What makes a good software engineer? Each day we see things, build things, and support things that suggest IT could be better. But why is it this way? Allan Kay in a recent campfire talk explores this very issue. If you don’t know of Allan, he is the inventor of the Dynabook. In Allan’s words “Steve Jobs was very taken by the Dynabook idea, and wanted to do one when I joined him at Apple in 1984”. The rest is history and the iPad was born.

I am an engineer and I aspire to a world of well built, well designed, fault tolerant systems. Systems that make our life easier, leverage our effort and help us become more wise. Along these lines, Allan draws on Asimov’s three laws of robotics – highlighting that these should also apply to the software systems we build, run and support. In essence, these are: don’t harm (through action or inaction), obey orders from us humans (unless it conflicts with the first), and ensure longevity (as long it doesn’t conflict with the first or second).

I like Allan’s sentiment – that good software engineers think about the implications of Asimov’s laws – probably unintentionally – and encapsulate these thoughts into the software they build and support. Now for a cup of tea and a lie down…that’s too much thinking for one day!

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