Sloppy Code Is Everywhere

from the incentives-are-all-wrong dept

As more and more things get computerized and are dependent on software, some people are finally realizing that most software code out there sucks. It’s incredibly buggy, and seems to be getting more so all the time. There are a number of factors that contribute to this – and it doesn’t appear that any are likely to go away anytime soon. First, as the complexity increases, there’s (obviously) more room for costly bugs. Second, as commercial pressures increase (“we need to get this out, now!”), programmers are rushing through their work, and there is insufficient bug testing and fixing being done. Finally, since software companies are in the unique position of having no liability for when their products don’t work – there’s not much to incentivize companies to change how they create software. In fact, many people are so used to this state of affairs that we’re all willing to “upgrade” to new software – just so it will fix the bugs in the old software. In other words, we’re agreeing to pay more to get something to work the way it was supposed to work when we first bought it. However, as everything around us is increasingly controlled by software, this becomes a more noticeable problem. If your car won’t start or your oven won’t turn on because of a software glitch, that can be even more of a nuisance than some application crashing. The question remains, though, about what to do? The idea of making software makers liable for glitches is gaining steam, but there are certainly costs associated (especially for small, independent software makers). One interesting note in the article is that when programmers at NASA were first working on software for the space shuttle, they wanted to be so careful to avoid bugs that they averaged about 3 lines of code per day.

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Comments on “Sloppy Code Is Everywhere”

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Rob Steinbach says:

Liability for Computer Software

Until Computer Software makers are held to some semblance of normal liability standards then the Art of Computer Programming will likely not advance significantly. This art is now in the same stage of development that architecture was in the Middle Ages and the parallels are striking! We now have code written “on the cheap” by programmers who are barely qualified to write the software they are writing. Many of these programmers seem to have amazingly large gaps in knowledge of this art. Also the advancement of commerical software in the past 20 years have been of the cookbook variety, i.e. trial and error. Until there is a financial incentive to program this stuff right the first time it is never happen.

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