Code is the easy part

When I shared what I’ve learned about DDD from a “boring” domain some people wanted to see the code. Somebody even said “Show me the code or it didn’t happen!” 🙂

On the one hand I understand that for programmers code is the tool of work, this is how we solve problems. On the other I was dissapointed, because in my mind code wasn’t the most interesting aspect of that project and in the post I intentionaly focused on those other aspects – how even in trivial projects learning more about the domain matters, how that knowledge is deepened and distilled over time, how business and technology interact.

But some time later I realized I was the same. For years I had been waiting for a “really interesting project”, for my holy grail of complex domain. Of course, I worked on interesting projects, occasionally solved really complicated problems… but nothing came close to the holy domain of cargo shipping.

Just looking at those large ships and how much stuff they move from one place to another, imagine planning routes, tracking where things are, troubleshooting when things get lost…

I wished I could work on a project like this.

cargo shipping

However, at some point I realized that most software is probably the “boring line of business” kind. Valuable, with the potential to make somebody’s work life hard or easy, but generally not very exciting all the time.

Seems that part of the challenge is that as programmers we think about complexity in terms of number of if statements and nested conditions (cyclomatic complexity). After getting some experience we learn that complexity is also in coupling and scale. After a few failed projects you also learn about the complexity of having too many moving parts and getting too excited about new technologies 😉

But if you pay close attention then you will eventually notice, that in the end technology is the easy part. I often noticed that technology was made the hard part even though it wasn’t necessary, because of overengineering, implementing features that nobody used or premature optimizations. But the real complexity was elsewhere.

Take the “boring” domain of personal finance. There’re literally hundreds of books on personal finance, thousands of blogs, and thousands of experts. Each saying different things and claiming they know the best, all the other guys are wrong. They make up their own vocabulary. They argue and challenge the “common wisdom”. They rarely agree with each other on anything. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost.


But after reading a few books you start noticing common themes, you distill the knowledge. You pick things that make sense for you, for your lifestyle, that fit your personal situation. At this stage you can start making decisions on what is important and should be explicitly modelled, and what can be safely ignored. You decide how optimal your solution should be, what are the trade-offs you’re willing to accept.

Often you ask experts for clarifications, but you know what you’re after, more or less. You’re not just a passive listener that waits for directions, you understand the assumptions and constraints, become an active participant in defining requirements and designing solutions.

In many projects the Domain is the hard part. If you solve a problem that has never been solved, or that hasn’t been solved in that specific way, then nobody is the expert in the tradidional sense of the word. You have to come up the “right” approach together with the domain experts, you need to collaborate. There are no “ready” requirements that you can just write down, it’s a very creative work.

Even more interesting is the situation when you have multiple experts or stakeholders, who can’t agree with each other on the priorities. Yet, you need an agreement in order to write any code. As many observed before me, most people don’t really know what they want, but they’re absolutely sure it’s not the thing you created for them. Or you might discover that the “official” reason for a project is not what you thought, and you optimized the wrong criteria or got hurt by office politics. That’s the People complexity.

I could go on and on and on… but you get the idea. I agree that technology is important, and always will be. We need to learn our craft and be fluent with the tools. But that’s simply not enough. There’re other kinds of complexity – domain, people, and more.

If you want to create great software that matters you need to take into account all those kinds of complexity. To me this is what DDD is about. It’s a tool for tackling the ultimate complexity in the heart of software. Technology is just one aspect, and often the (relatively) easy one.

real complexity

If you’re interested in hearing more, that’s one of the things I want to cover in my upcoming talk at DDD Europe.

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