2012 Software Experts Summit – Summary

This year’s SES event, sponsored by Software and IEEE Computer Society, ,took place in London, at the headquarters of the British Computer Society. It was great. John Favaro and my talk aptly followed the superb keynote given by Mike Andrews on strategies for ensuring Bing’s scalability and availability and Christof Ebert’s talk on technical debt. Both provided plenty of material for John to use in our part.

Our talk focused on rational and irrational decision making in software development. I concentrated on the role of flexibility under uncertainty, and how flexibility improves decision making under various scenarios. I provided examples from the agile practices, in particular just-in-time decision making and iterative and incremental development.  That tied in nicely with several strategies described by Mike, such A/B testing (aka split runs) and production testing (under controlled roll-out and automatic roll-back), which are among classical examples of flexibility. It also tied in with concepts mentioned by Christof, such as forward-looking decision making (disregarding sunk costs), active management of technical debt, and making the underlying decisions based on trade-offs among interest accrued on such debt, need for future flexibility, and level of uncertainty.

John followed up by describing what prospect theory teaches us about how humans make decisions. He demonstrated how our risk aversion and risk taking behavior feature in everyday decisions, in unexpected and asymmetric ways.  In low-validity environments (in which the quality and reliability of information are low) pure intuition may fail us, while seeming perfectly logical and rational. John circled back to rational decision making by emphasizing the need for maximizing feedback and applying systematic risk policies to counterbalance knee-jerk reactions in one-off situations.

Other speakers were Software department editors Les Hatton and Diomidis Spinellis, followed by a keynote by Michael Feathers. There was also a panel on the growth, ubiquity, and impact of software in non-software industries. The panel was moderated by Michiel van Genuchten, and was based on the Impact column he and Les has been editing. Michael Feather’s insights on intrinsic properties of software and how they relate to technical debt were particularly fresh.  Diomidis Spinellis talked about his experience in managing the IT systems at the Greek Ministry of Finance. Diomidis have been on the news a number of times for his brave efforts in that context. It was pretty eye opening to see how you can affect change with simple, honest, and transparent strategies in a tremendously large and political bureaucracy in times of great turbulence. Alas, courage has a price.

Speakers’ slides should be posted on the SES  2012 site soon. Don’t forget to check back.

Special thanks go to the local organizers Helen Sharp and Neil Maiden, the MC and EIC of Software Forrest Shull, IEEE CS staff, and our sponsor and host BCS.


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