The Last Big Thing: Process

Every so often in programming there a Paradigm Shift when The Next Big Thing comes along. Object orientation was one. It looks like functional programming might get a minor go at it. I'm guessing structured programming might have been one, but it was something before my time. The general pattern involves academic use, widespread adoption, and eventually "how did we do without it?".

The pattern also involves some overzealous usage, and eventual identification of the core good ideas. So, in the case of object orientation, the good stuff is effectively interfaces, encapsulation, subtyping, and having instances to remove globals. Something like that. And, at its peak we had deep hierarchies of implementation inheritance and spaghetti inheritance etc. making life a nightmare.

I haven't really noticed a major, almost universally-accepted programming language change since then, though. Was OO really the last Paradigm Shift (TM)? I don't think so. I just realised that the Last Big Thing was actually process. Except process is dull, so nobody quite talked about it in the same way.

Things that are now pretty much universaly agreed as good things that have quietly snuck in:

  • Comprehensive automated testing, with plenty of unit tests.
  • Continuous integration
  • Advanced version control - ideally DVCS
  • Bug-trackers

And that's just the basics. Sure, this stuff has been done forever for larger projects, but it's percolating down into SOP for any non-trivial operation now. There's even the full-on overzealous and uncritical embracing of extreme versions, such as Extreme Programming and full-on Agile development. There's also some stuff that doesn't look fully settled to me, such as use of Kanban and stand-up meetings or scrums, which... well, I dunno if they're universally useful or just good special-purpose tools. Anyway.

And of course things like XP and Agile get all the airtime, but the real revolution is in the stuff that's now being taken for granted on the average project. The Last Big Thing, quietly, was process.

Posted 2014-03-05.