Joel Spolsky's Talk at Yale

, Dec 3, 2007

From Joel on Software:

You will frequently hear the claim that software engineering is facing a quality crisis of some sort. I don’t happen to agree with that claim—the computer software most people use most of the time is of ridiculously high quality compared to everything else in their lives—but that’s beside the point. This claim about the “quality crisis” leads to a lot of proposals and research about making higher quality software. And at this point, the world divides into the geeks and the suits.

The geeks want to solve the problem automatically, using software. They propose things like unit tests, test driven development, automated testing, dynamic logic and other ways to “prove” that a program is bug-free.

The suits aren’t really aware of the problem. They couldn’t care less if the software is buggy, as long as people are buying it.

Currently, in the battle between the geeks and the suits, the suits are winning, because they control the budget, and honestly, I don’t know if that’s such a bad thing. The suits recognize that there are diminishing returns to fixing bugs. Once the software hits a certain level of quality that allows it to solve someone’s problem, that person will pay for it and derive benefit out of it.

The suits also have a broader definition of “quality.” Their definition is about as mercenary as you can imagine: the quality of software is defined by how much it increases my bonus this year. Accidentally, this definition of quality incorporates a lot more than just making the software bug-free. For example, it places a lot of value on adding more features to solve more problems for more people, which the geeks tend to deride by calling it “bloatware.” It places value on aesthetics: a cool-looking program sells more copies than an ugly program. It places value on how happy a program makes its users feel. Fundamentally, it lets the users define their own concept of quality, and decide on their own if a given program meets their needs.

Great stuff; be sure to read the whole thing.