A Software Engineer, a Hardware Engineer, and a Departmental Manager were on their way to a meeting in Switzerland. They were driving down a steep mountain road when suddenly the brakes on their car failed. The car careened almost out of control down the road, bouncing off the crash barriers, until it miraculously ground to a halt scraping along the mountainside. The car’s occupants, shaken but unhurt, now had a problem: They were stuck halfway down a mountain in a car with no brakes. What were they to do?
“I know,” said the Departmental Manager. “Let’s have a meeting, propose a Vision, formulate a Mission Statement, define some Goals, and by process of Continuous Improvement find a solution to the Critical Problems, and we can be on our way.”
“No, no,” said the Mechanical Engineer. “That will take far too long, and, besides, that method has never worked before. I’ve got my Swiss Army knife with me, and in no time at all I can strip down the car’s braking system, isolate the fault, fix it, and we can be on our way.”
“Well,” said the Software Engineer, “before we do anything, I think we should push the car back up the road and see if it happens again.”
This joke is courtesy of Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg. The book is the successor to Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, outlining the multi-year software development effort of an open-source Personal Information Management application called Chandler. The company was founded and funded by Mitch Kapor of Lotus fame.
Both books are great for people who like case studies of software development.