Complexity is killing software developers

The growing complexity of modern software systems is slowly killing software developers. How can you regain control, without losing out on the best these technologies have to offer?

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“Complexity is less the issue than inconsistency in an environment,” said Craig McLuckie, a Kubernetes cofounder and now vice president of R&D at VMware, in an interview with InfoWorld. He sees his role as finding ways to “make developers’ lives easier in dealing with that increased complexity of the environment, which is being driven by fragmentation of the toolchain and the nature of highly scalable systems.”

As MongoDB evangelist Matt Asay recently wrote for InfoWorld, “The real story on cloud these days is who can integrate diverse cloud services best. The cloud is about to become much more interesting, precisely by becoming much more boring.”

Mechanical sympathy needed

If we are sitting on the precipice of a great simplification, are we losing something of the essence of what it is to be a software developer?

As the legendary British racing driver Jackie Stewart has said, “You don’t have to be an engineer to be a racing driver, but you do have to have mechanical sympathy.” Or, to be truly great, you have to have an understanding of the machine you are operating.

While modern software developers can’t hope to have full mechanical sympathy for the complex, scalable, distributed systems they build, there is an element of mastery to be found in understanding as much as you can.

“Developers are systems people. We like to understand how the system works all the way down to the bare metal and the architecture we are building on. But at the same time, there are all kinds of domains where you don’t necessarily want to get that deep into it,” Microsoft’s Silver said.

The task for many developers and their teams is to identify where their expertise is most valuable and where it is being wasted reinventing the wheel. “The best hope we have is for companies to recognize this problem and to work to get developers out of the business of worrying about how the machinery works—and back to building software, which is what they’re best at,” consultant Simpson said.

There has never been more complexity and choice available to software developers than there is today, but there have also have never been more options to abstract it away. It just comes down to how much complexity you and your organization can stomach in the pursuit of your goals.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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