Embedded Software Crisis or Embedded Software Glut?

I’ve been listening to the recent webcast “Solving the Embedded Software Crisis” (see also Rich Nass’ column “The need for more programmers” in the May issue of the ESD magazine). Of course, the main thrust of this particular webcast (as well as the ESD column) was the use of code generating tools (such as LabView from National Instruments, the sponsor of this webcast) to alleviate the allegedly looming crisis.

But tools or no tools, the real problem in my view is not so much with creating new code, as it is in getting rid of the old code.

In every company I worked for, we had to maintain just one broad code base for all products of that particular division of the company. We only kept adding to this code base, as new features, product variants, and entirely new products were released. But we never removed anything. Needless to say, the code was a kitchen sink of everything that the company ever did, including prototypes and dead ends. Most of the stuff was long obsolete, but it lived on in our code forever.

Adding code is easy. Removing dead code (without breaking the actually used parts of the code) is hard. But without the mechanisms for dropping the old baggage, we face a real Software Crisis.

Yet most managers don’t get it. I remember one day my boss came to my desk wanting to know how much code I have just cranked out. I proudly showed him that I managed to actually remove an ugly function. He was clearly disappointed in my negative productivity.

From all my experience, I’m convinced that getting rid of code is more important than creating new code. As I said, it’s not easy, but rather requires careful planning and actual design for obsolescence. In the future installments of this blog, I plan to provide a few concrete design strategies to allow easy (or at least easier) removing of obsolete code. Stay tuned.

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