Marine navigation software, written by sailors for sailors. Ah, that sounds good. Lots of hands on, practical, real life, genuine salt encrusted sea-going experience built in. Actually I could go for a bit more on this principle. How about legal software, written by lawyers for lawyers. Not bad but you might be tempted to ask a question as to why, if the lawyers are good lawyers, they are spending time writing software. Or what about educational software, written by children for children. Now this is starting to get a bit daft. Children can’t write software. Well I am sure there are some that can but professional, well crafted, reliable software? Seems a bit unlikely and before someone tells me that their munchkin has already come up with a successor to Windows 7 my point is that is this really not a good recommendation.
The notion doesn’t map to other areas very well either. Office blocks, built by accountants for accountants. Well good luck to them. Comfy chairs, built by lazy people for lazy people. Might cause a few delivery issues. Beds, built by sick people for sick people. Unlikely to get much investment for this enterprise. So why does it sound a good idea that navigation software should be created by sailors?
I think part of the issue might be that programmers, geeks, get quite a bad press. Pale skin, thick spectacles, a propensity for pizza and a quite astounding ability to misunderstand the real world. Worse than that they just don’t speak English. I don’t mean that they are aliens but that they live in an unreal, virtual, fantasy world. They have their own language, their own humor, their own sense of reality. Naturally the software that they create, while it may be very clever, is going to be incomprehensible to a down to earth and practical mariner who is mostly concerned with the business of getting from A to B while avoiding a particularly nasty rock at C.
Bit of a conundrum. You are going to need the geeks to write good software. Just like car repairs are best left to a mechanic, fixing teeth should be left to an orthodontist and flying a jumbo jet is best when done by a pilot (trust me on this one). Creating good software is difficult and you are going to need all those years of geeky experience and training to get a professional product. It’s not like writing a book. Being an author is not easy but it doesn’t require the same level of expertise and education. In fact, as you can see here, anybody can give it a go. So sailors can, and do, write some excellent books. But software, well, that’s just a whole load trickier.
Of course there are a few programmers that also sail. These are very useful guys and behind most good navigation software you will probably find one or two of examples of this rare breed. Even so there is a still a problem. There are many right ways to sail. There are also quite a few wrong ways of doing it. I know because I have tried a few. Creating navigation software, a tool, to suit one approach can be quite challenging. Making a tool that is more generally useful is altogether a much more ambitious objective. So how do we attempt this? Well I could write a book on it. Actually, if I am honest, I would probably lose the will to live if I tried such a thing but I might consider a few blogs on the subject. If you are interested?
In the meantime we have marine navigation software written by professional software engineers (some of whom sail) guided by professional and recreational mariners which frankly doesn’t have such a good ring to it and that is possibly why nobody bothers saying it.