The Secret Life of Software

There is a kind of software in the world; a hidden, special kind; a kind that lives a secret life.

This software lives inside companies all over the world. It coats the innards of servers, flows through networks, huddles in dark corners, unseen by all but a select few.

No one knows quite how much of it there is, only that it defies our attempts to measure and count it. Like ants in the rainforest, it marches and crawls and climbs its way in and over, touching everything if only for the briefest of moments before rushing onwards.

Or perhaps it is the bacteria, the moulds, the fungus that grows beneath the leaves. Its sticky tendrils reach out between the pieces of leaves and twigs, devouring them slowly, creating a rich food for the engine of commerce.

If you remain still, you may see it at work. Over here, a kind of CGI script eats some form data, providing food for a database. There, a translation program converts logfiles to SNMP traps. And there, a daily report is built from the remains of last night’s backup run.

None of these programs were designed in a factory. They were not built by a team of specialists, tested by formal processes and then released into the wild. No. They are of a more delicate, fragile, organic kind. A kind born of necessity, of need. They exist in the gaps between other, larger projects. They fill the voids left by missing requirements, overlooked interfaces and forgotten desires.

Take a wander through the rainforest of your own company and marvel at the variety of secret software all around you.

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