Is Software a Science or an Art?


As we approach software today, often through web or mobile applications, people generally appreciate the elegance of the interaction or lack thereof. But as software engineers know, there is a lot going on behind the scenes.  Of course, with user interfaces for the masses becoming a necessity for modern applications, designers and more artistic–oriented folks have been contributing to the practice of software development. That leads to the question: Is software more of a science or an art?

Of course, science is based on logic, with a hypothesis, experimentation, results and conclusions based on the outcome. To some degree software fits this role with predetermined algorithms for processing and analyzing information.

However, a strong argument can be made for the artistry in software. Take for instance the wide variety of expression allowed via websites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. These services have empowered user creativity and fostered new forms of communication. If I told you someone was ‘tweeting’ five years ago you’d think they were doing their best bird imitation.

User interfaces in general have more recently adopted a more visceral approach to presentation.  Websites are instruments of personal expression. Most popular applications today have a game-like interface or are in fact games themselves. This drives my bias (generally) towards the interpretation that software today is leaning closer to art than science. I wouldn’t have felt that way ten years ago.

What do you think? I’m interested in hearing and responding to your comments.


1 Comment

  1. Martin Harkins on said:

    I tend to associate the software developer more to the artisan.
    One is a manual worker while the other works on his computer. That would be the only marked difference.
    Both of them create.
    Both of them focus on what they are creating.
    Both of them have to plan ahead.
    Both of them have to be aware of what the final product or object will have to be like.
    Both of them can make their work maintainable. If they do not, it is for the exact same reasons: to keep the business in-house and by neglect.
    For both of them there is a measure of science.
    For both of them there is logic.
    For both of them there is creative thinking.
    For both of them, the measure of “Art” and “Science” will depend on the project they are dealing with.
    Both of them might end up working on big projects, where they have to work in groups, with their each their areas of expertise, working on smaller parts of a whole.
    In that case, both (again) encounter the same issues: communication, politics, required skills, misunderstandings…

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