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8 Pain Points to Developing World-Class Software

July 16, 2021
Software engineering in this ever-more connected world has no doubt developed quite a bit of complexity. Here are eight factors to keep in mind to avoid software development from spiraling out of control.

What you'll learn:

  • Why software development is so crucial in today's electronics climate.
  • The need to keep up with rapidly advancing toolsets.
  • Mounting concerns over the availability of experienced software developers.

With the ubiquitous creation of smart, connected products, the need to develop system solutions are primary. It’s no longer just hardware development. Virtually every new smart, connected device entails the need for creating robust, end-user-facing software applications.

In fact, with many hardware/software solutions today, the only interface to the hardware is through a software app on the front end. This brings on a raft of challenges unique to software development. Here are a few keys to keeping that software development raft afloat.

1. Setting clear requirements

This is the common dilemma for engineers. Rarely is there a clear enough definition around requirements and expectations, and it’s a worthy goal to drive toward clarity. Doing so reduces the risk of delivering a finished product inconsistent with expectations.

Of course, setting expectations has the potential for excessive rigidity. In an agile software development process, it’s possible to evolve and tune expectations as new ideas are explored and tested. However, even with an agile process, there’s the risk of runaway development with inherent impact to cost and schedule.

2. An agile development process

When properly conceived and executed, an agile development process is a thing of beauty. It allows for parallel construction of requirements and software in a way that hardware designers could only dream about. Breaking the process into micro-steps, with demonstration and validation and adjustment, can work well to provide flexibility and ensure that the end-product is what product managers expect and need.

However, when poorly executed, an agile process can work like no process at all. Iterations and change can go on without end as new sprints are added and projected sprints are frequently modified. Agile development is a process to be carefully studied and understood so that it doesn’t lead to negative impacts on development cost and schedule.

3. Continuous rapid evolution of tools and standards

In the world of electrical and mechanical engineering, available toolsets have largely consolidated around the offerings of a handful of suppliers. The tools, while continuously changing, are doing so in a manner that’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

However, in the software world, toolsets and standards continue to evolve rapidly. New programming environments, each touting to be the best one ever, are introduced at a frightening pace. And, for the most part, the newer toolsets often do bring unique new advantages to the table that impact productivity and capability.

Thus, today’s software engineers must constantly be learning and become proficient in the changing landscape around tools. Fortunately, the challenge in absorbing yet another toolset isn’t a monumental task, but it does take a disciplined, concerted effort to stay current.

4. Picking the right development environment

With all of the development environments available today, it’s a challenge to ensure that the right toolset is selected for a particular job. In simple, straightforward cases, the tools with automated code generation can be appropriate. However, it’s important to know the roadmap for the applications. Those involving a lot of complexity and the need to evolve over time may require toolsets that operate at a more fundamental level, possibly rendering them inappropriate choices.

5. Protection from ever-evolving threats

The soft underbelly into company infrastructure is through software holes. It’s challenging for software developers to stay one step ahead of the hackers and cyberattackers. There’s a constant battle to protect against the new means of penetrating the software. Since most threats are realized through opening malicious email links, to the greatest extent possible, software developers need to protect systems as much as possible from common human error.

6. Stepping back to move forward

Oftentimes, software engineers aren’t afforded the luxury to create a new app from scratch. It’s frequently necessary to start with an existing architecture. The legacy architecture may never have been designed to support a new or advanced feature. The legacy code also may have been patched and tweaked over a period of years, yielding a structure that’s fragile and extremely difficult to decipher. One hates to have to go backwards, but sometimes it’s necessary to start over or step back into pre-existing code to make changes so that the new features and capabilities can be integrated in a functional, reliable manner.

7. Coding to manage the lifecycle

When the software team is creating a new-from-scratch application or an upgrade to an existing application, software engineers are challenged to develop with a mind toward future supportability of the application. One must be careful of hard-coded functions or rigidity that doesn’t lend itself to future bug fixes and upgrades.

Furthermore, the code needs to be organized with a mind toward sustainability, and in some cases, handoff. This is especially true when a solution created by a service provider needs to be maintained by a clients’ own staff.

8. The talent challenges

If one were to believe the hype, software developers can be trained over the period of a few weekends in a crash course. While this may work for developers creating simple applications or websites, anything involving any degree of complexity means the team will need experienced or highly experienced and educated engineers.

The challenge for those building teams is that top-level, experienced talent is in short supply. Everyone is in competition to hire and secure talent. Companies can develop their own top-level teams working with entry-level staff. However, even that requires the presence of experienced engineers to help guide and mentor so that the team develops efficient, bug-resistant, and sustainable code. Also, a “build your own” strategy takes time and patience.

Creating world-class software involving data from diverse sources and analytics communicating to hundreds or thousands (or more) users is complex. Then, throw in the need to ensure that the software is secure and hack-resistant. Combined, the challenges facing software engineers can be daunting.

Finding the right talent is difficult and your team needs to continually stay on top of the latest tools and techniques. While the difficulty of creating simple applications and websites has never been easier, at the enterprise and business level, the challenges have never been greater. For those up to the challenge, software engineering continues to be interesting, fun, and especially rewarding.

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