Respect your elders

by Volker Weber

When talking about software architecture, I often crack this joke:

It does not matter wether you start with Photoshop, Excel or SAP. If you add all the features your customer demands you will end up with Lotus Notes.

That always draws a lot of laughs, because everybody knows that Notes is an unusable pile of code, right? Wrong. It's not just a joke. There is a lot of truth in there.

Do you see where I am going with this? When Notes was first drawn on a napkin, it already had an object store that is now known as a NoSQL database. It had communications before there was an Internet. It had digital certificates before we thought about TLS and signatures. And over the years, it gained all those things that we take for granted.

But all the small mistakes you make, the demands from your customers you give into, they add up. "I am only buying this if you add that". You have those religious wars. "Have to do in Java". You have those platforms that come and go. BlackBerry?

Did you notice which software packages I named in my joke? Photoshop, Excel, SAP. All of them are old. All of them have accumulated layers and layers of new code. And they are still carrying their own luggage.

Respect your elders. In software, and in real life.


Maybe we should use Moore Years instead of Dog Years for the age of Software? :-)

John Lindsay, 2017-02-01 10:38

Like in "you double your age every 18 months". Quick math: 27 years is 18 times 18 months. 18 months * 2^17 = 2359296 months. That is almost 200,000 years. Nah ...

Volker Weber, 2017-02-01 10:47

This applies to any kind of product, too, I imagine. Antoine de St. Exupéry famously said

'A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.'

Against this, for software, is the fact that most customers are only happy to pay for 'something more', i.e. new functionality.

They rarely accept to pay for less stuff, i.e. support a decision to remove a button, or a set of functionalities only used by a small percentage, because the arguments about usability and user interface are often answered with blank faces.

And refactoring code? i.e. Pay extra money to make your codebase more maintainable, whilst maintaining backward compatibility. No customer pays for that, and it's only the wise software companies that invest into the maintainability of their software.

Andrew Magerman, 2017-02-01 11:20

And I still work with Lotus Notes. And I work for BlackBerry. I suppose that makes me a Necromancer since I work with "dead" technologies.

Quite frankly there is something to be said for the reliability of the old software base. It was way fewer bugs and security issues than modern new fangled architectures because it's been used and abused so often.

And more than that... it just works.

Dragon Cotterill, 2017-02-01 12:36

I cannot comment on BlackBerry but you must be using another Lotus/IBM Notes. The one I have to use is full of bugs and annoyances and has lots of security issues and be it for using Java (Version 6).

After all those years I still like the concept and hate the implementation but in some way you get used to it. And as being dumb I still think it could have a future outside of IBM.

But as this article is about respect.
Fun wise IBM has failed but it payed a gross proportion of my bills for the last twenty years and that's not bad in the software world.

Henning Heinz, 2017-02-01 14:55


Good call. There are many things that were supposed to be software game changers come and gone, but Notes is still there. Still does the business, regardless or in spite of the issues Henning raises, for millions of users who just need to get stuff done and don't want the CaaH issues (Computer as a Hobby) that plagues so much software.

And, like Henning, it's paid my bills since 1991.

Mick Moignard, 2017-02-02 09:58

Satya Nadella: "Our industry respects innovation, not tradition."
And this is unfortunately true: the IT industry is completely disrespectful when it comes to appreciation of experiences with IT solutions.

This is what made me invent "Konservative IT": Questioning of trends - against the belief that the new is always the better.

Christian Zalto, 2017-02-02 10:24

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