What Makes "Good Software?"

June 10, 2017 by Matt in /Programming with No Comments

In the nearly five years since I changed careers to become a full-time firefighter I have kept my distance from developing software of any consequence. To be honest, I had lost my desire to sit at a keyboard and relished the chance to spend my time in other ways. Sure, I've made the switch from Linux to FreeBSD, written a few scripts here and there, created a wiki for firefighters and even dabbled in automated stock market analysis for my own interest but I have otherwise turned down for-profit programming gigs in favour of freedom to spend my time elsewhere.

Although my day job as a firefighter has little to do with software development my prior experience building software has come in handy from time to time. In late 2015 I began working on a couple of small programs to replace a shared spreadsheet used by firefighters to record productivity metrics. Using the old system, only one person could enter data at any given time and it was too easy to accidentally wipe-out changes made by others. To solve this problem, I created two small programs using VBScript and HTML Applications as the foundation. Both of these scripts present simple, domain-specific interfaces that make sense to the users and hide the relative complexity of Excel by recording data in spreadsheet files in the background. One script allows users to record productivity information and the other generates a report from this information for use by management-level personnel. The program went live after about 80 or 90 hours of design, development, end-user documentation and testing. It solves all of the problems of the previous system, is simple to maintain and runs with minimal dependencies. It was distributed by placing a link on our intranet that opens a folder where the relevant scripts can be double-clicked and launched. Since it launched I have received a great deal of feedback that indicated that users were happy with the new system and that it ultimately made their job easier.

Recently I began to develop another piece of software. This time we're dealing with the management of annual hose testing information. The problem is significantly more complicated than the previous project which merely dealt with the recording and reporting of numbers for different categories but I'm hopeful that goals of this project will have similar positive results for the fire department.

As I found myself back at the keyboard for the second time I have begun to think about the considerations that will ensure that the current project is as much of a success as the last one. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, about what makes "good software."

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