Choices

As software development professionals, we are faced with a myriad of choices when practicing our craft.  If we are starting a new project, decisions have to be made on what platform, architecture, programming language, libraries, controls, and other tools we will use to complete the project.  If we are inheriting a project, most if not all of these decisions have been made but there are times when we have the opportunity to try something new when adding new features and functionality.  In both scenarios, our clients and leaders should expect us to provide sound recommendations and or selections when given these choices.

I’m a true technologist at heart.  If given the opportunity without having to consider any consequences, I would use the latest and greatest technology that is available.  Let’s face it, it is fun to work on/with new technology.  While this may meet the needs of the project and provide me with the excitement of utilizing new technology, it is not always the correct choice.  Who is going to support the application when I am no longer on the project?  Has the technology choices gained any traction with other software development professionals?  Are there enough software development professionals in the organization and in the pool of available talent to continue and/or support the project.  Does the vendor/creator of the technology provide support and have an enhancement roadmap?  These are all valid questions and if not considered can leave a project in a precarious position during development and after the go live date.

One might think that they are just a developer on the project and think they have no responsibility for any of these choices.  I disagree.  Whether you are working on the overall design of a project or creating a method that resides deep within the codebase, you are responsible.  In order to develop software the right way, we all have to consider our choices.

When faced with choices of technologies, tools, and techniques, I ask the following questions:

  • Has the choice been made by the organization?  – In a lot of larger organizations, the choice of technologies, tools, and techniques are sometimes made outside of any single project.  Typically they are referred to as “standards”.  It is imperative that this question is explored because if standards are established, they may cover your potential choices and you might have nothing to consider.  One last note on this question.  We should always select the right technologies, tools, and techniques even if they are not a part of the established standards.
  • Is the potential choice a fad? – It is mind blowing how fast technologies, tools, and techniques are introduced.  When making the choice of using a specific technology, tool, or technique consider its “staying power” and adoption.  Choosing a fad will put the project in a difficult position and over time cause it to be difficult to support.
  • Are there enough skilled persons to continue/support the choice after I have moved on to another project?  – You will not work on a project forever.  When making technology, tool, and technique choices, make sure there is a solid pool of persons available in the organization or can be hired to continue when you move on.  If your choices are not fads, have been considered best practices or have solid adoption, then there should be no problem locating others to continue the project.
  • What is the vendor’s/creator’s plan for the choice? – Whether your choice of technology, tool, or technique was created by a single entity or the results of the efforts of the software development community, you must consider its development plan.  Can you receive support? How frequently is it enhanced?
  • How well does the choice integrate with any existing technologies, tools, and techniques? – It is rare to build or work on a system that does not integrate with other technologies, tools, and techniques.  Consider this before making choices.  Selecting a technology, tool, or technique that does not integrate well with the existing environment when that is a requirement is asking for trouble.

After exploring these questions, I typically have enough information to determine if the potential technology, tool, or technique is right for the current situation.  Of course these choices are made at a point in time and all technologies, tools, and techniques become obsolete but at least there is some substance behind the choice and it can be explained if someone asks.  While I think these questions are a solid starting point, there are many more questions that can be explored.

As a software development professional, how do you make choices about technology, tools, and techniques?

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