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Gentleman scientists in software engineering

March 31st, 2017 No comments

The Royal Society was formed in 1660 as a “College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning”. A lot of very important research was done by members of this society, who were independently wealthy or held a university post.

For a while now, I have thought that the only way software engineering is going to advance to become a real engineering/scientific discipline is via gentleman scientists (unless industry really does need more clueless button pushers).

I was talking at the LondonR meeting on Tuesday (slides) and got chatting with familiar faces from hackathons. It seems that they had also had ideas for researching particular problems in software engineering, and liked the idea of a group of Gentleman scientists.

The problem we have is that none of us wants to do the organizing (a common problem). We must be able to do better than meeting in a pub.

I think the main qualifications for being a member of the group of Gentleman scientists for the “Promoting of Software Experimental Learning” would be something like:

  • enjoying the pleasure of gaining knowledge about how the world works, i.e., no flights of fancy,
  • interested in finding answers to questions whose answers are not yet known, i.e., doing real research, not personal learning,
  • have the funds to support what you do, i.e., you want funding, you find it,
  • being proficient in a necessary skill, i.e., you cannot be a beginner in all the required skills.

If the Danish Gentlemen scientists can send rockets into space, I’m sure the inhabitants of London and surrounds (no nationality restrictions here) can make major discoveries in software engineering (nobody has really found any yet, they are all waiting to be found).

Doing software research is not expensive, in monetary terms. It requires that those involved know something about real-life software issues and have the time and inclination to research possible solutions. People in industry are ideally placed to do the research. There are academic research groups doing interesting work in this area (they are in the minority). There are no groups we could join that are within easy traveling distance of London’ish based people (I would claim none in the UK).

The rationale for having a group of like-minded people meeting together include: it provides a structure and focus, sharing ideas is interesting and helps refine them, it’s an enjoyable night out, and a network is good for sharing/finding resources.

What might be the outputs of this group/network/society/asylum? Blog posts, talks, reports, books: the intent is to produce stuff that practicing software developers will find useful.

When the Royal Society started, Latin was the language of scholars. It’s motto ‘Nullius in verba’ catches the sentiment, but ‘take nobody’s word for it’ does not sound catchy. Something to work on.

I will keep readers posted on any progress (e.g., finding a venue and organizing a night). If any readers knows of an existing group like this, please let me know (not looking to build an empire).