Skip to main content
Thudfactor: Heavy.
Last update:

About the Endmark

The graphic element at the bottom of each page is the phrase “No Silver Bullet,” translated into Tengwar using the handy tool at Tecendil. The typeface is Annatar by Johan Winge. Tengwar is a constructed alphabet initially created by JRR Tolkien for Lord of the Rings.

The phrase is a reference to Frederick Brooks’s paper No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering (PDF link). If you do software development or manage software developers, I encourage you to give this paper a good, careful read. Although originally published in 1986, it remains relevant — especially today, when large language models popularly called “AI” are being pitched as a way to dramatically improve the efficiency of software development.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, Brooks’s observation is that the hard part of software engineering is understanding what needs to be written, not the actual writing itself, and that any tool that targets the writing of code will have only marginal returns. The real efficiency gains are in the specification stage. Unfortunately, that’s a much harder problem… and probably a human one.

LLM code-generation is pretty firmly a “make writing code faster” tool, leaving specifications very much up to the person requesting the code. The resulting code, therefore, is only as good as the ability to describe what it is you are looking for.