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SEMAT (Software Engineering Method and Theory) is an effort initiated by Ivar Jacobson, Bertrand Meyer, and Richard Soley. Its stated aim is to "refound software engineering based on a solid theory, proven principles and best practices". Like many notorious people in the software world I was invited to participate. Thus far I've declined and feel the need to explain why.

The call for action seemed somewhat vague to me. Although it derided fads and fashions, it seemed very much like a fashion statement itself. To better understand what was going on I took a further look at some of the initial publications in Dr Dobb's Journal. From here I got the distinct impression that the central thrust of the initiative is to create a software meta-method-kernel - essentially a set of common process elements for software developments that you can rigorously compose into a method for your own project.

At this point I lost interest. I spent a fair bit of time in the 80's and 90's mucking around with this idea. In the end I decided that it was too hard and of limited value. Why this is so was primarily crystallized for me by Alistair Cockburn who explained that since people are the central element in software development, and people are inherently non-linear and unpredictable - such an effort is fundamentally doomed. Or at least it is until people become predictable agents that can be described with tractable mathematics - for which event I'm not holding my breath.

My views have since gone along the lines that software process is a much more multi-faceted thing than what a meta-method-kernel would usefully describe. Alistair's work on describing methods strikes me as a much more realistic approach.

Alistair actually did get involved in SEMAT and attended their inaugural meeting. His decision to withdraw further reinforces my lack of interest to participate myself.

Published at DZone with permission of Martin Fowler, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Jonathan Crossland replied on Tue, 2010/04/20 - 8:58am

I think we should get behind these endeavors as they teach a lot. Sometimes more about viewpoints than anything else, but they are valuable research. Whether success or failure, valuable lessons will be learnt. There needs to be an umbrella for all the things underneath the large term "software engineering". In my simple way, I looked at Ammerse as being an experiment in a mapping from principles to patterns. These are worthwhile experiments.

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