Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Documentation IS Rocket Science

As some of you may know, I am an avid space fan.  Larry Klaes (candidate for GBU? - an inside HCI joke) in his mailing group has pointed to an article detailing the issues of reviving the Saturn 1 moon rocket to power the next stage of human space exploration.   Reading the entire article is highly recommended and it can be found here.  It basically details the issues involved when compilling documentation for the retirement of a project that at some future date may be reinitiated.  The problems of incomplete documentation, tacit knowledge in the scientists's heads (to be redundant) and lost documentation and tools for supporting manufacturing tasks parallel issues we have today for many of our large software technical artifacts. 

One advantage software engineers have is that we have very low manufacturing costs for multiple copies (clearly not the case for the Saturn 5 F1 engine).  This clearly helps in keeping old software running.

Some interesting discussion topics would be how do large software projects differ from large hardware projects, beyond the obvious manufacturing issues?  What can we do to better preserve documenation and the knowledge that swims in the heads of the designers?  Is there something beyond wikis?

I have been remiss lately in posting -- I need to catch up to meet my goals for an entry a week. Hopefully soon as the Spring semesters begin to wind down. Later!