David G. Wiseman

The Parable of the Two Programmers

                       The Parable of the two Programmers
                                Neil W. Rickert
                  Dept. of Math, Stat., and Computer Science,
                       University of Illinois at Chicago.

     Once upon a time, unbeknownst to  each  other,  the  "Automated  Accounting
Applications  Association"  and  the "Consolidated Computerized Capital Corpora-
tion" decided that they needed the identical program to perform a  certain  ser-

     Automated hired a programmer-analyst, Alan, to solve their problem.

     Meanwhile, Consolidated decided to ask a newly hired  entry-level  program-
mer, Charles, to tackle the job, to see if he was as good as he pretended.

     Alan, having had experience in difficult programming projects,  decided  to
use  the  PQR  structured  design  methodology.  With  this in mind he asked his
department manager to assign another three programmers as  a  programming  team.
Then  the  team  went to work, churning out preliminary reports and problem ana-

     Back at Consolidated, Charles spent some time thinking about  the  problem.
His  fellow  employees noticed that Charles often sat with his feet on the desk,
drinking coffee. He was occasionally seen at his   computer  terminal,  but  his
office mate  could  tell from the rhythmic striking of keys that he was actually
playing Space Invaders.

     By now, the team at Automated was starting to write code.  The  programmers
were  spending about half their time writing and compiling code, and the rest of
their time in conference, discussing the interfaces between the various modules.

     His  office mate noticed  that  Charles  had  finally  given  up  on  Space
Invaders.  Instead he now divided his time between drinking coffee with his feet
on the table, and scribbling on little scraps of paper.  His  scribbling  didn't
seem to be Tic Tac Toe, but it didn't exactly make much sense, either.

     Two months have gone by. The team at Automated finally releases  an  imple-
mentation  timetable. In another two months they will have a test version of the
program. Then a two month period of testing and enhancing should  yield  a  com-
pleted version.

     The manager of Charles has by now tired of seeing him goof off. He  decides
to  confront  him. But as he walks into Charles's office, he is surprised to see
Charles busy entering code at his terminal. He decides to postpone the  confron-
tation,  so  makes  some  small  talk  then leaves. However, he begins to keep a
closer watch on Charles, so that when the opportunity  presents  itself  he  can
confront  him.  Not looking forward to an unpleasant conversation, he is pleased
to notice that Charles seems to be busy most of the time. He has even  been  see
to delay his lunch, and to stay after work two or three days a week.

    At the end of three months, Charles announces he has completed the  project.
He  submits  a  500 line program. The program appears to be clearly written, and
when tested it does everything required in the specifications. In fact  it  even
has  a few additional convenience features which might significantly improve the
usability of the program. The program is put into  test,  and,  except  for  one
quickly corrected oversight, performs well.

     The team at Automated has by now completed two of the  four  major  modules
required  for  their program. These modules are now undergoing testing while the
other modules are completed.

     After another three weeks, Alan announces that the preliminary  version  is
ready one week ahead of schedule. He supplies a list of the deficiencies that he
expects to correct. The program is placed under test. The users find a number of
bugs  and  deficiencies,  other  than those listed. As Alan explains, this is no
surprise. After all this is a preliminary version in which bugs were expected.

     After about two more months, the team has completed its production  version
of  the  program. It consists of about 2,500 lines of code. When tested it seems
to satisfy most of the original  specifications.  It  has  omitted  one  or  two
features,  and  is  very  fussy about the format of its input data.  However the
company decides to install the program. They can always train  their  data-entry
staff  to  enter data in the strict format required.  The program is handed over
to some maintenance programmers to eventually incorporate the missing features.


     At first Charles's supervisor was impressed. But as  he  read  through  the
source  code,  he  realized that the project was really much simpler than he had
originally though. It now seemed apparent that this was not much of a  challenge
even for a beginning programmer.

     Charles did produce about 5 lines of code per day. This is perhaps a little
above  average. However, considering the simplicity of the program, it was noth-
ing exceptional. Also his supervisor remembered his two months of goofing off.

     At his next salary review Charles was given a raise which  was  about  half
the  inflation over the period. He was not given a promotion. After about a year
he became discouraged and left Consolidated.

     At Automated, Alan was complimented for completing his project on schedule.
His  supervisor  looked over the program. With a few minutes of thumbing through
he saw that the  company  standards  about  structured  programming  were  being
observed.  He  quickly gave up attempting to read the program however; it seemed
quite incomprehensible. He realized by now that the project was really much more
complex  than  he had originally assumed, and he congratulated Alan again on his

     The team had produced over 3 lines of code per programmer per day. This was
about  average,  but,  considering  the complexity of the problem, could be con-
sidered to be exceptional. Alan was given a hefty pay  raise,  and  promoted  to
Systems Analyst as a reward for his achievement.

                                 March 20, 1985

Ha, ha, ha. Take me back to [ the alphabetic list ] [ the date-ordered list ].

A german translation has been provided by Volker Grabsch.