the esoteric technical details of the Java programming language, but that person will never be able to master application development unless he or she develops a feel for the aesthetics of software. Conversely, once a person gets the feel for software development, the specific technical details become almost irrelevant. Great developers are always picking up and using new technology and techniques; learning a new technology is just a normal part of the life of a software developer.

The term software engineering was coined in 1967 by a NATO study group that recommended a conference to discuss “the problems of software.” The report from this 1968 conference, which was sponsored by the NATO Science Committee and took place in Garmish, Germany, was titled Software Engineering.1 In the report, Peter Naur and Brian Randell stated, “The phrase ‘software engineering’ was deliberately chosen to be provocative, in implying the need for software manufacture to be based on the types of theoretical foundations and practical disciplines that are traditional in the established branches of engineering.”

In the same spirit, it is the intention of this book to be deliberately provocative in implying the need for practitioners to start paying attention to the craft of software development. Software craftsmanship is important because it takes us away from the manufacturing metaphor that software engineering invokes and makes us pay attention to the people who do software development. Craftsmanship brings with it the metaphor of skilled practitioners intent on mastering their craft, of pride in and responsibility for, the fruits of their labor.

Software craftsmanship is not the opposite of software engineering or computer science. Rather, craftsmanship is a different tradition that happily coexists with and benefits from science and engineering. Just as the modern blacksmith benefits from better tools, materials, and understanding, so software craftsmanship benefits from better computers, reusable components, and programming languages. Just as blacksmiths transcend science and engineering with their skill and artistry, software craftsmanship can transcend computer science and software engineering to produce great programs, applications, and systems. UNIX and the modern-day GNU Linux are probably the best-known examples of this—systems that are thriving due to the craft, skill, and dedication of their creators.

Software craftsmanship is a response to the problems of trying to force-fit software engineering into commercial application development. Software engineering was developed to meet the needs of NATO in developing very large defense systems. Commercial application development differs from the development of defense and government systems in that applications are a whole lot smaller and normally have to be up and running in less than 18 months. It is rare for a commercial application to be developed by a team of more than 20 people, and most application developers work in teams with fewer than 10 members. Software engineering is good at handling the problems of really large teams of 200 or more people, but it has little to say about how the individuals in a team should practice their craft.

Software engineering encourages the “human wave” 2 approach to software development. Rather than solving the problem of how to develop highly skilled developers, software engineering attempts to deskill software development by suggesting that every problem can be solved by throwing more people at it.

Although this approach sometimes succeeds, the resulting software is junk. Slow and bloated, it just never feels right. Users are dazzled by the graphics and animation but never really manage to come to grips with the software. They are thwarted by their inability to learn the software and use only a small fraction of the available features.

Software does not have to be like that.

All too often I see application development teams shipping valuable applications that provide real, measurable business benefit, but apologizing for not following software engineering best practices. For me, the real test of a team is whether it manages to ship and then enhance and extend the application for years afterward. Timely shipping of the first release is important, but it is more important that subsequent releases occur in a timely fashion and that each new release improves the application.

Whenever I’m asked about hiring developers, I tell people to look for developers who have shipped a few applications successfully and then stuck around long enough to handle the next enhancement or maintenance release. Shipping proves that the developer can make something work; staying around for the next release allows the developer to experience the effects of the way that he or she built the application in the first place. If a developer has done this three times, my guess is that he or she is skilled and experienced enough in the craft of software development to be successful again.

Software craftsmanship is the new imperative because many members of the software development community are starting to chase technology for its own sake, forgetting what is important. The purpose of software development is to create high-quality, robust software applications that deliver value to their users. What matters is growing a new generation of developers who can do that.

Software craftsmanship stands for putting the joy and excitement back into creating applications for our users.



1 Naur, Peter, and Brian Randell, (eds.), Software Engineering: A Report on a Conference Spnsored by the NATO Science Committee,NATO, 1969.

2 Levy, Steven, Hackers, Penguin Books, 1994, p. 88.



0201733862P08202001

From the Back Cover

By recognizing that software development is not a mechanical task, you can create better applications.

Today’s software development projects are often based on the traditional software engineering model, which was created to develop large-scale defense projects. Projects that use this antiquated industrial model tend to take longer, promise more, and deliver less.

