To Suffer The Slings and Arrows of Vendor Products…


Being a software architect is a difficult task. Part of the skill is rote software design based upon the technology of choice. Part of it is the very soft "science" of knowing how much to design to make the software somewhat extensible without going so far as to design/build something that is overkill. An extreme version of this would be the inner platform effect.

A bike with square wheels

Way back when I was a somewhat new developer, I was tasked with adding a fairly large feature that required the addition of a database to our otherwise database-less application. I went to our in-team architect, described the problem, and asked him to request a modest database for us. At the time, Sybase was the in-house tool. He decreed that "Sybase sucks", and that he could build a better database solution himself. He would even make it more functional than Sybase.

At the time, I didn’t have a lot of experience, especially with databases, but intuition told me that Sybase had employed countless people for more than a decade to build and tweak Sybase. When I pointed this out, and the fact the it was unlikely that he was going to build a better database than all that effort – by himself – in only a few days, I received a full-on dressing down because I didn’t know what was possible, and that a good architect could design and build anything. While I agreed that given enough time it might be possible, it was highly unlikely that it would happen in the next three days (because I needed time to do my coding against the database to meet the delivery schedule). I was instructed to wait and he would get it to me in time.

My Spidy-Sense™ told me not to trust him, so I went to the DBAs that day and told them what I needed. Since I had little relevant experience with setting up a database, I told them of my inexperience with such things and asked them to optimize it with indices, etc. They created it for me that day. Since it was their implementation of my (DB) requirements, I knew that it would at least pass their review. I then coded the required feature and delivered on time. Was it perfect? No. Could it have been designed better? In retrospect, sure. But I was new to databases and it was fast enough for the need at the time.

At every meeting for the next three months, our manager asked the architect how his Sybase-replacement was coming along. He sheepishly admitted that while it was coming along well, coming up with a design that would support all of the features provided by Sybase was proving to be a bit more involved than he had imagined, and that it would take a while longer.

Several months after that, he was still making schematics and flow diagrams to try and build a new and improved Sybase.

Our manager never did do anything to stop him from wasting time.

As for me, I learned an important lesson about knowing when to write code, and when not to write code.

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