Modeling and Programming
Posted by jbezivin on January 26, 2013
Some time ago we had a Workshop on Modeling and Programming at SPLASH2011 in Portland.
It was a pleasure to meet many nice old chaps there.
In particular I remember some pleasant discussions with my modeling colleague and nevertheless good friend Ed Seidewitz. After the workshop, we chatted again about the discussion cliché of modeling vs. programming (in french we don’t say cliché, but tarte à la crème or custard tart). We came to the conclusion that it would be a positive service to the community to write a consensual paper on this subject. We are loosing so much time endlessly arguing on this that it takes a significant energy that could be spent on more constructive debates.
French philosopher Albert Camus used to say:
“Mal nommer les choses, c’est ajouter au malheur du monde” which could be translated by “To misname things is to add misery to the world“
And I believe this perfectly applies to the “Programming vs. Modeling” debate. From time to time I tried to list the pro and cons arguments. Why modeling is programming and why programming is modeling? Why both are similar and why both are different? If you want to have some fun in software circles, launch the discussion after a couple of beers on this subject and then just observe and enjoy. The nice property of this debate is that nearly everybody has strong opinions on the subject.
In december, at the CHOOSE Forum in Bern we had again this discussion. Another respected colleague and my good friend Markus Voelter gave a talk with the title: “Modeling and Programming – isn’t all the same?” and with the following summary:
“Modeling and programming are often considered two different things. Programming languages are (perceived to be) different from modeling languages. DSLs are different from GPLs. But are they? Should there be a difference between the two worlds? How closely should the two approaches be integrated? In this talk I will argue that programming and modeling are really essentially the same thing; they are only different in terms of the abstraction level ….”
The more I look at the problem and the more I become convinced that organizing debates on the subject will lead us nowhere. We are in a blocked situation where the notion of modeling … and also the notion of programming have too many different definitions and meanings, usually very loose and sometimes completely contradictory.
So I came to the conclusion that we should propose a moratorium on any discussion on this subject. That obviously does not mean that the subjects of modeling and programming are taboo. That only means that we should give more time to provide precise definitions of “program engineering” (or programming) on one side and “model engineering” (or modeling) on the other side.
Proceeding in that way, we may be able to somewhat cool off the debate while allowing all camps to build more solid definitions. Hopefully at some time, these definitions will allow avoiding sterile, futile, and non productive arguments and leaving the discussion by the top and not by the bottom (i.e. not reaching Godwin’s point !).
We can study the differences and the similarities between these two forms of engineering. After all, if we find only similarities at some point, that may be good news. This seems a very respectful and scientific approach:
Let us let the champions of both approaches producing good and precise definitions. This is not so easy. I have been very careful to use “model engineering” and not “model driven engineering” which is a completely different subject. The relation of program engineering with language engineering (or software language engineering as it is often called now ) has also to be studied very carefully. But the relation of model engineering and language engineering has similarly to be made much more precise. Markus Voelter recently published an excellent book on “DSL Engineering” which can be read as a contribution to the subject because it touches the three topics of program engineering, model engineering and language engineering.
Finally we will also perhaps agree that software engineering is some kind of composite engineering encompassing program engineering, model engineering, language engineering, and many other forms of engineering. But this is a more ambitious subject.