Tuesday, 7 October 2008

IASA Connections - Day 1

This week I skipped across the Atlantic to attend the International Association of Software Architects & Architect Connections conference in San Francisco. Between my failed attempts at getting a chapter off the ground in Romania and being a long-standing member of the London chapter, IASA has been a hugely valuable organization to be associated with. There are regular activities at most major IT hubs in the world, with a strong focus on sharing ideas and meeting other people with similar technology challenges.

For the next 3 days I have a fairly hefty schedule of people to meet and sessions to attend - so I'll try and throw up a brief summary post at the end of each day covering what's discussed. So let's dive straight into day 1:

David Chappell - serial technology writer and speaker, Chappell & Associates
• Gave the first days keynote on cloud computing, covered the basics (this is still a very misunderstood topic) and direction over the next few years.
• Cloud computing falls into 3 main categories; cloud delivered products like windows live, attached services such as spam filtering and email antivirus, and cloud platforms like EC2 and S3.
• There will always be a mix of 'onsite' software and cloud based services in every organization in the future - so clouds will not rules the world!
• Advantages of cloud computing include lower costs and less financial risk (as capacity grows with demand, rather than having to build for peak from day 1).
• Disadvantages of cloud computing include trust issues, data protection, and regulatory requirements.
• Important to distinguish between consumer (free and ad supported and usually less reliable) and business (usually paid directly and covered by an SLA) cloud solutions.
• Underlying message is really about change and how hard it is - and how this relates to making the paradigm shift we need to get the enterprise to accept cloud as a valid technology.

What I think
• The cynical side of me can’t help but think we’re throwing things we've been doing for ages (like hosted email virus and spam checking) into the cloud bucket now that we came up with a new word for it.
• I consider some of the constraints of building on a cloud platform to actually be benefits – forcing developers to abstract away from hardware means you’re building systems that are inherently more scalable, available, and hot maintainable (whether deployed in a cloud or onsite).
• Lack of enterprise strength SLAs are keeping a lot of organizations away from cloud computing. Perhaps we as engineers have an obligation to help the business start to look less at SLA and more at actual performance? Most of the time a cloud infrastructure will trash a fixed internal hardware deployment in overall availability yet he SLAs don’t yet demonstrate this.
• Cost is very much still a factor when moving to a cloud deployment, but you move to a marginal cost consideration – you don’t want to run an expensive piece of code for each hit, since that unnecessarily increases the cost of the hosting. In a traditional model it doesn’t matter so much if you have expensive code running most of the time if you’re using capacity normally idle except during peak – now that costs you every time you execute it.

Dr Neil Roodyn - independent consultant, trainer and author (and big fan of XP)
• The “capital A” Architect vs. the idea of “little a” architecture, talking about what the role really should be and how it works in agile.
• In software we sometimes borrow a little to heavily from industrial engineering.
• Architecture is a practice created to try and put predictability back into a process that is inherently unpredictable (software delivery).
• Traditionally we try to separate design from construction – i.e. have really smart architects design the system and then any idiots can code it – and how this is flawed thinking.
• Change is inevitable in software projects, most of our traditional processes require rigid and stable requirements in order to be successful but this is not real life.
• Do the best developers only end up architects because we romanticize the role too much? Or it is the only way they see they can get career progression? Wouldn’t we rather have the best coders coding?
• Maybe we need to start looking at developers more as craftsmen and less like engineers?
• Be careful how you incentivize people, because that’s what you’ll get!

What I think
• Something omitted here is that the quality of an engineering team’s output can never exceed the quality of it’s input, so there is a strong dependency on working well together with customers to truly understand requirements and make the right tradeoffs.
• Incentive is a very valid point, if you measure architects on creating verbose design documents or UML diagrams then that’s what you’ll get – try measuring them on quality, working software.
• The people that know how best to solve problems are the people closest to their effects, so architecture has to be about harnessing the individual developers skill, experience, and exposure to the domain – not trying to tell them what to do.
• I quite like the label “engineer” because it stands for solving real world problems with technology – but I do agree the process does need to be considered to be more creative than it currently is. I recently read something that likened software development to film making, which I think is a powerful analogy.
• Why does IT have such a bad reputation? I don’t think it is as simple as failed projects, I think it is how they’re ‘washed up’ afterwards too. Working closer with customers along the way makes sure they’re aware of the impact of their decisions (changing/adding requirements) so you can easily end up with projects over time/budget, which are not considered failures by the business – because they expected it and were involved along the way.

Randy Shoup - Distinguished Architect, eBay
• The architectural forces governing eBay are scalability, availability, latency, manageability, and cost.
• Their architectural strategies are partition everything, asynchronous everywhere, automate everything, and remember that everything fails!
• Data partitioning is dividing DBs by functional areas (user, items, feedback) then sharding so that each logical DB is horizontally partitioned (by a key such as itemID) which provides scalability for write heavy data sets.
• CAP - their system prefers availability and network partition tolerance and thus trades away consistency. Variable window for different features.
• Functional segmentation at application server layer follows the same pattern as the databases (selling, search, checkout).
• Most operations are stateless which means the most basic, off the shelf load balancers can be used to horizontally scale application server tier.
• When travelling though the system, what state is generated is accumulated in cookies, URLs, and a scratch (periodically flushed) DB.
• Patterns used:
1. Event dispatch (new item listed, item sold)
2. Periodic batch (auction close process, import 3rd party data)
3. Adaptive configuration (dynamically adjust consumer thread pools and polling frequency based on SLAs)
4. Machine learning (dynamically adapt experience by collecting data for the day on for example recommendations and then try different ones next day)
5. Failure detection (collect data on activity send on multicast message bus and listeners watch for certain error messages)
6. Rollback (entire site redeployed every 2 weeks and no changes cannot be undone, features rolled out in dependency tree order)
7. Graceful degradation (switch off non essentials, defer processing to more guaranteed async messages)
• Message reliability dealt with via framework.
• Code deployment decoupled from feature deployment, so new versions can be rolled out with dormant functionality (they call this wired off) that can then be turned on gradually.
• NOT agile and don’t claim to be!
• Completely redeploy entire site every 2 weeks – although this is more of a constant, rolling upgrade than the big bang it sounds like.

