The Leprechauns of Software Engineering

Did you know that urban legends are a part of software engineering?

Book review: The leprechauns of software engineering by Laurent Bossavit

The same way we have heard stories of kidney theft and rats in pizzas, we are surrounded by stories and factoids in our work.

Laurent Bossavit takes on a few of these bogus facts and debunks the myths. For example, the (in)famous Waterfall paper and people’s different opinions regarding it get analyzed. What did the paper really say? Was it an instant hit?

Some topics analyzed:
+ the cone of uncertainty
+ some programmers are 10 times more productive than others
+ the waterfall method was a thing
+ finding defects early is less expensive than finding them late

Despite the populistic title and simple topic, Bossavit takes on a more scientific tone in his writing. In order to really grasp some of the stories, a little knowledge of statistics is required. When Bossavit debunks a myths, he has done thorough research into scientific papers and like a detective he follows the trail of evidence to see if there is any truth to the claims. I fear that for some readers, this academic approach might not be as exciting as for others. However, it is also possible to skim through it and still get the main message.

I feel that the book is much needed. While reading it, I tried to remember when I last heard someone make the claims which are being adressed. Often, it was recently, perhaps a couple of weeks prior. Once it was even from my own mouth.

Reading this book has made me a bit more sceptical about what I listen to when people state that something is a fact in software engineering. It has also made me rethink how I express myself, talking more about my experience rather than stating things as facts. Bossavit also ends the book with a discussion, science doesn’t seem to be apprioriate for analyzing methods in software engineering, how can we work with it instead?

I really enjoyed reading The Leprechauns of Software Engineering. For me, it was exciting to follow the trail of evidence (or lack thereof) and see the claims debunked. I also think it could be good book club material with interesting discussions to follow.

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