Software Gardening, or The Fallacy of Software Architecture

I just bought and began reading Brooks’ The Mythical Man Month. I’ve only made it into the original preface, and I’ve already made what is to me a startling discovery (at least to me). When I combine the nuggets I’ve gathered from Kay with those I’ve collected from Joe Armstrong, notably that from the first Lambda Jam, I find the software analogy to architecture to be yet another myth.

Rather than architecture, which may be more accurately applied to hardware, I would rather analogize software to gardening or agriculture. Consider the recent film Man of Steel, in which Kryptonians essentially grew their weapons, buildings, etc. rather than built it in our sense of the term. Now consider the analogies to biology (Kay) and physics (Armstrong) and imagine how your projects might have turned out differently if you thought of “growing” your software. If you combine this with concepts from biology, you may think of *nix-style single-purpose programs or libraries that can be composed into more complex structures via message passing. Each is easy to test, to reason about, to compose.

This isn’t just about the programmer either. Consider the business perspective. Businesses need the agility, when possible, to respond to events as quickly as possible. Business does not need the most beautifully designed solution. Business needs a solution that will work, adapt, deliver when called upon. Consider a tree that bends in a storm is shaped by the winds and forces that beat upon it. No tree looks alike, and none looks architecturally beautiful, but they all have their own rugged beauty. Not even every piece of fruit is exactly alike another from the same tree, yet they share common properties. Isn’t this the way we see software develop and evolve?

Why do we strive so hard for architecture, when gardening will serve better?

I’ve just had this thought tonight. I’ve no idea of its validity or shortcomings. Perhaps this will open a discussion. Perhaps that discussion will begin with a link that describes this in much greater detail. Perhaps someone will point out that Agile/NOOO/Reactive Manifestos address these very points. Perhaps. I still think that perhaps we need an alternative to “architecture.”

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