QOTW: “Row Farmers & Stateful Sinners”

The second YOW talk Dave Thomas delivered back on the 30th September was entitled “Why Real Developers Embrace Functional Programming and NoSQL: Data Confessions of an Object’holic and Stateful Sinner”. Needless to say, it contained a fair bit of controversial content that Dave was fairly unapologetic about, including the bold pronouncement that ‘C# and Java will be legacy platforms in 5 years’.

The gist of the argument was:

  • Objects are not terribly good abstractions for most real-world problems.
  • Good object-oriented design is hard, and Morts are still the bread & butter coders out there producing software.
  • Objects are implemented inefficiently in almost all runtime environments — “A good JIT can generate fast code, but it will generate a lot of it”. They also don’t translate well to parallel execution environments.
  • Serialisation/storage is still a problem — sending objects over the wire, or persisting to disk requires complicated, framework-heavy mapping.
  • KLOCs kill!

Dave’s proposed solution is a wholesale movement towards Functional Programming.  This has been contemplated before (ie for the last forty years), but I think there’s more appetite in mainstream development communities today. Functional languages are available for both the Java & .NET runtimes (and have been for some time), but more importantly we’re seeing some FP paradigms pop up in imperative languages — eg Ruby, Python and even Linq in C#. I suspect the future will be much more heavily skewed towards multi-paradigm languages than Dave would prefer, but I can certainly see it happening.

So, count me in as a convert. I’m foolishly attempting to teach myself Haskell by following the excellent wikibook and building toy web apps with Happstack — expect to see some more posts on this subject soon as I muddle my way through.


Dave Thomas – Envisioning

I was lucky enough to catch Dave Thomas’s promotional YOW presentation in Perth on Thursday night. His first talk was entitled “Improving the Quality and Productivity of Backlogs Through Envisioning: Collaborative Agile Product Analysis, Architecture and Design”. His concept of ‘Envisioning’ consists of establishing old-school product design functions in order to improve the quality of the Product Backlog. I particularly liked:

  1. A little more emphasis on upfront requirements — not to the level of a BDUF, but I’ve always struggled with pulling together a useful backlog as part of a Sprint 0, let alone in a half-day planning session. Much of the focus in Agile seems to revolve around managing an existing project, rather than bootstrapping a new one.
  2. ‘Architect is a role, not a job!’ Dave made a strong point that ‘Architecture’ should be done by full-fledged members of the development team(s) that will have to implement it. I’ve long felt that a good technical architecture can only be done in conjunction with actually putting the design into practice, so it was nice to see this approach advocated. He used the analogy of a hockey playing coach — I guess that’s a captain-coach in AFL/cricket terminology.
  3. A good acceptance test being worth 100 ‘fragile’ automated unit tests. I’ve predominantly worked in small teams in the past and it’s difficult to justify 100% unit test coverage, particularly when a large number of tests break every refactoring. In contrast, we’ve always struggled to get user testing resources and investment in automation in that area would be much more beneficial.
  4. The value of prototyping, even if just paper prototypes, should not be underestimated. I recently read an interview with Chris Clark, UX designer at iOS development shop Black Pixel, and was struck by how much of the design process consists of mockups and prototypes.

In all, Dave achieved his objective of making me want to attend YOW, although unfortunately I won’t make it this year.