What software can’t eat

A picture of the TARDIS as taken at BBC Wales reception by Andrew Wong in 2005.

I haven’t written anything for a while. OK, several days. The main reason is that, after writing a piece about how software can solve all the problems that can be solved, my computer crashed.

Actually, I’ve got to own, up, I crashed my computer. I was pathetically excited at the thought of upgrading to the new version of my operating system. And then my computer wouldn’t boot.

More by luck than management, as my dad would have said, I managed to hang on to all of my files.

So here is another contradiction.

Software is super powerful.

Software is consuming huge parts of our life.

Software doesn’t work very well.

If you broaden this out to all of technology, rather than just software, this of course, is the English vision of science fiction.

In the future we have unimaginably complex technologies that allow us to vip across space and time in a blink of an eye. But in the future we have technologies that are slightly broken.

It’s the vision of technology that gets hilariously explored in Red Dwarf and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” The Doctor’s Tardis in Dr Who is the perfect example. The Tardis on the outside is stuck in the guise of a police box — it should be able to change so that it looks like anything.

And I’m wary of straying into areas of knowledge where I know there are those far more well-read and watched than me, but I think in earlier series of the Dr Who, I think he (before it was a she) had a lot less control over the Tardis.

Of course, this is different from the vision of technology in American science fiction, in American Science fiction, technology is awesome. Yes, it gets pushed to its limits, but the only thing not properly functioning in the engine room in the starship Enterprise is Scottie’s accent.

But a recurring theme in Star Trek is the opposition of what’s logical with what’s human.

Is there a point that I’m trying to make here? I don’t know, there might be.

A few things.

Software is awesome, software is terrible

I would feel really embarrassed about borking my computer, if I haven’t seen people who I work with, who are much, much, cleverer than me get caught out and do similarly “dumb” things.

What this really tells us is that with all the software that we’re using, we’re always hovering on the hairy edge of it being controllable vs it being catastrophically uncontrollable.

There are some things that software can’t do

Frontal lobe stuff.

High level planning. We know — from Turing — that if we can do it, that means that it’s a soluble problem for a theoretical computer, and at some point, software will be able to do it too. But we’re not there yet.

Turning dreams into reality

Computers don’t seem to be able to do this yet. And this is what project management is about. It’s what software development is about, it’s what design is about. The whole point of this book is to make it clear that it’s what user research is about.

So in that sense, the job of project management for software development seems safe, at a point where lots of other jobs seem to be being completely devoured by software.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that software isn’t “nibbling at the toes” of project management all the time.

Come into the Garden

The software giants are always trying to entice any project into their ecosystem and imprison them there. Microsoft are the past masters, but Amazon are getting very good at this.

It works in Word

When you’re writing a new piece of software, it will be compared to existing software. Software that has had millions, if not billions of dollars spent on it. Whatever you’re doing that involves text entry will get compared to Word, if your system has a search facility, it will be compared to Google.

Project management as the manipulation of project management software

There is also a “school of thought” — although anybody who thinks it, probably didn’t go to school and probably isn’t that good at thinking — that project management equates to being adept in the use of some particular flavour of project management software.

It feels like a sudden lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous to even mention this. But of course, that’s what I’ve been trying to say that the business of project management is about, as it is also about reading job adverts that read “But have 10 years’ Jira experience.”

Originally published at https://mumbly.co.uk.

What daemon possessed me that I behaved so well? - Henry David Thoreau