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2500 years ago, a man named Aesop gathered the accumulated software development knowledge of the ancient Greeks, and presented the knowledge to history. However, since so few people in the intervening millennia knew anything about software, they misinterpreted Aesop's lessons as simple morality fables, rather than as hard advice for software managers. Now you can learn what Aesop had to teach us about software development processes and management.

The pioneering programmer known as Aesop is still studied today; but we tend to forget his role as a programmer, due mainly to the limitations of his hardware platform:

Aesop's Computer


Figure 2: Aesop's Computer

As any programmer can tell you, everything comes down to hardware problems. In Aesop's case, these included:

  • Hertz. Not giga, not mega, not even kilo. Hertz.
  • No GUI. Not even Windows 1.0.
  • It was imported from China. The shipping time for replacement parts was a bummer.
  • It was programmed in an obscure language: Φ. (Later Φ++.)

And as any programmer can also tell you, if it's not a hardware problem, it's a user problem:

  • Users didn't know what they wanted.
  • Users kept changing their minds.
  • Users were impatient.
  • Users didn't want to pay for quality.

(Sadly, while hardware has improved since Aesop, users never change…)

So because of problems beyond his control, Aesop never shipped a product; but he did learn a lot about development practices and project management. His best practices captured in a book: ΑΕΣΟΠ Φ ΑΒΑΚΥΣ. This was later mistranslated as "Aesop's Fables". When the art of programming was lost (in the Library of Alexandria, naturally), later translators misunderstood Aesop's masterwork. For the most part, they missed the point of his lessons entirely, interpreting them as simple morality lessons.

But now, thanks to recent X-ray images of scrolls from Pompeii (and way too much time on my hands), I've restored Aesop's lessons for you in this series of essays. Look for three overarching themes:

  • Better programming techniques.
  • Better process techniques.
  • How could we be so stupid?


Note to hardware techs and end users…

No, I don't really think hardware and users are the cause of all problems. We're all in this together, all contributing to problems and all contributing to solutions. But when talking with programmers, some jokes are just expected. (Don't even get me started on manager jokes…)

Posted on Saturday, November 15, 2008 5:39 PM Aesop's Fables of Software Development | Back to top

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