What Drives Me by Ivar Jacobson

What Drives Me

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it!“ (Alan Kay)

A few days ago, a very simple but thought provoking question was raised to me: “what it is that drives me?” The simple truth is that I do not know. But I do know what it is that does not drive me. It is not about money. Actually, never has it been about money. Neither is it about power. I am happy to step aside and I am happy to delegate both up and down. It is not about popularity – but I do like to be appreciated for what I do.

No, it has to do with helping others improve themselves over and over again. I get a kick out of seeing others become successful because I helped them. It was like that in the late 1960s and the ‘70s when the Ericsson AXE system beat all competition and won every contract thanks to being component-based. Similarly, when Rational was successful because of UML and Objectory. And Telelogic because of SDL. I am happy when people are successful thanks to use cases.

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A Day of Honor by Ivar Jacobson

Lima, Perú, October 21, 2009

This time I have something to tell you about my visit to Peru. I had been nominated to receive an honorary Doctorate degree from the University of San Martin de Porres (USMP) in Lima Perú. USMP is one of the most prestigious universities in South America. Thus, when I got the offer from USMP and saw people who previously had been awarded honorary degrees, I felt I was in great company. James Martin (the father of case tools and much more) and Nick Negroponte (the founder of MIT’s Media Lab and the “One Laptop per Child” Initiative) received the honorary degrees in 1997 and 2007 respectively. Read More

Learning by example by Ivar Jacobson

In the work that we do people often want a recipe for developing software, a series of steps that predictably produce a result. Recipes are good, whether in cooking or in other areas, but they are not enough, and not everything that is interesting can be reduced to a simple recipe.

Over the years I've had the chance to observe how people learn. Reflecting on how I learn new things as well, I've come to the conclusion that many people, myself included, don't learn very well from following a recipe. In fact I'm rather hopeless at following step-by-step instructions.  As a kid I liked to tear things apart, figure out how they worked, and then put them back together. And most of the time they actually worked when I did eventually get them back together.

Taking something apart and putting it back together is a special case of learning by example where the thing you are taking apart is the example.  Once you've done this enough you can start improvising and designing new ways to solve the problem.

A lot of software development works the same way - whether it is a piece of code or a requirements specification, a lot can be learned from tearing apart a good example, understanding why it is good and how it works, and then, over time, starting to improvise those lessons learned on new problems.  In fact, given the choice between templates and a good example I'll choose the good example any time.  Even if you don't understand all the principles right away, most of us are clever enough to copy the parts that work that we don't understand and be creative in areas where we need to.  Over time we learn and the need to mimic goes away.  This is the way that all of us learned our native tongues, and the approach still serves us well today.

The problem with templates by Ivar Jacobson

Over the years I've come to regard 'templates' as one of the great evils of software process efforts. I was actually leading the Rational Unified Process team about 9 years ago when we made a big push to create templates for all the artifacts.  At the time I thought it was a good idea since a lot of people had been asking for them. I now regard the decision as having done a lot of damage.

 That statement is likely to shock some - surely I can't be arguing against having standard formats for organizing project information!  Of course I am not arguing against this - but I am against the way that templates are used in many organizations.  

In these organizations, people have little idea of the purpose of many artifacts or work products - they don't understand what they are doing or why, they just know (or believe) that they need to produce these work products.  The templates have been provided as a cheap way of rolling out the process - rather than actually building skills the templates are provided and people are instructed to simply fill out the templates to follow the process.

This approach is wholly ineffective. Organizations fail their people when they require artifacts without explaining why they are needed, or helping them to understand if they are needed, or helping them to improve their skills doing the real work that the artifacts merely document.

The usual result of providing standard templates is that people often blindly fill out the template sections, not knowing what to put in them, feeling compelled to fill out every section because it's there.  Mindlessly filling out templates is a waste of time - the results are valueless, albeit standard, and do not contribute to positive project results.  

I am not arguing for eliminating templates, however - there is some value in having a standard way of formatting and organizing information, but there needs to be some real information in the results produced.  The real problem is lack of knowledge and skills needed to do the work - this is where effort should be spent, not in standardizing templates.  Once people have expertise in doing the work, a consensus can be reached in the organization about how to document the work.  "Templates" will emerge out of that.

Happy Easter by Ivar Jacobson

April 12, 2004:  Happy Easter! 

I hope you have had a great Easter holiday.  I spent my holiday in Verbier, Switzerland.  This is the place I call home.  It is a small village with just a few thousand residents, high up in the Alps.  During the skiing season the village is filled with people from all around the world.  I love it here as I am a passionate skier and hiker.  In the summertime this place is a paradise for hikers.  Moreover, at the end of July every year one of the greatest music festivals in the world takes place here.  The village has lots of activities and it offers great food and wine. And it has great connections to the rest of world, both in transportation and telecommunication.

I have nothing serious for you today.  I can’t think about serious things this wonderful day.  Instead I have been skiing all day.  The weather has been fantastic, sunny and clear skies. The snow perfect, not wet as is quite normal for this time of the year.  After a full week of skiing I went to the ski-rental to return my skis.  I will go on my next trip (to Seoul) the day after tomorrow, and I know I won’t be able to ski anymore.

