Pincket's Law

An observation on Software Engineering discussions

Put succinctly, the observation is this:

When describing phenomena in the social world
Software Engineers gravitate towards eponymous 'laws'.

Software Engineering culture emphasizes 'laws'. You see them everywhere. They appear in Hacker News comments, conference presentations, podcasts, and books. They put names to patterns we see in software engineering. When an engineer explains why adding more contributors won't speed up the project, she invokes Brook's law. When another engineer complains about management's focus on a new metric, they invoke Goodhart's law. When a third engineer sees that his codebase mirrors the structure of the company, he invokes Conway's law.

Other industries experience similar patterns but seldom give those patterns names. Software engineering isn't the only discipline where work doesn't scale with the number of workers. Nor is it the only domain where the output is shaped by the organizational structure. But Software Engineers, more than other occupations, name emergent phenomena 'laws'.

There are plenty of examples. All you have to do is look through Hacker News, and you're bound to find a comment referencing So-n-So's Law. In some particularly interesting cases you'll find a commenter asking for the name of the law they believe must exist. To the commenter, it is inconceivable that the phenomenon not be named.

Not all Hacker Laws are social laws. Amdahl's law is essentially an equation. And Moore's law is falsifiable. But many of the laws Software Engineers reference are vague and situational.

The name of a law follow a common pattern: The last name of a man, followed by the comforting absoluteness of "Law". There's an extensive collection of "Hacker Laws" on Github. Not all follow the naming template, but I've yet to find a single law that names a woman. You would think we'd have a Hopper's law at least. The Liskov Substitution Principle receives an honorable mention, though it is not termed a 'law'.

Why is this community drawn to 'laws'? I dare not say — I leave that task to Hacker News.

Who's Pincket?

I'm Harrison Pincket, a Software Engineer and I've scrolled Hacker News for over 10 years. The above observation grew out of watching even the simplest post meet HN-legalese.

While I may have made the observation, credit goes to Creston Bunch for actually naming it as "Pincket's Law". Besides, if Hyrum can register the domain to his law, then so can I. If you have ideas forward them to me on Mastodon