Friday, December 30, 2011

Atlas Debugged: The Fountainhead, YAGNI and "clean code"

The last time I re-read The Fountainhead, I felt like many of the ideas in the book could be useful for software developers.  It seemed like there are many parallels between the values demonstrated by the book's hero, Howard Roark, and good development practices.

Many of the ideas dovetail nicely with some Agile development principles, especially the various "keep it simple" ones like YAGNI and DRY (along with DRY's cousins,"once and only once", and "three strikes and refactor").  Roark's designs are driven entirely by purpose, function and constraints, with an open disdain for non-functional or ornamental additions.  For example, about the house he builds for Austen Heller, Roark says:

“Every piece of it is there because the house needs it – and for no other reason… You can see each stress, each support that meets it... But you’ve seen buildings with columns that support nothing, with purposeless cornices, with pilasters, moldings, false arches, false windows… Your house is made by its own needs. The others are made by the need to impress. The determining motive of your house is in the house. The determining motive of others is the audience.”

Keeping things simple and focused is hard work, just as agile development and YAGNI is not an excuse for sloppiness.  If done correctly, it should be quite the opposite.  In Roark's designs, “Not a line seemed superfluous, not a needed plane was missing. The structures were austere and simple, until one looked at them and realized what work, what complexity of method, what tension of thought had achieved the simplicity.” [emphasis added]

This made me think of the quote in Uncle Bob's Clean Code: "Learning to write clean code is hard work... You must sweat over it. You must practice it yourself, and watch yourself fail. You must watch others practice it and fail."

There were some other ideas I'm hoping to examine in more depth:
- right tool for the job - using technology idiomatically vs. legacy patterns with new technology
- the architect as a hands-on practitioner (vs. ivory tower)
- leveraging innovations - new methods, technologies etc.
- professional satisfaction / motivation
- interactions with business stakeholders, "people skills" and organizational politics
- making best of bad situations - looking for best possible solution even if you don't agree with the business problem to be solved
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