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Benevolent Dictators And Unapologetic Aristocrats

The Editor in Chief of Dr. Dobb’s Journal, Andrew Binstock, laments about the “committee-ization” of programming languages like C, C++, and Java in “In Praise of Benevolent Language Dictators“:

Where the vision (of the language) is maintained by a single individual, quality thrives. Where committees determine features, quality declines inexorably: Each new release saps vitality from the language even as it appears to remedy past faults or provide new, awaited capabilities.

I think Andrew’s premise applies not only to languages, but it also applies to software designs, architectures, and even organizations of people. These constructs are all “systems” of dynamically interacting elements wired together in order to realize some purpose – not just bags of independent parts. As an example, Fred Brooks, in his classic book, “The Mythical Man-Month“, states:

To achieve conceptual integrity, a design must proceed from one mind or a small group of agreeing minds.

If a system is to have conceptual integrity, someone must control the concepts. That is an aristocracy that needs no apology.

The greater the number of people involved in a concerted effort, the lower the coherency within, and the lower the consistency across, the results. That is, unless a benevolent dictator or unapologetic aristocrat is involved AND he/she is allowed to do what he/she decides must be done to ensure that conceptual integrity is preserved for the long haul.

Of course, because of the relentless increase in entropy guaranteed by the second law of thermodynamics, all conceptually integrated “closed systems” eventually morph into a disordered and random mess of unrelated parts. It’s just a matter of when, but if an unapologetic aristocrat who is keeping the conceptual integrity of a system intact leaves or is handcuffed by clueless dolts who have power over him/her, the system’s ultimate demise is greatly accelerated.

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  1. January 3, 2012 at 1:00 am

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