Thursday, December 1, 2011

It’s a Feature Not a Bug: A Novel Exploration of the Commonalities Between Software Development and Cake Decoration


When the pressures of work preclude doing more work, bring cake.


I was too busy this year to come up with a more traditional contribution for the annual programmers' poster session at work, held a couple of days after Halloween. So I resorted to cake bribery (Figure 1).

chocolate jackolantern cake with pumpkin cream cheese frosting
Figure 1


The cake is the Dark Chocolate Layer Cake from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts[1], a pleasant enough cake, but not worth repeating. I baked two 10-inch round layers, one for v1 and one for v2. I cut a bit from top and bottom to make the stem, which was left unfrosted.

V1 was served to friends on Halloween. Institutional Review Board approval and participant informed consent were neither sought nor obtained.

V1 used a standard powdered sugar frosting,[2] with 6 T of canned pumpkin in place of the liquid. This frosting was tasty, but the consistency was a little loose (Figure 2); 1/4 cup of pumpkin would probably have been more appropriate.

chocolate jackolantern cake with pumpkin frosting
Figure 2

V2 (Figure 1) used cream cheese frosting[3] with 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin. This frosting was a nice consistency, but not as tasty as the powdered sugar frosting.

I hypothesized that I would have to throw the Manifesto[4] to the winds, and employ bad-tasting, artificially colored things, such as gummi worms, to achieve the desired effects. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to complete the entire project with no Manifesto violations.

The eyes and nose (moth) are dried mango decorated with cashews, tiny chocolate chips, a chocolate covered almond, and naturally-colored chocolate covered sunflower seeds (the coating on these last melted a little, so it would probably be better to apply them immediately before serving).

The ears (cockroaches) are dried dates and licorice whip.

The mouth and whiskers (spider) are a dark chocolate candy, a malted milk ball, and licorice whip.


The cake was generally well-received, although a significant number of respondents reported that they may now have difficulty enjoying dried dates as much as they once did.


This study confirms the result of previous studies,[5] that cake is an effective method of redirecting attention.


[1] The Moosewood Collective. Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. p.109.
[2] I Rombauer, et al. Joy of Cooking. 1997. p. 1006.
[3] Ibid. p. 1008.
[4] S F. Cut-Up Cakes for Grownups.
[5] S F. Cut-Up Cakes for Grownups.

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