Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rubick's Cubicle (SOA & the Tarpit of Irrelevancy)

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts where I discuss what I see wrong with SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) in the way that it's being sold by vendors. For those who are behind, you can read the previous installments here:

Developers love to solve puzzles. One project manager with which I used to work kept a jar full of little nail puzzle (like this) on his desk:

nail puzzle

Any time he was having a conversation that he didn't want developers to listen in on, he'd grab one of the puzzles and toss it to them. Inevitably, the developer would grab the toy and immediately become totally absorbed in solving the puzzle. After about 10 minutes, the puzzle would yield up it's secret, and the developer would look up and ask "Did anything important just happen?"

Developers tend to be problem solvers -- it's one of the appealing things about fiddling with computers. But what happens when you take a natural problem solver and present them with dull work, with no interesting challenges? What happens frequently is what I've deemed the Rubick's Cubicle anti-pattern.

If the presented problem isn't complex enough, developers will figure out ways to make it complicated and therefore challenging.

Writing the same dull CRUD application over and over is boring. But what if you could figure out a way to get all the simple CRUD applications to talk to one another? That's a nice and juicy puzzle. This perhaps explains the complexity fetish I see in so many "Enterprise" architectures and applications. Some of it is accidental complexity, accrued from years of piecing together parts that were never meant to work with one another. But I don't think accidental complexity covers the entirety of why things are so convoluted.

I remember back in the mid-90s, I was the CTO of a small training and consulting company. We were absolutely delighted when we first saw EJB: here was a technology no one could understand without extensive training. The same thing happened with all the variations of COM, DCOM, and CORBA. Those were flush times for training companies because we knew that developers would be drawn like moths to a flame, frequently with the same result.

Building the simplest thing that can work is sometimes duller than crafting some devilishly complex Rube Goldberg machine, but keeping it simple is a worthy challenge in it's own right. If you find yourself in Rubick's Cubicle, stop and ask yourself: "is there a simpler way to do this? Perhaps dismantling something that no longer serves it's purpose? What is the simplest thing that could possibly work?"


Shih-gian Lee said...

Well said. Not all the puzzles are interesting. Putting all the pieces together that never meant to work together is just boring work. One could spend more time on learning new skill set such as TDD to better solve business domain problems. Computer "Science" suppose to make problems simpler and not more complex. There are enough complex problems to solve in this world. I cannot imagine anyone will add more complexities to this world that is already filled with complex problems waiting to be solved.

Andy Maleh said...

"... but keeping it simple is a worthy challenge in it's own right. "

Couldn't agree more. That's one of my most enjoyable puzzles in developing software.