97 Things

97 Things CoverI’ve been reading 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know on and off for the last few months. Not only does the book come with it’s own website where you can make comments on the pearls of wisdom within it’s pages. It also helped me understand that the problems I’ve faced in Architecture over the last year are very common and that architecture whilst not exactly an art will never be a science either. In terms of the content there are three main items that stand out for me within the book.

1) Don’t put your resume ahead of the requirements.

There is sometimes a relentless pressure towards the new with technology. The lure of ‘shiny shiny’ is sometimes too much for both developers and architects and decisions about what to use is often made based upon what is cool rather than what is needed.

Now often new technologies are there to plug known problems or gaps with existing technologies (ArcGIS caching technologies is a good example of a new technology which was introduced for scalability reasons). It is often the case though that there is no good reason to choose a new method over an old method beyond the need to try something new

When evaluating new technologies especially cutting edge ones, you should always be checking out whether it really is the correct solution for your project, battling with new poorly understood and documented technologies might cause more problems than they solve in the long run.

If though a project is going to run a number of years, or have a lifespan which doesn’t include a technical refresh within 5 years or so, then it is always good to evaluate the new as they might still be supported into the future and most issues can be assumed to be quashed in the meantime.

2) It’s never too early to think about performance.

I love this one. When developing software even in a continuous integration environment, it’s all about functional requirements. It’s all about does it do this, does it break when I do that. Often though when all said and done, user acceptance is often done on how the application feels. How long does is take to load? Does the UI look right?

These non-functional requirements are often poorly defined to be tested against. The result, major overruns in projects when the delivered application fails performance or scalability testing during user acceptance. The solution, test performance as near to the start of a project as possible, in order to determine whether the new geoprocessing task you have added to the application is quick enough under load or brings the whole server farm to a grinding halt.

There are a number of ways of doing this, but as there is test driven development to catch bugs, there can be performance driven development to catch performance or architectural issues that might cause problems down the line when the system is delivered. This becomes increasingly important in a system that might be integrated into an enterprise workflow or service bus, where the nature of the performance issue might cause other services to be diminished.

I can never stress to people the importance of performance testing in any project, I can also never stress to people the way that performance testing can become a fixation. There lies a future post I’m afraid!

3) Chances are your biggest problem isn’t technical.

As we know there are many ways to skin a cat (sorry to those cat lovers out there). There are also many ways to deliver technical solutions, there are so many technologies and architectures out there to solve all sorts of problems that there is usually no excuse to not overcoming a technical hitch. What you can’t do is solve all of the non-technical problems as easily.

I mentioned in the last section about non-functional requirements. These are usually the key points that can make or break a solution and are thought up by real people! Sometimes these might be seen as impossible more likely they are seen as not fully defined to deliver too. In the main, all sides of any solution want it to succeed, at the minimum cost in both terms of money and time. If this understanding is the start of every conversation then any of the non-technical or people problems, ‘should’ be easier to solve.

Remember if you see a requirement that says the system ‘should have pretty maps’ run for the hills.

The book has many more great points, many of which I’ve seen happen on projects or will now be especially aware of!