Wednesday, April 08, 2009


This is the latter part of the Software Engineering Saga, as it was recited to me by Ingolf Krueger, Lore-Bard of CSE 70. As it was told to me, so I tell it to you, that the Old Tales may live on.

Lo! This is a time long past, a generation after the Great Moot of '68, where the name of Software Engineering was first spaken - an utterence that reshaped the land, turning forests into mountains and plains into ravines. One King ruled this land; a mere Prince at calling of the Great Moot, his power had grown over the intervening years, and now his sovereignity over all the lands was absolute. Frost had o'erswept the countryside, and chill gripped the peoples, keeping them trapped in their ruts. Great waterfalls fell from the mountains' crests to the ravines' depths, thundering endlessly as they plummeted down their vast cataract system; and from them the land's monarch drew his name, and his power. He was the Waterfall King, and his word was Law, unquestioned and unchallenged.

By most. But there were those who defied the authority of the Waterfall King. Schwaber; Cunningham; Brodie; Jeffries; van Bennekum; Highsmith; and others. In the dark of night, they came together to swear a sacred oath: that they should together bring down the reign of the Waterfall King, and bring about a new Commonwealth, in which Agility should be first among virtues. Their principles they wrote upon a long scroll of vellum, and together they signed; an act of public defiance that enraged the King. Thus their course was set; should they turn back now, the King would surely have all their heads.

Into the mountains they went; up the steep trails, over the long ridges, through the freezing waterfalls through which the only route into the Waterfall King's lair passed. This last caused them some difficulty, owing to their eXtreme practice of going shirtless in all circumstances. Hardly any of them died, though, so it worked out.

The brave Agile rebels marched into the castle of the Waterfall King, two by two, as was their practice. A straight hallway led to the throne room, dark, empty, deserted; saving only the throne, upon which a darkened form sat, shrouded in shadow. "Heed us, Waterfall King!" Schwaber, the team leader, cried, with his teeth chattering and his beloved eXtreme piercings covered in frost. "This day, your unproductive pardigmattic approach ends - and a new, brighter, and more iterative age begins!"

"Oh... my foolish children," came a answering rumble. Slowly, the hunched shape rose from the throne - and rose - and rose. It took a step forward, bringing its terrible face into the light, eyes aglow - and there was a crash like the thunder of falling waters as its foot struck the ground. "You have forgotten... sometimes bigger is... better," smirked the fifty-foot tall, clockwork-driven Waterfall King, a hiss of steam punctuating every gloating pause in its speech.

"Bah!" Schwaber shouted in defiant response. "Read your Brooks! My small team of courageous men will easily defeat your vast - "

He paused.


"Where's my team gone?"

"Looks like they were Agile enough... to get out while they still could," the Waterfall King mocked. "Too bad... you didn't think to do... the same!" And with terrible force he brought his right fist down, shattering the hard black stone of the throne room's floor in a ring about the point of impact. But Schwaber was already gone; leaping, rolling, and running so swiftly as his legs could carry him, out of the throne room and down the long hall. The Waterfall King did not pursue him, and Schwaber found his team in a room not too far away, standing around and chattering.

This caused him some degree of discontent. "What were you thinking, abandoning me like that?" Schwaber asked his team-members, expressing his feelings clearly in order to facilitate communication. "I could've been killed - that's the thing where you're not alive any more! It's not good!"

"I had to go to the bathroom," Jeffries said, raising his hand.

"I was taking a coffee break," van Bennekum said, punctuating his explanation with a sip of expresso.

"I was finding the Waterfall King's secret weakness," Highsmith said.

"What?" Schwaber said, caught rather by surprise by this last.

"Oh, yeah," Highsmith said. "It's pretty simple, really. He's contract-driven - a belt of them, constantly fed in from behind. (That's why he didn't come after you when you ran for it.) Cut them off, and he shuts down. Then - then, we can disassemble him and use the parts to construct an army of attack-rodents!"

