I Don’t Give A Damn About Your Standard

When I get into a discussion about what library to use, or what tool to use, some people bring up the argument:

But it is the standard!

You know what? You can put your standard where the sun doesn’t shine!

Don’t get me wrong, some standards are awesome. I have boxes of hex cap screws. And boxes of nuts. And three different sets of wrenches. And I have never a problem of finding a matching triplet. Except once when I had a screw that wasn’t shaped according to the metric system. A PITA. The metric system and the norms for screws are so awesome because everybody adheres to them (at least where I live). And everybody adheres to them within reasonable precision. Of course if you measure exact enough, you will find out that certain pairs of screw and nut fit better than others. But I don’t care as long as I can put the nut on the screw and use it for fixing whatever needs fixing. And the final reason: I need lots of screws and nuts. If I ever only need one screw with a matching nut, I’d just get a matching pair and couldn’t care less if I find ever a matching nut again.

Unfortunately software standards often aren’t like that. For various reasons:

  1. They aren’t precise enough. I don’t care if two webspheres adhere to some JSR xxx or not. What I do care is: Does my web application work on that websphere. And if “that webserver” happens to be a different one, then the one I use in development, chances are, it won’t. That’s because basically there is next to zero tolerance in software. It’s not so much that software has to be perfect, or better than hardware. It’s more that with hardware it is often easier to determine what the properties are that matter, and what doesn’t matter.
  2. I’m not going to mix 5 different Dependency Injection Containers from 5 different vendors. I’m going to use one. The 10th production server will have the exact same version of the exact same DI Container as the first 9, or somebody will have to do a lot explaining. The basic use case for standards just isn’t there.
  3. The standard is not what some committee says, but what everybody uses. So, it is nice that Java Utils Logging is the official standard for logging in the Javaverse, but if you want to use stuff that everybody knows, you better use log4j or slf4j. By the way this one is true for ‘real world’ standards as well.

So when we talk about libraries and tools the questions are:

  1. Does it solve the problem?
  2. Can the developers use it?
  3. Does it work with the rest of the stack?
  4. Can operations support it?

And the answer to “is it a standard?” is “Go away!”

Scaling Agile Beyond Your Project- What Can We Do?

In the projects I’m involved in we put a lot of energy into becoming agile. This is often a tough fight because I work in an environment that is as anti agile as you can get. Just to give you a glimps at the mindset: They are proud of having the largest websphere installation in Europe. Anyway, we typically make some progress: Tearing down walls between developers and testers. Replacing multi year project plans with a living back log, people talking with each other instead of about each other. This kind of thing.

But for me as a developer there seems to be a wall around our team. Behind this wall the management dragons roam. Sometimes balls of flame fly over the wall in our direction, setting our little project on fire, by dictating rules that just don’t make sense, and we can do nothing but putting out the flames, or can we? I think we might.

One thing to realize is: Most of these dragons aren’t dragons at all. They don’t want to damage the project. Instead they actually want the project to succeed. But the wall is real. It’s not made of stone though, although the physical walls between your desk and the desk of some manager might add to it. There real stuff this wall is made of, is lack of understanding and lack of communication.

Of course, as usual it is easy to blame it on the other guys. The managers have all the power they need to talk to you, right? They are calling the shots so if they really want to they can drop by your place any time. But managers are pretty busy people. What will they get from talking to you?

Let’s do a thought experiment: Imagine the boss of the boss of the highest level manager you normally talk to walks into your office and asks you to tell him whatever you think he needs to know. What would you reply? My expectation is that most of us (including myself) would tell him about why the last brain dead management decision was a brain dead management decision.

Now put yourself in his shoes: You go to somebody with a completely different skill set than you and ask for input and you get a “You are stupid and don’t understand your job” How high would you estimate the chances of this changing your decision or the way you make decisions?

Probably not very high. Maybe at about 0%, maybe a little lower.

If you want a manager to listen to you, you have understand what he wants and needs. And you also have to demonstrate, that you understand. If you understand the reasons for the last “brain dead” management decisions you can start asking questions about these reasons and thus learn that they might be legit or surface that they weren’t. In both cases you made tremendous progress.