What I think
• A very agreeable talk, particularly around deployment, versioning, and A/B testing.
• The architectural forces are very similar to our 6 principles (availability, scalability, maintainability, quality, security, and user experience) and really are just different words to describe the same good practices needed to meet the challenges we have in common.
• State is the enemy of scalability, and it is refreshing to see someone tackling this well - instead of saying "how can we build a distributed state tracking system this big?" they're saying "how can we build our system so that the functionality does not depend upon a central state system?"

Rob Daigneau - Chief Architect, SynXis
• Anti-patterns - human behavior in software projects and how to deal with it.
• Overdependence on methodology as solution to all problems and smooth project execution – not enough focus on personalities and simple human nature.
• Individual anti-patterns:
1. Cyber addict – using only IM or email etc for communication is very efficient, but not necessarily effective as you can lose the meaning of your message.
2. Fortress – not sharing knowledge and being secretive leads to good old fashioned unsustainable codebases and key man dependencies.
3. Ugly baby – too little care taken with how and when criticism is issues can lead to valid advice and points being ignored to the detriment of the project.
4. Perfectionist – believing that masterpieces are the only way every time can lead to unnecessary gold plating, artificially inflating the cost and time to market beyond what’s beneficial to the organization.
5. Conquistador – being overzealous about "the one way to do it" can mean failure to make good tradeoffs.
6. Workaholic – not having the right work/life balance will only lead to burn out and mistakes made.
• Team anti-patterns:
1. Hazing – throwing people into the deep end with very little coaching or attention to integrating with the existing team often means they take a long time to become productive.
2. Fight club – the organization can become a casualty in pointless battles between architects and developers, developers and testers etc unless teams learn to work together.
3. Wishful thinking – working out some estimates that show a certain milestone cant be reached in a certain timeline means just that, no matter how much you’d like it not to.
4. Firing squad – if people are scared to disagree or the culture doesn’t encourage the introduction of new ideas; the organization can be robbed of great value that stays locked away in engineers’ heads.
5. Too many cooks – if there are no clear boundaries then consensus becomes a huge issue and teams become paralyzed, unable to make progress because of endless circular discussions.
• Leadership anti-patterns:
1. Deer in headlights – if a leader wont (cant?) make a decision then the company stands still and competitors gain ground.
2. Cliff jumpers – taking risks for the sake of risks or making decisions on dangerously incomplete data can waste time, money and patience.
3. Spin zone - talking talk not walking walk gets transparent pretty quick.
4. Drill sergeant – exercising authority in an aggressive way makes very short-term gains and never gets a team behind a goal.
5. False summits - artificial deadlines or objectives can be dangerous, if the activity doesn’t turn out to be committed to, a loss of morale and trust in management can result.

What I think
• Reasonably fundamental stuff for experienced management but good to see it getting airtime in this crowd, architects typically come up via technical tracks and probably don’t spend enough time on their influencing and consensus building skills given how important a part of the role this it.
• This would have been a good opportunity to talk more about incentive and how it drives behavior. A lot of anti-patterns can be traced back to KPIs that encourage/reward the wrong things.
• Preventing burnout and keeping sustainable development going are some key reasons I like SCRUM – working in sprints gives you a cyclic mix of high intensity work interspersed by more passive, thoughtful phases.
• I liked the Gerald Weinberg quite "no matter how it looks at first it is always a people problem".

Ken Spencer – Practice Manager, Solid Quality Mentors
How agile applies to traditional, formal technical projects using a current project for the US government as a case study.
Manufacturing background so most examples look back to this experience.
Looking at why most projects fail – this is because people fundamentally keep doing what they do.
Given that we almost automatically repeat what we know, the good news is that this means being successful once significantly increases the likelihood of being successful again.
Spend commensurate amount of time planning - you need plans but you need to know when to just start work and learn from doing.
Good enough – what are the testing criteria and when are you into diminishing returns?
The ‘love curve’ which is a cycle you go through when taking over a failed project; initially distrusted though bad experience, then looked upon as savior, then reality sets in, then they see sustainable success.
Getting back to basics – when things go off the rails look first at the simplest units of work the team ought to be doing and this is usually where you will find your answers.

What I think
• Largely based on the agile manifesto, so we have a pretty strong philosophical connection here.
• Slightly damming of waterfall, at the end of the day it isn’t all bad and isn’t evil, I think it’s quite suitable for very repeatable, commodity projects as long-horizon predictability is possible and the phase space of all possible features is finite.
• Not sure I like the label ‘formalized’ when used to describe waterfall vs. agile, as this kind of indicates less control, visibility, and organization around agile when in fact I think these are some of its strengths.

Whew! Time for beer now, see you tomorrow…


paul preiss said...

BTW I am at the event if you would like to meet up. So are a few other chapter leaders.

Paul Preiss

Gabi said...

Let's give it a second try and start the RO chapter after you come back to Cluj.