Microsoft’s top developers prefer old-school coding methods

November 30, 2009 at 1:01 pm 4 comments

While visual programming can be easier to learn and can help make developers more productive, it’s also “easier to delude yourself,” said Butler Lampson, a technical fellow at Microsoft. For instance, “no one can ever tell you what a UML diagram means.”

via Microsoft’s top developers prefer old-school coding methods.

An interesting article about a panel of Microsoft distinguished engineers mostly whumping on “visual programming,” which is never defined, and seems to mean everything from drawing buttons in GUI layout to drag-and-drop programming.  Maybe the engineers also said positive things about visual programming, but the author decided to only emphasize the negative.

Butler Lampson had the most enlightened comments (in the sense of being more balanced than most of the others).  The above does reflect what we see in the research literature.  It may be that visual programming is easier to get started with (see Hundhausen’s TOCHI article), but it’s no easier to understand or debug (as Petre, Green, and Moher showed in their studies).  Having taught UML for years, I do appreciate his comment that “no one can ever tell you what a UML diagram means.”  The interesting psychological question for me is, why do we “delude ourselves” (as Lampson puts it)?  Why do we believe that visual programming is a silver bullet?  Maybe because there is a better way there, but we haven’t found it yet?  Or is it an illusion?



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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  November 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Note that you can watch that panel discussion (about 60 minutes) online at If you are a primary source sort of person like I am. 🙂

  • 2. david klappholz  |  November 30, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    The first 11 minutes are about parallelism, a field that really excites me and that I worked in — both architecture and languages — for a number of years. In this part of the lecture, Burton Smith, whom I regularly saw in those years, keeps referring to a 3:00PM talk he’ll be giving on the notion of “state” in parallel programming. Is there any chance of viewing that talk?

  • 3. david klappholz  |  November 30, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I just found Burton’s talk.

  • 4. david klappholz  |  November 30, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Wow!!! Burton mentions Refined C, which I developed, with the help of a number of graduate students, about 20 years ago.


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