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Good Things (even Cutting Edge) Eventually Come to an End

I’ve been writing for MSDN Magazine for over 20 years out of the nearly 30 years of the magazine’s lifetime. This world of ours is unperfected and, as a result, all good things may eventually come to an end. The rest of this post is an excerpt from the final installment of the Cutting Edge column. You can read the full story here.

I’ve been asked many times how I can keep up with quickly changing software technologies and grasp the issues related to development problems without writing enterprise code around the clock. My secret is I try to get at the foundation of things and think of software as the mirror of business processes designed by humans. Deep understanding of the business smooths the task of writing software and makes it kind of mechanical work. Deep understanding of technologies makes it easy to see if it fits in a specific business problem.

To a certain extent, software is a physical thing and is subject to familiar physical laws, such as entropy. At the same time, software is a human thing and, as such, is influenced by some context-specific form of empathy—the ability to understand. While we all know about entropy and its impact on code over time, I’m more interested in empathy, which expresses the ability of software to penetrate the internal mechanics of processes. Empathy impacts the quality of software and can even reduce entropy in the long run.

The power of understanding things—call it software empathy—­is what I leverage in my every day activities and that I tried to illustrate by example in my columns. I ended up writing because I had always wanted to be a writer, and I found that being a coder was one way to be a writer. So I put passion and empathy into it, the same way I worked to push passion and empathy into my code. Did it work? The fact that this column has thrived for more than 20 years is a clue!

I wish to end with wisdom from some great men, just adapted to software. Let’s call them my messages for posterity:

  • Keep it simple, as simple as possible. Otherwise it’s over-engineered. (Adapted from Albert Einstein)
  • Don’t forget to pay your technical debt. (Adapted from the reported last words of Socrates)
  • Perhaps a problem did not want to be solved so much as to be understood. (Adapted from George Orwell)

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