Agile Software development

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This month sees the publication of our article “Software Design for Empowering Scientists” in IEEE Software (IEEE Explore; DOI). It was fun to write. Basically it tells the story of the principles that we used in delivering the Taverna scientific workflow workbench (56,000 downloads and counting) and how we applied them to the myExperiment virtual research environment. Which is interesting, because Taverna is software you install on your PC while myExperiment is a Web 2.0 site – quite different beasts.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this article goes down. Already it’s upset some computer scientists. I gave a lecture on it to my 3rd year class and there were protests that I was “saying the opposite to other lecturers”. It wasn’t just that I dared suggest that Web 2.0 isn’t hype but rather is a well-defined set of observed design patterns. Worse, I advocated the perpetual beta and – outrageously – I suggested that sometimes doing the specific is important over the generic…

This goes against the established wisdom in Computer Science. We train our computer scientists and software engineers to elicit requirements, design, build, test, deploy. We teach abstraction, and install in them (sic) an imperative toward the generic. Which is fine in certain situations, but in e-research it can be a formula for delivering a solution to a problem our users didn’t know they had and perhaps never will.

Tell me if you disagree! :-)

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