Keynote at ECOOP 2014 on Software Environmentalism

At the end of July I will have the pleasure of giving a keynote at ECOOP. This is a rare treat, and I intend to enjoy it fully. To make it more exciting, at least for me, I will adventure in wild territories and coin the idea of software environmentalism.

Here is the teaser abstract:

Software systems get larger and larger, and they are being created at an ever increasing rate. While this might appear to be great, we are facing a significant long run problem as we need to assess and recycle them.

In fact, the problem is already here: Engineers spend as much as half of the effort on understanding software systems to figure out how to approach subsequent evolutions and the percentage grows with the size and age of the system. In essence, software engineering is more about dealing with existing systems as it is about building systems.

Reverse engineering and program comprehension are established areas that deal with the problem of approaching existing systems. However, in spite of several decades of research and many proposed approaches, the state of practice still shows that, to a large extent, engineers rely on manual code reading as the preferred means to understand the system. The main reason for it is that most existing approaches tend to be generic and ignore the context of systems. This situation does not scale and it should not perpetuate.

We cannot continue to let systems loose in the wild without any concern for how we will deal with them at a later time. Two decades ago, Richard Gabriel coined the idea of software habitability. Indeed, given that engineers spend a significant part of their active life inside software systems, it is desirable for that system to be suitable for humans to live there.

We go further and introduce the concept of software environmentalism as a systematic discipline to pursue and achieve habitability.

Engineers have the right to build upon assessable systems and have the responsibility of producing assessable systems. For example, even if code has often a textual shape, it is not text. The same applies to logs and anything else related to a software system. It’s all data, and data is best dealt with through tools. No system should get away without dedicated tools that help us take it apart and recycle it effectively. For example, every significant object in a system should be allowed to have dedicated inspectors to reveal its various facets and interactions, and every significant library should come with dedicated debugging possibilities.

Who should build those tools? Engineers. This implies that they have to be empowered to do it, and that the cost of building those tools is manageable.

We need to go back to the drawing board to (1) construct moldable development environments that help us drill into the context of systems effectively, (2) reinvent our underlying languages and technologies so that we can build assessable systems all the way down, and (3) reeducate our perception of what software engineering is.

Posted by Tudor Girba at 8 July 2014, 10:34 pm with tags presentation link