Monday, October 25, 2010

Top 7 of 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know

Last week I commented on the 97 Things every programmer should know. I figured I would do the same for the 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know. Initially I thought there may be some overlap between the 2, but they have done very well to focus each book on the targeted readers. I did however feel that quite a few of this "97 Things" were very similar in the principle they were trying to explain and so I grouped them under the relevant principle.

Before I start I just need to comment on the first chapter of the book:
Don't put your resume ahead of the requirements - Nitin Borwankar

I am not sure how I feel about this one. I understand the point and I do partially agree, but it also doesn't mean that the "latest shiny object in the latest shiny language or the latest shiny paradigm" isn't the best thing for the company or project. The choice of some new technology for a solution is a very difficult one and should not be taken lightly. Staying with what is already known is definitely the safer option and possibly the correct choice for a project or company in the short term, but when does this become something that actually does more harm than good?

Moving along to my top 7 things:

1. Understand The Business Domain - Mark Richards
Us "systems" folk, often experts in our own field don't always spend the time to understand the actual business we are involved in e.g. insurance, finance, marketing. To be a more effective software architect appropriate industry knowledge is as important as staying up to date with tech.

2. Before anything, an architect is a developer - Mike Brown
"If you design it, you should be able to code it."
I am a firm believer in the above statement. Architects sometimes don't have the time or the will to keep their developer skills current and over time let these skills atrophy. This can then lead to grand designs, with ugly implementations with unhappy developers

3. Dealing with Developers
There were a couple topics on interaction with developers, I decided to group them into 1 point:
Find and retain passionate problem solvers - Chad LaVigne
Give developers autonomy - Philip Nelson
Empower developers - Timothy High
An architect may be a developer, but he also needs to lead them, like it or not, architects by default have a leadership role to play when it comes to the developers on their project. Developers left to their own devices will run wild (we always do ;) ). So as with most things in software architecture it's all about balance:

if (Too much control)
developers = unhappy
else if (Too little control)
customers = unhappy

if(developers or customers are unhappy)
result = bad
I believe the relationship between developers and architects is one of the many crucial factors in the success of a project.

4. Performance
There are 2 topics about performance:
It's never too early to think about performance - Rebecca Parsons
Application architecture determines application performance - Randy Stafford
In my current environment where transaction processing times are tightly monitored and contracted with SLAs that have financial implications, performance is always top priority. However in many other teams / projects / companies I have worked in the emphasis on system performance is almost always left to the end, and sometimes no amount of hardware is going to solve the problem.

5. Record your rationale - Timothy High
This is something that I feel is often neglected. Quite recently a project that I had been involved in for a long time hit the spotlight for all the wrong reasons: customer, user and management dissatisfaction. The first thing to be questioned was not the analysis, requirements, testing, management or expectations, but rather the architecture. Documentation discussing all the decisions, options looked at and reason for options taken would have been valuable. When things go fine, no one will even know about the document, but when things turn bad as they sometimes do having justification and documentation for all the major decisions will be a lifesaver.

6. Stand Up! - Udi Dahan
"The easiest way to more than double your effectiveness when communicating ideas is quite simply to stand up."
This is more of a general point rather than one just for architects, anyone attempting to influence people and situations can benefit from this principle.

7. Great software is not built, it is grown - Bill de hora
"The single biggest predictor of software failure is size; on reflection there's almost no benefit to be had from starting with a large system design."
"Have a grand vision, but not a grand design."
It is all too tempting to jump in and design the total solution. By starting with a basic, small, solid system implementation and growing from that base over the life of the project always with a grand vision in mind, you allow the software to evolve rather than just stuck together. Evolution turned out ok for us, no reason it shouldn't be the same for software.
This approach should not be confused with prototyping, there shouldn't be any quality shortcuts taken and it shouldn't be thrown away.

All the contributions for both books are actually available on the O'reilly site:

There are also a number of "things" not included in the books available on the wiki.

//ignore the next bit
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