I think this lovely quote, originally about scientific research, probably explains a lot about how trends come and go in software engineering.

after a new paradigm is proposed, the [publication]process is tilted toward positive results. But then, after a few years, the academic incentives shift—the paradigm has become entrenched—so that the most notable results are now those that disprove the theory.

From http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off . The article quotes a study by John Ioannidis, who writes:

It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false…

…for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.

From http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/ (Emphasis added)

3 comments on “The dynamics of trends

  • I think it was IBM that did a study in the 80’s that showed boosts in productivity when changing up their programmers work environment (I think lighting and location was mentioned). The results wore off over time, so they tried doing the opposite to what they did before and got favourable results again. They eventually realised it wasn’t so much what they changed it to, it was the change itself. I wonder if fads work in the beginning simply because they’re different?

  • Hi James. Good point. I’d imagine that the effect you describe and the one from the quotes above are independent, but tend to reinforce each other in many situations relating to software dev processes (and maybe technology too – e.g. the rise of ASP.NET MVC a few years ago).

  • This is known as the Hawthorne effect after work done by Shewhart in 1924 at the Hawthorne Plant of General Electric. One group of workers were more productive when lighting levels were increased and another group were more productive when the lights were dimmed.

    I wonder what this fad effect will have on the current calls to teach more programming in schools? Do schools teach C+, C#, .NET, iOS or Android? The popular language of today with the teachers to teach it will undoubtedly be old and obsolete by the time students are joining the workforce

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