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when to use analogy

Analogy is a useful device when used to describe the things that we work on; but it is actively dangerous when used to describe our work itself.

When we're building software, it is useful to be able to say for example "it's like a library, where someone can make use of a feature and then stop using it so that someone else can use that feature" or "it's like a train, where there are just a few places where anyone can get on or where anyone can get off"

But when we use analogy to talk about our work, we invite misconception and misinterpretation. To say "writing software is like making a cake" invites misperception. Does writing software involve flour and sugar? Is there frosting involved?

Of course someone who says such a thing *probably* means that to write software one must do certain steps in a certain order-- but it is far better to describe the actual steps ("red, green, refactor" is not an analogy) than to invoke analogy, because analogy always misleads to some extent, and we have known for many years that the cost of failed communication on software projects is extremely high.