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If you haven’t had the pleasure of viewing Hal Abelson & Gerald Sussman’s 1986 MIT introductory computer science course, you owe it to yourself to set aside a few hours to view it. “1986?”, you say — “Could that really be relevant to my work today?” Unless you came through MIT or a similar program that teaches from their seminal book The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, I’d bet you are most likely going to learn a few new things (even if you consider yourself a seasoned software developer).
Play the video, and right away you might be surprised, as Abelson, in the first five minutes of the class, states that not only is computer science not a science, it doesn’t have all that much to do with computers. Rather, Abelson suggests, computer science is more of an engineering discipline, or perhaps even an art; and, rather than being concerned with computers, computer science is more an exercise in creating imperative knowledge and managing complexity.
Anyone who has ever been late on a software development project (who hasn’t?) can relate to this. Software development starts to feel more like an art or craft when the best you can do is roughly estimate the size and scope of a job and then cross your fingers and hope for the best — certainly, it is at times like these when our field doesn’t feel like much of a science. And, for anyone who has worked on a project of moderate size, at some point you find complexity staring you in the face. All too often our first designs, and our code, turn into the dreaded big ball of mud (yes, that is a technical term).