I enter the ski-rental, greet the people happily and tell them I want to return my skis.  They look happy but a bit surprised. “But those skis are not our skis”, the renter says.  “What?” I scream. I look at the skis and immediately realize that I have someone else’s skis.  I feel awful.  What have I done?  When did it happen?  

-- “Oh, I know, it must have happened after lunch, 3 hours ago, when I went out from the restaurant at the top.  I must have taken the wrong skis, they look very similar.” 

After some discussion we agree that I should go up to the restaurant and see if my skis are still there.  Thus I take a long walk in ski boots carrying someone else’s skis.  Every skier knows how fun that is.  After a two hundred meter walk I take the cable car up to the mid-mountain -- Ruinette.  It takes about 12 minutes.  Then I take another cable car to the top – Les Attiles – this takes another 10 minutes.

With high expectations I walk over to the restaurant.  I look for my skis.  There are less skis now but still some 20-30 pairs.  I walk up to the spot where I had put my skis…and there in the snow, lying down -- are my skis!  I become happy as a bird.  I found my skis!  

Now, what should I do with the other skis? The ones I had involuntarily stolen.  It was more than 3 hours since the mix-up.  Would the owner expect the skis to come back?  After some thinking I decides to leave the skis where I first took them and go to the police in the village and tell them my story.  After all it was just a pair of skis.  Well, I know how I would have felt if I came out from a restaurant and my skis were stolen.  I could only hope for that the owner was smaller than me. J

Thus, I decide to put on my original rental skis and ski all the way down.  I try step into them, but it doesn’t work well at all.  After a couple of attempts, I understand that these skis are not mine.  They belong to someone else.  The skis are of exactly the same type as mine, and they come from the same ski-rental.  Unbelievable!  Slowly, I start to understand the situation.  There must be three ski owners involved.  The guy, who owned the skis I just found in the snow, had of course taken my skis.  The third owner is the poor guy whose skis I took.

However, to be sure to not make another mistake, I take one of the skis that I, a few minutes ago, thought were mine and walk into the restaurant.  I go from table to table and ask every guest, if he or she is the owner of the skis that were similar to mine.  Can you imagine what it takes to do that?  I felt like an idiot asking everyone: “Is this your ski?”  People start to make jokes.  They are laughing and smiling.  After having asked everyone without anyone recognizing the ski, I feel certain that my theory about three owners is right.  I take the skis that were similar to mine, but not mine, on my shoulders and go to the cable car to go down.

On my way a really big guy stops me and says “Hey buddy, where are you going with my skis?”  I am chocked.  I start to tell my story.  As you can imagine, it is not easy to know where to start.  However, I think I succeeded in convincing him that I was not trying to steal his skis.  I apologize so much and give him his skis.

So, I am back at square one.  Someone has taken my skis and I have taken his skis.  Now I take a bold decision.  I will go back with the wrong skis to the ski-rental and hope that my original skis are returned – and the guy who returned my skis will get his skis back.  Maybe I will see an end to this story.

Thus I go all the way down using the cable cars, first to Ruinette and then down to the village.  I walk the two hundred meters down to the ski-rental.  Halfway, I meet a young lady who looks at me with an interested look.  When I come close I understand she doesn’t look at me but at my stolen skis.  And she says:

-- You have…hmm…you have my skis!-- Well, yes, do you have mine?-- Why on earth would I have your skis? she says.

-- Good question!, was the best answer I could come up with.

Well, I explain the whole story to her.  Then she says:

-- I was waiting for an hour to see if you would come back.  I saw a pair of skis similar to the ones you have.  They were still there when I left.-- Well, I was just up there to see if they were there, I said.  But they were gone.-- Did you really look carefully? I am asking because I saw them just half an hour ago.-- OK, I will go up to Attilla and look once more.

-- Attilla?, she said.  Attilla, no!  They were at Ruinette!!!

Suddenly the whole picture becomes clear to me.  I didn’t loose my skis outside the restaurant, but at the mid station where I did some stretching before going down the last slope.  Thus I took off my skis to stretch.  After having stretched I took the wrong skis.  It is hard to understand that I could make such a mistake.

The young lady was at first angry like a bee.  Then I told her that I thought my mistake was made on the top.  I also told her about the other skis I was about to steal.  At this time she started to laugh.  I tell her that I want to compensate her for her suffering.  I ask her if I can offer her a glass of wine or two.  She says, yes, that would be great… 

 I then went up to Ruinette again.  I find my skis where I had left them one and a half hour ago.  And that is the end of the story.  However, I can’t resist thinking how different this story could have ended.  Suppose, that I had “succeeded” in taking the other pair of skis at the top.  Then I would have “stolen” two pair of skis (in the same day) and probably been known as a ski thief in Verbier, a reputation I can do without.  And, I wouldn’t have been able to offer the young lady a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir!