Lossless Expression

Software developers are hired to solve problems with technology. When the solution is known, we are implementing that solution with technology. The choice of technology is often more apparent, and the job is more comparable to following a manual. When the solution is unknown, things can become a little more challenging. Our emphasis should shift from technical issues to the expression of our intent.

Many programming languages, frameworks, databases and other tools, limit the way we can express our intent. We tend to unknowingly favor abstractions, meaningless components, and tools that meet technical problems we aren’t even facing yet. We focus on how data is stored, transmitted, and the components that allow us to do it quickly. We favor lossy technology that does not allow us to fully express the problem we are solving. Our intent is lost and becomes difficult to express.

With an emphasis on expression, development can become an iterative exploration of the problem domain. Language, boundaries, objects, actors, processes, transformations and workflows emerge as we try to crystallize our view, and our representation of it.

It’s important that you do not let your technology choice dilute your intent. Different programming paradigms will lend to different problem domains. Can you represent the journey from a request to a response through a series of clear transformations? Does each state between those transformations have a name, and clear properties? Can you model the messages between components and the boundaries they cross as objects/namespaces? How about as a long procedural script? Can you stuff a series of interactions into create/read/update/destroy commands? How lossy is it – and is that acceptable?

One added benefit of working this way is low amount of cognitive load it requires. There is always some internal translation or mapping of what you’re trying to express, and the code that makes it happen. The less loss that happens here, the easier it is to understand, and the easier it is to change.

If you subscribe to the idea of building your domain layer first, maintaining an effort to express your domain as articulately and losslessly as possible is very powerful. It becomes a natural process of exploration, and separates the programming from the problem solving. Each specific problem you need to solve becomes very isolated, and has a clear connection back to the overarching goal.

As you work your way outward to user interfaces, or various supporting services, define the most expressive and ideal interaction first. If you need to compromise later for technical reasons, that’s fine. Contrast with that the opposite: if what you built suffered major losses early on, it’s much harder to understand and enhance later.

Focus on the lossless expression of your intent. Good design will follow.

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