Forward vs. Reverse Engineering

Album Cover: In Rainbows

"Words are a sawed-off shotgun."
Radiohead / Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Posted on March 02, 2004 6:15 PM in Blathery
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

Ask just about anyone involved with technology whether it is harder to engineer or reverse engineer something, and they'll almost always go with the latter. Why? Because when you reverse engineer something, you are starting with a finished product, most of the time without any knowledge of its underlying "guts," and trying to recreate it from scratch. So in essence, you have to take the time to fully understand the product, then design your own specification before implementing your own design. When you do what I'll refer to as "forward" engineering, you get to omit that first step and simply design your own specification and implement your design.

Today, while making my daily commute across Lake Washington, I experienced an example of when forward engineering is actually more difficult (and therefore more rewarding) than reverse engineering.

I was thinking, as I sometimes do, of interesting plays on words, more specifically with the words "blind" and "blonde." After several interesting word plays like "blonde as a bat" and "blonde melon," I arrived at a word play that had been made famous: "legally blonde." Now, anyone with half a brain (even if they are legally blonde) can take the phrase "legally blonde" and derive where the word play came from. This is a case where reverse engineering is inherently simple. Conversely, though, the process of arriving at the same conclusion via forward engineering was much more difficult. I had started from scratch, and it just so happened that I had the right ingredients (the words "blonde" and "blind") to arrive at the correct solution. So in this case, it had been more difficult to forward engineer a solution. Furthermore, because it had been more difficult to forward engineer in this case, it was a much more rewarding experience knowing that I had arrived at a clever play on words via my own devices.

Comments

Arcanius on March 24, 2004 at 9:48 PM:

Ah, but would you have arrived at that particular play on words had you not already been familiar with the wordplay "Legally Blonde"? Perhaps you would have missed it?

But thats not why I responded. I responded because, sometimes, reverse engineering is easier from a psychological standpoint, if not from a technical standpoint. What I mean, is if you don't know something is possible, then you're not likely to come up with an engineering solution to create it. If someone else creates it first, you suddenly don't have to discover it, and can simly work at the figuring out how it works part.

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