And the key is to ask questions. Which is basically applying the agile manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Don’t bitch about the processes and tools, try to understand the individuals and their challenges behind them. If you manage to get into a discussion, than you can start to change things, and maybe earn enough trust, that your input will be heard before the next decision.

Of course the same applies not only to managers up the chain of command, but also teams in different silos. Don’t tell them how to do their job. Learn to understand why they are doing it the way they do.

And in case you are wondering: Yes I wrote this post in part in order to train myself to take my own advice.

You Want to Become an Software Architect? Here is Your Reading List!

How do you become an Software Architect? Well, I guess the best way would be to do about two dozen very different projects in different roles, with as many different technologies as possible. This would guarantee that you get a lot of experience with different approaches and challenges which certainly would provide you with a lot of the stuff you need to know to fill the role of an architect.

Unfortunatly in the real world this is hard to accomplish. Often the next project uses similar technologies and strategies as the last one, also project owners for some reason don’t like it when you use their projects as a training ground. So we need an alternative way of learning, where we can learn from the mistakes made by others, instead of learning from our own.

Here is a list of books I’d recommend for anybody wanting to become a Software Architect (in no special order):

Akka Concurrency: This one is an odd one in the list. Akka is an actor framework for the JVM, written in Scala, but also usable in Java. I recommend it because it is a very different approach of structuring your code than the “normal” Java way.

Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software I’m sure you have heard the term Domain Driven Design, right? If not: the basic idea is to structure your application based on the problem domain. Sound simple and obvious? As usual the devil is in the detail.

Softwarearchitekturen dokumentieren und kommunizieren: Entwürfe, Entscheidungen und Lösungen nachvollziehbar und wirkungsvoll festhalten. Sorry, recommending a German book in an english blog. I just don’t know an English alternative. Although we learned that documentation is not as important as working software, documentation still is important, and this book will teach you a lot about how to document your architecture in a pragmatic way.

Effektive Softwarearchitekturen: Ein praktischer Leitfaden Another German one. (Sorry). A good overview about what belongs in an Architecture and what influences you need to take into account.

Specification by Example: How Successful Teams Deliver the Right Software At least in my book, architecture work also means part of your task is to bring your team together on one page. The ideas from this book will help you to bring analysts, testers and developers together. Again the idea is simple but executing it can become tough, since you are not dealing with code so much, but with people.

Bridging the Communication Gap: Specification by Example and Agile Acceptance Testing Same author, same basic topic. The title is better, because in the end it is not so much about the specification of your system, but about communication.

ATDD by Example: A Practical Guide to Acceptance Test-Driven Development (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Beck)) One more about testing. This one talks more about technical issues when using ATDD, which by the way has a huge overlap with Specification by Example.

Vorgehensmuster für Softwarearchitektur: Kombinierbare Praktiken in Zeiten von Agile und Lean This is the last German one in the List. I promise. When you moving from Development to Architecture you’ll have to work more with people, which at least for me makes things way more difficult, because a solution that worked yesterday might not work today. This book gives you many alternative strategies to try.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (Mit Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Series) This one was a real eye opener to me. On one hand it will teach you some Scheme, which might not be so interesting, because for most of us this won’t be the language we use to implement the next system. BUT it will also teach you why in many cases the functional approach is way more simple then the imperative way. If you are confused by the difference between simple and easy try watch this talk by the way.

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship of course an Architect is still a Developer, so he or she better knows how to code and how to code well.

REST und HTTP: Einsatz der Architektur des Web für Integrationsszenarien Oh darn, another German one slipt through. I’m still shocked how many Developers and Architects don’t know REST and why it is important and powerful. This book will fix that at least in your case.

HTTP: The Definitive Guide: The Definitive Guide (Definitive Guides) While we are at the basics of most modern Software Systems. While HTTP isn’t rocket science it certainly helps to know how it really works. This one is the Definitive Guide about the topic.

Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software (Pragmatic Programmers) This one is just awesome. Full of stuff that can go bad in production and how to design your system so it can handle things gracefully. And fun to read too.

97 Things Every Programmer Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts Again, a Software Architect is just another Developer, so if you haven’t read it yet you’ll find lots of good ideas in here.

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts and even more ideas in here.

So that should keep you busy for the next month or two. Let me know what else should we read to become better Architects and Developers?

Softwaredevelopment, Learning, Qualitymanagement and all things "schauderhaft"