re: Programming Paradigms and the Procedural Paradox VIEW POST

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Oh man, what a bundle of confusion this is! Where to begin?

The gist of the confusion is probably in this concluding phrase -- 'solving problems with code'. Basically, software architects, designers and implementers tend to act silly by focusing on solving problems with code. That's akin to barking up the wrong tree.

This barking up the wrong tree doesn't happen in real world engineering. For example, you can teach someone how to make a house using prefabricated bricks. The bricks are all of uniform size, and are suitable for composing a larger object -- namely, a house.

If you now ask that architect/engineer to build you a much bigger house, would you expect them to go back to the drawing board and design and implement much larger bricks?

Well, that's exactly the folly we're seeing in the world of software architecting/designing/engineering. When asked to build a bigger 'solution', software 'engineers' typically take a deep dive into designing and building bigger 'bricks'. They seem incapable of grasping the fact that you can build bigger systems using more of the same. Everything in their world needs to be a unique, precious snowflake.

 

Your analogy is somewhat misguided: if you want to build a hut, you'll probably make it out of wood; a patio would be made out of concrete; a small house can be built out of bricks, although some people like them in wood too; a skyscraper will be mostly built out of metal; when built with bricks, larger buildings do generally use larger bricks; etc. "Real engineering" is not as easy and codified as software people tend to think, and there are indeed a wide variety of bricks that exist, with different structural properties. Also, most buildings these days are not actually built out of bricks; bricks are just added as an external layer for aesthetic reasons.

There are some "bricks" we have figured out in the software industry. At the systems design level, we are starting to have a very good selection of off-the-shelf database engines, state coordination systems (ZooKeeper, etcd, ...), load balancers, as just a few examples. At the program level, this depends highly on your programming language; I'd argue Clojure's data structures, for example, are really great bricks to build pretty much anything, which could be contrasted with e.g. Java, where there is no common, built-in way to represent data so everyone invents their own classes.

I definitely agree that you would expect your bridge engineer to look at the existing catalogue of off-the-shelf bricks and try very hard to use an existing variety before she starts designing her own. It does happen, though.

 

I think you took my analogy in a completely wrong direction. The point is not reuse, which is what you seem to be implying. The point is rather that it is better to achieve complex objective by utilizing more of the same, instead of introducing bloat. From the engineering perspective, small simple steps are always better than few giant steps.

This approach is discussed in a bit more details here: medium.com/digital-exprt/https-med...

Definitely agree that composing small, simple things is better than building one large, complex one.

Yes, bloat is the bane of our profession. As soon as you task any dev team to get something done, they always deliver spectacular bloat.

 

Hey Alex,

Interesting discussion!

I sympathize with this line of thought because I often find myself in arguments on the side you're taking. I.e., "can't we just do the obvious thing that we know works?" Often it comes down to programmers not being aware of prior work.

I don't know if I agree with you in general, though. Programmers reuse "bricks" all the time. We reuse "bricks" on many levels. For instance, the database software, the web framework, the compiler for our language, third-party libraries, the operating system, and more.

But I'm sure you know that. So I guess I don't know what you're referring to by "bricks" in your analogy.

I think though that it could be that we don't know what the bricks are in software yet. Look at bricks: they are a commodity that you can buy at the store, they're very reliable (old technology that has been perfected), completely interchangeable, and their properties are known. Do we have something like that in software? Further, I would argue that we do have to re-engineer bricks all the time under some conditions. That is, where bricks are not available as a commodity, you have to build the bricks yourself. This is essentially an engineering problem.

To take it one step further: bricks actually don't scale that far without advanced architecture. You could make a quite simple house out of bricks if the house is small, just by stacking the bricks. But to make a multi-storied house, or a very long wall, you have to start relying on architecture. That is, techniques for arranging those bricks that are also considered "problem solving". And this problem with scaling is what Alan Kay was trying to solve with OOP. Some way to "build an arch".

So I guess I don't agree because I think someone has to go deep and reinvent everything because we still don't know how to build software all that well.

Thanks for the discussion! Looking forward to hearing your response.
Eric

 

Hi Eric,

I was actually referring to mesh computing.

 
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