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21.4 Doing the Right Thing

Of course, the Gilligan factor is a exaggeration, added for comic effect. But few would argue that the bottleneck between ideas and working systems has disappeared completely. Even today, the cost of developing software far exceeds the cost of computer hardware. Why must programming be so complex?

Let's consider the situation carefully. By and large, the root of the complexity in developing software isn't related to the role it's supposed to perform -- usually this is a well-defined real-world process. Rather, it stems from the mapping of real-world tasks onto computer-executable models. And this mapping is performed in the context of programming languages and tools.

The path toward easing the software bottleneck must therefore lie, at least partially, in optimizing the act of programming itself by deploying the right tools. Given this realistic scope, there's much that can be done now -- there are a number of purely artificial overheads inherent in our current tools.

21.4.1 The Static Language Build Cycle

Using traditional static languages, there is an unavoidable overhead in moving from coded programs to working systems: compile and link steps add a built-in delay to the development process. In some environments, it's common to spend many hours each week just waiting for a static language application's build cycle to finish. Given that modern development practice involves an iterative process of building, testing, and rebuilding, such delays can be expensive and demoralizing (if not physically painful).

Of course, this varies from shop to shop, and in some domains the demand for performance justifies build-cycle delays. But I've worked in C++ environments where programmers joked about having to go to lunch whenever they recompiled their systems. Except they weren't really joking.

21.4.2 Artificial Complexities

With many traditional programming tools, you can easily lose the forest for the trees: the act of programming becomes so complex that the real-world goal of the program is obscured. Traditional languages divert valuable attention to syntactic issues and development of bookkeeping code. Obviously, complexity isn't an end in itself; it must be clearly warranted. Yet some of our current tools are so complex that the language itself makes the task harder and lengthens the development process.

21.4.3 One Language Does Not Fit All

Many traditional languages implicitly encourage homogeneous, single-language systems. By making integration complex, they impede the use of multiple-language tools; therefore, instead of being able to select the right tool for the task at hand, developers are often compelled to use the same language for every component of an application. Since no language is good at everything, this constraint inevitably sacrifices both product functionality and programmer productivity.

Until our machines are as clever at taking directions as we are (arguably, not the most rational of goals), the task of programming won't go away. But for the time being, we can make substantial progress by making the mechanics of that task easier. And this topic is what I want to talk about now.

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