Imaginary Lines

April 1, 2016
development react graphql relay rails emberjs rest engineering

If I had to sum up the job of a software engineer in laymen’s terms, I would tell you that we draw imaginary lines around imaginary concepts until those concepts can map to both a specific set of instructions for a machine and a common understanding for programmers.

Why am I stating the obvious? Well, it is quite simply to emphasize just how important it is where we draw those lines.

To illustrate this, lets start all the way on the left side of the machine instruction / common understanding spectrum. By that I mean a simple procedural program. This program needs to do a list of technological things. For instance, it needs to take input, process the input and react to it, displaying some output.

As my list of instructions grows, my understandability shrinks. But I’m a software engineer, I can fix this! If we just split up our code into separate responsabilities, the complexity is managed.

So now we have a place to put code that handles input, a place to put code that handles business logic and a place to format my output. However, the complexity of our code is not done growing. We now have different types of input, more rules to apply to process the input, and multiple ways of displaying the same input. But I’m a software engineer, I can fix this.

Lets get more specific about responsabilities, we can split the input set and handle different kinds of input in different places, some of our business logic does one thing to our data while other business logic does another thing, we can split that up, and we can create decorators for all the ways we need to display our state!

After all that complexity management, I think it is time to meet with the client and show them how cool their app is going to be. Enter client… ‘wow, great work you guys, I hope it isn’t a problem that we are thinking about changing widgets to have round tuits and respond to thingy mabobers.’

Now we realize our mistake. We’ve been so busy putting everything in our neat little piles, we didn’t realize that the imaginary lines we’ve been drawing to do it were around concepts completely tangential to our domain. Meaning, in order to change a concept, we need to change it in 40 places neatly hidden by gems that magically composes services so you don’t have to think about them. By the time we are done tracking down the things we need to change, we better cross our fingers and hope it all still works (Or run our test suit that grows exponentially in size).

So we’ve learned our lesson, what do we do differently next time? How do we avoid the same mistake? The answer to that is quite simple, draw your imaginary lines along your domain, rather than your technologies.

What does that mean in the real world?

Well having a product component in react that has the styles declared right under the react component and the required data declared just under that in a relay container follows this principle

However, a controller that processes a request for a product in a separate file from a model that does logic for the product and another file that displays the product and another file that adds a layer on top of the product for another display, does not follow this principle.

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