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Grasping Complexity with Both Hands

Ben Oakes edited this page Sep 20, 2012 · 2 revisions

From Gogaruco 2012

Presenter: Glenn Vanderburg


We love simplicity
We like simple code that does the task we require
Simpler code and designs are easier to read, extend, change and debug
Its much harder to come up with simple designs!


We think in black and white
Our world is binary
Solutions are right or wrong
These are the concepts we work with in code
This biases carries over to other parts of life


We won't solution to completely solve the problem including edge cases
Holy grail is Complete && Simple
Reaction from a bad programmer: OH NO a special case!
Reaction from a good programmer: Spots are generalizations of strips!


Sometimes we love complexity
There is a certain type of complexity which don't have bounds
We have no hope of pinning down all contexts needed to solve the problem
Even the best solutions have severe downsides and we must choose a bad solution
We tend to coil from these complex problems
If we can't ignore complexity, we pretend...


We act as if the problem was simple
We choose a solution as if the problem was simple

Talk Goal

Ways we over simplify
Techniques we can use to not recoil in the face of hard problems and come to sane solutions


Ignoring second-order effects
Assuming the system you are trying to change will not push back on you

We forget secondary benefits
We concentrate on one benefit and ignore others
TDD has several different advantages, but people aren't good with equations with many different outputs
If you only choose just one benefits of TDD, its not cost effective
If you remember all the benefits together, its a slam-dunk

Asking the wrong question
"What message should I send?"
It might become clear you need to write a new class
Better to assume people have reasons for their dumb decisions and ask the right questions
"Which kind of engineering are we like?"
Electrical and Chemical Engineering are more iterative and like Software

Sucks - Rocks Dichotomy
We are so very black or white
It must be one or the other
We have a tendency to dismiss a new idea as soon as we find one flaw with it
However, the new idea doesn't have to be perfect to be good
TDD is not a proof; its for gaining more confidence in your system

Take rhetoric at face value
You have adopt all 12 principles of XP to call it XP! (being dogmatic)

Ignoring context
Lots of times, we make snap judgements without including context
You must include context

Giving up
We give up and resort to magic
"We need to find good designers"
You haven't taken time to understand someone else's objections

Grasping Complexity

Useful techniques for dealing with complexity so we can make good decisions even in the face of weak evidence

Incomplete solutions
We should seek incomplete solutions and accept them
Find the 80% solution for 20% effort
Three simple rules

  1. never eat white foods
  2. never eat in front of the tv
  3. always park in the furthest parking space

Keeping the rules simple means people can remember the rules and stick too them
Solutions match with the way people think
Heuristic reasoning is helpful when we need to get to an approximate answer

"GitHub is a globally distributed attack on SHA-1"

Probability of failure is so low, its a good idea to do
We have to think about how much failure is acceptable

Exploit power law distributions in code (80/20 rule)
We can find really good solution for common case
Find suboptimal solution for edge cases

Think in terms of costs and benefits
Is technical debt keeping you from doing stuff? Wrong Question.
You can still get stuff done, but those solutions are more costly as compared to solutions without technical debt

Exploit emergent phenomena
We have simple flawed rules which back each other up
Look for small rules which exert themselves at higher scale
Optimize for a good feedback loop and fix things when they go wrong instead of trying to make sure nothing goes wrong
Mistakes that get through a small scale have a chance to get cost higher on the scale (see XP slide)

Deeper analysis
Categorize entities
Rather seeking perfect practices, find flawed ones which back each other up
Look for simplicity hidden in complexity
XP can be rearranged from complex to simple (see slides)

Seek the root of your intuition
I can't explain, but this feels wrong
Intuition builds up through experience
If you force yourself to understand your intuition, you are a better teacher and able to explain your stance

Study "wicked problems"
(see slides)
No Stopping rule
Solutions are better/worse not true/false
No immediate or ultimate test of solution
Use techniques for "wicked problems" to solve software problems

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