Programming with your nose

Posted by Chris on July 04, 2007

While flipping through an old MSDN magazine* today, I was inspired to this thought: Programming is done with the nose! One way of describing programming as using your nose would be to refer to the analogy of code smells. While I have always liked that analogy, that was however not what I had in mind here.

The article that inspired my thought was Stan Lippman’s column entitled “Is Programming an Art?”, where he compares software development to art. I like calling software development an art, in the same way as the process of creating a Scotch Blended Whisky is often called an art (as opposed to creating malt whisky which is called a science, since it is mostly about following a protocol). When creating a blended whisky, the Master Blender will use nothing but his nose to select the combination of malt and grain whisky to include in the blend. Sometimes a blend will include up to 50 different sorts of whisky. And every batch of blended whisky that is produced must consistently taste and smell the same way. Anyone interested in Single Malts knows that whisky from different batches, even different barrels in the same batch, will have different characteristics, so being a “Noser” (which is a much cooler title than Master Blender) is truly a difficult job with no easy way of simply following a protocol.

This art of “nosing” in many ways remind me of creating software. Although many would like it to be, software development is not about following a simple process of pressing a couple of buttons and drawing some lines. Producing software requires coding, and no project is ever the same as another one.

Here’s another thought: Maybe this means we can finally retire the term Architect? Lets start using Noser instead, at least for architects doing real work. :D

* Ironically, this was right after I had listened to Don Box and Chris Sells on .NET Rocks!, talking about how no one actually reads magazines anymore and they could not remember when the last time they saw a copy of MSDN magazine was. I think that was the main reason I picked it up and browsed through it. :)


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  • I like the nose metaphor but there is one thing that I have to argue around and that is calling programming an art As well as calling creating a blended whiskey art. None of those actions are anywhere close to art in my opinion.

    Art is the act of creating a piece that will stand by it self. It can be bold, daring, whatever. But any work of art does not have to have any purpose, it can even work against all accepted rules of art.

    I would instead call programming a craft, you need experience and skills to be good at it. You have rules to follow as the work have a purpose. If you are not accepting to the boundaries or the purpose of what you are creating. Your work, no matter how elegant or beautiful, will be a waste.

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