Monday, April 25, 2016

Writing code that will last: Avoiding Potential Roadblocks

I've written about writing code that will last before from the context of coding standards. Today I'd like to look at it from the non-code perspective. 

As a software engineer one of the best feelings was wrapping up a complex solution and feeling like I had written beautiful code. Code that sailed through peer review unscathed. Code that adhere'd to the standards of my team. Code that used best practices. Code that was simple and elegant.

One of the worst feelings as as software engineer was realizing that your beautiful code wasn't standing the test of time. Maybe it wasn't flexible enough to adapt to changing business requirements. Or possibly it created an unnecessary bottleneck. Or, despite the peer reviews, it wasn't as performant as expected.
Writing code that will last is about being able to look around corners and see the non obvious. Aside from the obvious, writing SOLID code, it's about avoiding potential roadblocks, about understanding bottlenecks, and identifying upstream and downstream dependencies. In this post I'll explore avoiding potential roadblocks.

Avoiding Potential Roadblocks

One of the biggest roadblocks to software engineering is cost.  Cost can come in many different forms; cost of development, cost of maintenance, cost of infrastructure. There are two areas to think about when considering the cost of software. First is ROI (return on investment). Does putting the software into production and keeping it in production save or make you more money in the long run than it will cost you to build and maintain? Make sure you're considering the operational overhead when determining ROI.

The second are to consider with regards to cost is opportunity loss costs, i.e. what software are you NOT building so that you can build this software. Your team could be building many different things. Why is this project the right one to build now? Is there something else you could be building that gets you a competitive advantage, a higher ROI, or reduces operational overhead?

Another roadblock to long lasting software is re-inventing the wheel. At it's simplest form it means writing software that already exists. It could exist as open source software, COTS (commercial off the shelf) software, or some internal library in your company's software portfolio. The latter is more often the case at larger companies as is having two different teams writing similar code at the same time. Sometimes in order to not re-invent the wheel, you need to change how you're approaching solving your problem so that you can re-use existing software. 

The last major roadblock to avoid is under-defined requirements. There's nothing worse than building a solution and realizing you it doesn't solve your problem because it didn't uncover the need for feature X. This is especially demoralizing to the team if they've just spent months building the software. The easiest way to avoid this is to have very clearly defined user scenarios up front coupled with short end to end milestones that allow you to get your software into production quickly. This allows you to reduce your feedback loop time and adapt to changing or unrecognized requirements.

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