As 2011 draws to a close I have reason to be thinking about things automotive. As part of my musings, I was reminded of the famous mantra espoused by the late Colin Chapman of Lotus Cars – ‘Simplify, then add lightness’. I have always liked this aphorism for its idea of ‘adding lightness’ rather than ‘subtracting weight’.
So what’s this got to do with embedded systems you ask? Well, when it comes to embedded systems programming, I think Chapman’s concept is spot on. While most people would probably agree that simplifying an embedded system is a good thing, I wonder though how many actively work so as to achieve this? In my case I regularly hold conversations with my clients which can be summarized as: Yes I can do that, but it comes at the expense of complexity – and complexity leads to bugs – and bugs are very expensive. I have found that clients are quite appreciative of this as it forces them to evaluate what is truly important about the product. Incidentally, when I first started in the consulting business, I thought that it was my job to give the client whatever it was they asked for. The fact that in doing so I was often giving them a serious disservice was quite a revelation when the penny finally dropped.
So what about the ‘adding lightness’ directive? Well clearly this is an interesting concept when it comes to firmware. I take it to mean that the code should be simple, easy to read, and fast in execution – in other words not unlike a Lotus sports car. If I have cause to re-read the code many months or years later and I find that the code has stood the test of time and is a pleasure to read, then I think I have achieved the required lightness. If by contrast the code is out of date and ugly to read then I know I have failed. In short it’s the difference between designing a Lotus Elan and an AMC Pacer.