Programming without Requirements?

I had the opportunity to catch up with some old college friends of mine recently. We all graduated together, and we're all working as programmers in a variety of industries around the world. I work in broadcast automation, another friend works in publishing, another in engineering.

Eventually we began talking about our jobs. What struck me was that none of us are happy with the way our programming is being directed. Let me be a little more clear...

In college we were all taught that requirements determination is a fundamental step in producing quality software. This makes sense - after all, how can you write good software if you don't know what it needs to do before you start writing it?

Unfortunately, none of my friends feel that requirements determination is given the focus it deserves. It is, of course entirely possible that we were unlucky; three is a very small sample size to make sweeping generalizations about the entire programming community. However, I'm going to do just that!

All three of us had been in a situation where we were being asked to program something without having a very good idea of what the required outcome was. As it turns out, I am in this situation right now (Actually, I'm writing this blog entry as a venting mechanism so I can sleep tonight). I'm being asked to write a plug-in module that will take me at least a month of solid programming. What does it do? I wish I knew!

Don't get me wrong - I have a rough idea of what it needs to do. However, I have no formal requirements, no use cases, no user stories, no access to the target environment or system, no protocol document, and no access to anyone who knows any more than I do. Frustrating? you bet.

I understand that in a project-driven environment sometimes some of the requirements may change - I accept that. However, I really think that there needs to be more attention paid to the period of time before any code is written, so that hopefully programmers can spend less time writing code, less time fixing code that was poorly written, and more time drinking beer!

If anyone has similar stories, or can tell me that I'm being naive, I'd love to hear them (for the record, I don't think that naivety is such a bad thing - sometimes it takes a little innocence to spark changes for the better).

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