As the demand for software has exploded, the software engineering establishment has attempted to adapt to the changing times with short training programs that teach the syntax of coding languages. But writing code is no longer the hard part of development; the hard part is figuring out what to write. This kind of know-how demands a skilled craftsman, not someone who knows only how to pass a certification course.

Software Craftsmanship presents an alternative—a craft model that focuses on the people involved in commercial software development. This book illustrates that it is imperative to turn from the technology-for-its-own-sake model to one that is grounded in delivering value to customers. The author, Pete McBreen, presents a method to nurture mastery in the programmer, develop creative collaboration in small developer teams, and enhance communications with the customer. The end result—skilled developers who can create, extend, and enhance robust applications.

This book addresses the following topics, among others:

  • Understanding customer requirements
  • Identifying when a project may go off track
  • Selecting software craftsmen for a particular project
  • Designing goals for application development
  • Managing software craftsmen
  • Software Craftsmanship is written for programmers who want to become exceptional at their craft and for the project manager who wants to hire them.



    0201733862B07242001

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    Customer Reviews

    Most helpful customer reviews
    1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible logic June 7 2002
    By A Customer
    Format:Paperback
    I can't finish this book: It is one big mess of poor logic. I do believe that software is a craft, and I agree with the ACM's position on SWEBOK and Licensing. In general, the ACM has much better position papers than any argument you will find here. Take for example a paragraph title on page 88: "Software Engineering Has Been Trying to Kill COBOL for Decades". The author states that the Software Engineering (SE) view believes COBOL is a dead language with no future. Further, because of this view, organizations are having to move away from COBOL. Big problems here. First of all, the author doesn't tell us WHICH organizations are opposed to COBOL. I guess we are supposed to assume that there exists an official organization out there that has issued a recommendation against using COBOL. I have read a lot of SE literature, but I have never read an SE text that states that COBOL is a dead language with no future. In fact, SE texts are usually language neutral with the exception of talk about 'generations' of languages. Being for or against SE/Licensing has little bearing on your view of the value of COBOL. Secondly, just because there are people who believe that COBOL is a dead language with no future, how does that force an organization to move to a different technology? It doesn't, unless those people are in charge of a development shop, and I know a lot of people that believe COBOL is a dead language that also are against any sort of formalized methodology or SE. Want to know the main critiques of SE? Visit the ACM.
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    1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars Describes what an agile world might look like June 3 2004
    Format:Paperback
    The book starts by making several good observations:
    (1) Software Engineering, with it's focus on big-up-front design, is not working well in the business world.
    (2) Emergent Design and Iterative Development actually work for business systems.
    (3) An apprentice/journeyman/master system relying on communication and OJT will be more effective than a BS in CS and a one-week course in SQL.
    (4) The focus on buzzwords and bleeding edge technologies is actually harmful to our craft.
    (5) The idea that learning is somehow bad because it implies the learner doesn't know everything is bogus and wrong. In fact, the idea that there is a single 'right way to do it' is equally bogus. We should instead grow developers with a wide knowledge of different techniques and allow them to find the right technique for each project.
    (6) The mobility and job-hopping of developers is counter-productive to effectiveness. People are not cogs. Therefore ...
    (7) Developers who are widely successfull and stay at a company long enough be of real value should be highly compensated; the author suggests up to $250,000/year and that super-stars should be paid higher than the managers (and possibly executives) who they report to. Without this, ambitious developers are forced into becoming consultants, trainers, or managers.

