Design aligned to the Problem Vs Design aligned to the Technology

15 Oct 2011

Lets develop a web app from start: Well I know Java pretty well so it's going to be Java and then the de facto design is Spring + Hibernate with Spring MVC. I know I'll push the boat out get some AJAX in the mix. Wait I'm no "GUI developer" so let's go for GWT it'll generate my Javascript.

Lets develop an enterprise integration app: Well an upstream system needs to send me something - bring out my favourite messaging provider. A bit of Message Driven Bean or Spring Messaging support, some Hibernate for the persistence and Bob's your uncle.

How often do we see this kind of design? You can have a very similar conversation for C# .Net. This kind of thinking process is further encouraged by so called architects imposing their favourite solutions regardless of the problem. Feels to me that the enterprise application development industry has armed it self with a few hammers and then preceded to whack everything in the head pretending it's a nail. I'm certainly guilty of this thinking process.

There are many arguments for this approach - uniformity of software assets, availability of skills, developer mobility to name but a few. However, it can also be said that this kind of thinking process stifles innovation. In an industry that is built on innovation, that is a bit of a disadvantage.

A lot of us have effectively constrained ourselves in silos to the point where we are only GUIs developers, server side developers, "don't touch the database" developers, "allergic to CSS and Javascript" developers so on and so on.

Our application designs are constrained by the prescribed technologies and frameworks often resulting in complicated and unmanageable solutions. This cannot be avoided due to the available skills and technologies. However we need to broaden the choices available to us so that our application designs result in more suitable solutions. There is always a compromise between uniformity and flexibility. Currently we lean heavily towards uniformity sacrificing the flexibility of choice during the design effort. A more balanced approach requires a breed of developer who is at home with learning different technologies. This requires strong fundamentals that underpin the current technology landscape allowing them to switch between technologies and learn new ones with relative ease. It is essential for a senior developer to be a polyglot so that during the design effort he/she is not dominated by one particular technology or framework. The emphasis then shifts towards understanding paradigms and approaches rather than specific implementations. Having said that one cannot implement a solution without seeking expert knowledge.

In conclusion a software engineering effort requires breadth and depth of skills during application design/development and it is our responsibility as professional software developers to ensure that we always strive for the best solution to every problem.