Editor's Note: Robert 'Uncle Bob' Martin (above) is keynoting at The Path to Agility conference on May 23 - 24, 2012 at the Arena Grand Theater in Columbus. 

Robert Martin: Back to Basics
By Terreece Clarke, April 18th, 2012

Robert "Uncle Bob" Martin, software expert, author of Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship and Path to Agility Conference keynote is still excited about coding. After 35 years in the business, he's focusing on a 'back to basics' approach of getting software developers back on track.

Getting Back on Track

"It's been years since we thought carefully about architecture and design," he said. "We've been too busy hacking web sites, building social networks, and trying to make a gazillion dollars in a new social networking startup. But now it's time to get back to basics and remember how the oldsters taught us to design systems. Good software architecture is severely lacking around the world; and it's time we turned our focus around and paid attention to what were are doing."

There are a variety of reasons why developers have lost their way, but Martin focuses on one in particular - frameworks.

"...they've become befuddled by frameworks. They think that using Spring, Oracle, and Tomcat is an architecture. It's not," he said. "Architecture is the art of deferring decisions as long as possible, not of making them as early as possible. A good architect makes Spring, Oracle, and Tomcat interesting options to be considered late in development."

Developing Inspiration

Martin's developer philosophy was formed out of a life-long passionate pursuit of "Clean Code." A passion that began early in his life.

"For my 12th birthday my Mother bought me a plastic computer called a Digi-Comp I. It had three flip-flops, and six and-gates. You programmed it by shoving short little pieces of soda straws onto pegs. You could program it to behave like virtually any 3 bit finite state machine. I learned Boolean Algebra in order to program it. After I wrote my first program, and saw it worked, I was hooked. Nothing was going to keep me away from writing code after that."

Today Martin has spent more than 35 years in the business, written more than a half dozen books and initiated the meeting of the group that created Agile software development from Extreme Programming techniques. He has traveled all over the world as an international software consultant since 1990 and IT Martini had to ask, "what keeps you motivated?"

"The same thing that always has," he said. "It's a thrill to write good code and see it work. I just enjoy the hell out of it. I am passionate about doing it well, and I love every minute I spend at it."

Moments of Truth

With his vast experience, there must be a project that he can look back and call a total disaster, right?

"My biggest technical screw up was following structured analysis and design to the letter," he said. "I wound up with a horrible software design. My biggest professional screw up was getting fired from a good job for behaving like a prima-donna. It's not fun to come home to a pregnant wife and have to tell her that you just lost your job."

In fact, Martin's experience is an example of what he says is the biggest problem in IT - lack of professionalism.

IT Professionalism & Career Growth

"Software developers have to learn to behave professionally," Martin said. "They have to learn professional disciplines, and follow them. Among those disciplines is the discipline to say "no" when asked to do something harmful to the project."

Professionalism is also a part of changes Martin has seen in software development.

"The move towards craftsmanship and professionalism is probably the most significant movement I've seen. The move towards Agile is a close second. We are in a race to become professionals before the governments of the world force it upon us. I hope we win that race because governments aren't very good at that kind of thing."

Martin said the best piece of advice he has ever received about being a developer had nothing to do with code.

"You are responsible for your own career. Do not expect your employer to help you with that. Spend personal time and personal money on improving your own skills."

The Name

And what about that name? How did he become known the world over as "Uncle Bob?"

"It was a nickname given to me in 1988 by a co-worker. I put it in my email signature, and it stuck. Now it's a brand."