    ---> That said, there were a few things that make this book less-than-five-stars:
    (1) The work isn't really 'new.' The book is a neat combination of the work of Deming, DeMarco, Dave Thomas (The pragmatic programmer, not the Wendy's CEO), and the XP/Agile Crowd. A lot of the book is Deming applied to software, but readable and enjoyable.
    Read more ›
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    5.0 out of 5 stars Software Craftsmanship : The New Imperative April 27 2004
    Format:Paperback
    This book presents a totally new angle on software engineering career. The model is of a craftsman, like a woodworker (as pictured on the cover), starting as an apprentice, then on to journeyman and finally master. It recasts projects in this new light and shows advantages over the current software engineering "programming by horde" model. It also presents the traits of a craftsman, perpetual learning, teaching, belief in quality, embracing, but also being critical of new technologies.
    If you really don't believe in the current "anyone could do your job" management view of software engineering you will find this book, and it's mindset, a refreshing change. Software is an art. Professional engineers have a lifelong passion and respect for that art.
    There are several books that present this point of view, foremost is The Pragmatic Programmer, which is also an excellent book. If you have to decide between the two (and you really shouldn't) I would pick The Pragmatic Programmer. Spend the money, buy both, they complement each other and you won't regret either purchase.
    Was this review helpful to you?
    Format:Paperback
    The empasis in particular on career growth through lifelong improvement as a developer instead of through transitions to management is crucial. I've seen way too many folks allow themselves to stagnate intellecually and then try to get promoted by moving into management, since they see that as the only avenue left to them.
    However, the reason for the relatively low rating is that _The Pragmatic Programmer_ is a good deal better; Pragmatic is both more approachable in simple chunks for those who can't sit down and read it cover to cover and covers a few aspects of development and lifestyle that Craftsmanship avoids.
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    5.0 out of 5 stars One Size Doesn't Fit All For Software Development April 14 2003
    Format:Paperback
    This is a one sentence summary of the book. But what does it mean? McBreen gives a well structured argument that Software Engineering and Software Craftsmanship are two different things. The former is for large scale, mission critical projects, where as the latter is for business applications. Having worked on both kinds of systems, I can say that the author is dead on. The typical government/defense project uses large (over 100 engineers) development teams with cutting edge software and hardware. These situations call for the engineering approach because the software is not the dominating cost. However, business applications are usually built by small teams using stable technology (or they should be as the auther points out).
    The craft approach emphasizes delivery high quality, easily modified applications by teams lead by master craftsmen. The craftsman puts his reputation on the line each time his team delivers an application, for he is responsible for the journeyman and apprentices that work under him. This accountability to the customer builds trust between the two. Too many applications are built and handed off to someone else to maintain. Not so in the craftsmanship model. The team that developes the application stays with it through its lifetime or until they have sufficiently trained the next maintainer. The auther draws a strong parallel to Open Source development to support this concept.
    While the concepts the author presents ring true, it is going to be difficult to switch on a dime from software engineering to software craftsmanship. Luckily, the final chapters of the book give some gradual steps that can be taken toward the craft approach: hiring people that you know to have a good reputation, design for testing and maintenance, and continual learning. These would also benefit software engineering, but they are necessary for the craft approach.
    Was this review helpful to you?
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    Most recent customer reviews
    5.0 out of 5 stars Reusable code is a myth
    The book is very easy to read, fits any IT-aware reader however, it spots very interesting topics for any experienced software developer. Read more
    Published on Oct. 24 2002 by Maxim Masiutin
    3.0 out of 5 stars Dated examples, needs be focus on the problem
    The thesis of the book, that Software Engineering has run its course and it is time to return to the master/apprentice approach, starts by citing the early days of software... Read more
    Published on Aug. 18 2002 by Glen B. Alleman
    5.0 out of 5 stars Software Craftsmanship: a worthy goal
    I just spent this rainy afternoon reading "Software Craftsmanship ... The New Imperative" by Pete McBreen. Read more
    Published on April 28 2002 by Robert Hoeppner
    5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST-READ for frustrated software developers
    Ever wonder why all the talk of "software engineering" left you feeling cold, as if all your brain power, your creativity, your pride in your work, could be reduced to a... Read more
    Published on April 6 2002 by Erica Barker
    5.0 out of 5 stars Development managers READ THIS BOOK
    I loved and hated this book.
    I loved the great job that Pete McBreen did of describing many of the intangible issues that arise during great software development efforts and... Read more
    Published on Feb. 17 2002 by Bernard Farrell
    4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile examination of the processof software development
    "Software Craftmanship: The New Imperative" is a very thought-provoking book. The key focus of the book is the demolishing of the software engineering myth, or (more... Read more
    Published on Jan. 31 2002 by Robert Watkins
    3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre implementation of a good idea.
    After reading Steve McConnell's After the Gold Rush I decided to look for a book with an alternative view point. Software Craftsmanship is what I found. Read more
    Published on Dec 26 2001
    5.0 out of 5 stars The Programmer as Artisan, not Engineer
    This is the book for those of us who've read all the standard works on classical software engineering methods and can't lose the suspicion that they're WRONG. Read more
    Published on Dec 17 2001 by "tekwallah"
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