A-12 Software Development Parallels #

I recently finished reading From RAINBOW to GUSTO which describes the development of the A-12 high-speed reconnaisance plane (the predecessor to/basis for the somewhat better known SR-71 Blackbird). Though a bit different from the software history/memoirs that I've also enjoyed, I did find some parallels.

Early on in the book, when Edwin Land (founder of Polaroid) is asked to put together a team to research ways of improving the US’s intelligence gathering capabilities, there's the mid-century analog of the two-pizza team:

Following Land’s “taxicab rule” — that to be effective a working group had to be small enough to fit in a taxi — there were only five members.

It turns out that cabs in the 1940s had to seat 5 in the back seat – I suppose the modern equivalent would be the "Uber XL rule".

Much later in the book, following the A-1 to A-11 design explorations, there was an excerpt from Kelly Johnson’s diary when full A-12 development had started:

Spending a great deal of time myself going over all aircraft systems, trying to add some simplicity and reliability.

That reminded me of design, architecture and production reviews, and how the simplification of implementations is one of the more important pieces of feedback that can be given. Curious to find more of Johnson's log, I found that another book has an abridged copy. I've OCRed and cleaned it up and put it online: A-12 Log by Kelly Johnson.

It's a snippets-like approximation of the entire A-12 project, and chronicles the highs and lows of the project. I highlighted the parts that particularly resonated with me, whether it was Johnson's healthy ego, delays and complications generated by vendors, project cancelations, bureaucracy and process overhead, or customers changing their minds.

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