20 January 2023

Special Flowers

Wow, it's been a really long time. I got distracted. Writing, for me, is a challenge. Talking on the other hand :-D So, I'm back, sorta. I'm going to try to get back into the blog cycle.

Special Flowers

(or Speaking of Design Consistency)

So what do I mean about consistency? The shape, feel, and structure of the code is more or less the same. Some people call this coherent design. Others refer to micro-patterns. I kinda like the term uniform design. Whatever word you want to use the point is that what you see in one part of the code is more or less the same as anywhere else in the code base. 

Here is an example. 

You may have made a choice to throw exceptions in order to communicate issues with validation. So you might have a function in your application that reviews the content of an HTTP request looking to see that the necessary parts are present. If something is missing you throw an exception. 

My expectation after seeing that approach is that it will be used everywhere in the code base. Every time we validate something we would expect an exception to be thrown if the validation fails. That would be 'uniform'.

OK, so what happens in your head when the next validation code you examine returns true if the content is valid and false if it isn't. Fair enough approach, but not the same as the first one. Not uniform.

Why does it make a difference?

I can give you at least two other ways that validation could be implemented. But two is one too many already. This inconsistency causes me to stop and think. What is the author doing? Is there a special reason that we're using true/false here and exceptions elsewhere? Now I have to research that and understand both. If I'm really diligent, I'll hunt down all the validation patterns and determine how many variations there are, try to figure out which is the predominant approach, and at least make any new validator consistent with that pattern. Very time-consuming. 

What's Our Job Again?

Our job as Software Engineers is to deliver value to the business. We measure that in terms of the features delivered. So thinking about how we can deliver features faster is pretty essential to our jobs. There are 1000 ways to deliver faster and we can get into some of those in another post. For this topic, I want to point out, that making yourself work harder is not an effective way to increase the rate of value delivery. 

Flowers: I only like tulips

So there should be no special flowers in the code. Ideally no variance in design and approach. If we can achieve that goal we reduce the total cognitive load necessary to understand the code. This is akin to pattern recognition (Sparrow's Deck anyone?). We should feel like, with respect to a particular code base, I've seen one validation block, I've seen them all. At least in terms of the mechanics. 


By establishing a uniform design we are reducing the amount of work we need to do to gain comprehension of the code. That means we can learn the whole code base faster. If we can learn the code base faster we can make effective changes sooner. If we make changes sooner we can deliver value to the business quickly. That is our job* 

Related, and probably fodder for other posts, by reducing the difficulty of comprehending the code we increase the available time for carefully considering innovations. Imagine not feeling rushed to 'clean up' the code because you know the pattern and so you built it 'to spec' the first time; or at least close enough that it is not an arduous task to align with the uniform design.

What's Next

Looking back on my post history I've really taken plenty of time off. I'm going to do better in 2023. It's not a resolution, it's just what I will do. I'm open to writing based on prompts so if you have suggestions hit me up on Twitter @net_zer0 I have in mind a lot of posts around code quality, still more on TDD, and an update on my thoughts around Architecture and the role of the Architect in an organization.

* There is a lot to our job. Features are (potentially) value. Value delivery is how we get measured. I'll write more about the other aspect of our jobs soon. 

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