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Mel Conway



Extreme Prototyping
Friday 09:00 - 09:55

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This talk is an invitation to a conversation.

Mel will propose technology that will bring the domain experts in the design team into full collaboration with the developers in building functioning prototypes. Then he will ask the audience to think about whether this can really improve the design process. 

The proposal has three parts:
1. A reframing of a conventional two-layer application model. The domain layer is built by the developers, and the application layer is built by the domain experts. The reframing converts the Model-View-Controller-based control-flow model into a left-to-right data-flow model. 

2. A code-free wiring language and hands-on tool based on the data-flow model that the domain experts use to build the application layer.

3. A technical interface between the domain layer and the application layer that parallels and makes concrete the negotiation between the domain experts and the developers as they refine the ubiquitous language they use to describe the system and the prototype. 

Mel will motivate the proposal with his findings on simplicity and the twelve humane principles of application building, and he will illustrate the three parts of the proposal using a simple application. 

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Mel Conway’s career in IT began in 1956 with punched cards and vacuum-tube computers. From that time to now, his primary interest has been simplifying the process of building software. In 1963 two papers introduced four innovations that radically simplified the construction of COBOL compilers and that were adopted by several computer manufacturers. The thesis of his 1968 paper on the design process has come to be known as “Conway’s Law.” In the 1970’s he consulted to hospitals, and as an independent contractor he built freestanding hardware digital-to-video viewers for CAT and PETT scanners for three medical institutions. In 1982 he cofounded a startup that built Macintosh Pascal for Apple based on his design, unique for immediate turnaround and source-level debugging in a computer with limited memory. Since that time his focus has been on the question: What would it take for software technology to be so simple that everybody could understand it? In the 1990s he began development of an application-building tool based on a wiring flow model, and he has been documenting what he has learned at .