Save your Cleverness

by Miguel de Icaza

Today, while discussing how @hipsterhacker reminds us some of our friends, Nat pointed me to this interview where Maciej has this beautiful nugget of wisdom:

Q: The Pinboard about page says: "There is absolutely nothing interesting about the Pinboard architecture or implementation; I consider that a feature!"

Can you explain why you think that's a feature?

I believe that relying on very basic and well-understood technologies at the architectural level forces you to save all your cleverness and new ideas for the actual app, where it can make a difference to users.

I think many developers (myself included) are easily seduced by new technology and are willing to burn a lot of time rigging it together just for the joy of tinkering. So nowadays we see a lot of fairly uninteresting web apps with very technically sweet implementations.

Too many people over-engineer their software to the point that you can no longer see what the software was supposed to do. Once people find a religion in one of the modern development fads, they tend to jump with both feet, and we end up with uninspiring user-facing software, but internally amazing.

This disease is widespread. From everyone trying to turn their program into a platform (current fad: dependency injection), to trying to force programming models, to compulsively writing unit tests while ignoring the basic principles that unit tests can not be used to prove the absence of bugs (update: this is my favorite book on the subject; Namedrop alert: Bertrand Meyer introduced me to it).

There is only one reason to throw away your life writing useless code and that is to train yourself. If you are writing this in a Karate Kid wax-on, wax-off kind of way, go ahead.

But if you are building a product, you end up spending all of your time designing your architecture, and very little time in delivering a great experience.

Premature architecture design is like premature optimization: you will be wrong about the things that actually mattered.

Take the shortcut. Build the product. And if later, it turns out you made a design mistake, refactor the code. But at least you will have a product that your users love.

Posted on 29 Mar 2011