There was an approving murmur at this last, but Schwaber quelled it. "That's great," he said. "Excellent work - though you should be a little bit more careful about feature creep. But, one small question - where's Brodie?"

"Brodie who?" van Bennekum asked.

"Hello, my little children!" came a distant cry. "I squashed... your little red-headed friend! Come back... so you can join him... between my toes!"

"Oh!" van Bennekum said. "That Brodie."

"He has toes?" Jeffries wondered.

"Vengeance!" Schwaber cried, and the others took up the cry, howling out their rage. Together they dashed back to the throne room, confronting the collossal Waterfall King once more."Oh!" the King cried, surprised. "You do want to join your friend! I didn't expect you to take me up on that." He lifted one foot slightly and shook it; bits of viscera went flying.

"You foul, bloated monster!" Schwaber cried, rage and bile mixing in his mouth. "We will defeat you! With simplicity - "



"No obstacle can stand in our way!" the Agile rebels roared in unison, standing tall, standing proud.

"Simplicity, sure," the Waterfall King reflected. "But I can't say... you've exhibited much in the way of... the latter two... so far. A goal to improve on... for next quarter? Oh, wait! Next quarter... you'll be dead. Too... bad!"

"Everyone knows that iteration is the key to successful project completion!" Schwaber shouted in reply. "It's this kind of thing - your linear, nonparallel thinking - that has done so much harm to our beloved land over the last twenty years."

"Yeah, yeah, sure, third time's the charm," the Waterfall King said dismissively. "Now... if you've nothing more to say... I'm going to add you to my personal stock of... organic tile grout. The store-bought stuff just... isn't doing it... these days," he noted regretfully.

"I think you missed something," van Bennekum coughed.

The Waterfall King thought. His glowing silver eyes narrowed. "Wait. Nonparallel. You're doing more than one thing at once?"

"Sure," Schwaber agreed. "Right about now, Jeffries should be severing your chain of contracts, ending your reign of terror over the land. One of the many advantage of Agile processes; we achieve greater efficiencies through the simultaneous employment of persons in different workflow positions, who your management would shamefully neglect!"

The Waterfall King's eyes widened in shock; then they narrowed again. The sound of his steam-boilers began to decrease in pitch. "Your choice... of marketing targets... could perhaps... be better... chosen," he noted.

Then he was still.

"Well," Highsmith said, walking forward to poke the motionless King's leg, "I think that's done. What now?"

"I do believe this is a milestone completed," Schwaber said. "Time to check in with the client."

He puffed in his cheeks and bellowed. "CLIENT!"

"Yo!" the Client said, standing next to Schwaber. "What's up?"

"I'm just checking in," Schwaber said. "Are you satisfied with our progress?"

"Sure," the Client said agreeably. "Pretty good. I've got no complaints." He looked around. "Except maybe about all that viscera."

"We can deal with that," Schwaber said, gesturing to van Bennekum and Highsmith. "What goals do you have for us next?"

"Well, I was thinking of having free elections, establishing a democratic government, maybe a constitution, that kind of thing," the Client said. "What do you think?"

Schwaber held up a hand to signal a moment's delay, and then turned to his team. They huddled. Three minutes later, Schwaber turned back to the Client.

"Sorry," he said. "That kind of thing takes time, you know? And we believe in short iteration cycles here, as part of the eXtremely Agile way. So, we could get a little ways along in that project - or... - what do you think about having an army of robotic attack rodents?"


And so the new age began - the Agile age - in which we live happily to this very day.

(There is no possible context for this, except to note that my CSE 70 class (Software Engineering) has been promulgating a sort of strange, 'heroic' view of Software Engineering as a struggle of the Valiant Agile Processes versus the Vile, Ancient Waterfall Process. The values of the Agile process (yes - 'values') really are "simplicity, discipline and courage". I felt some protest was in order. Thus: the above.)

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