A Trace in the Sand
by Ruth Malan
This Trace is just where (for the past 6.5 years -- too long!) I have jotted notes as I've explored in and around the territories I associate with architects architecting architecture.
Thank you to Doug Newdick for the #ff on Twitter. If you're looking for some great Kiwi architect talent to round-out your Twitter-Serendipity team, please allow me to suggest you follow Doug. That's important? Of course! Doug has a big head-start on the day, compared to the rest of your tweeps. :-) For collaborative engagement in discussions that move this field along, Doug is one of the top tweeps I follow.
In Closing a Door, Gene Hughson has woven a great post about architecture decisions as constraints, making important points in his own voice and through a very nice selection of quotes and points from Charlie Alfred and Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, along with some words from this Trace. Gene does a wonderful job of weaving points others have made along with his own to shape an argument that is distinctly his, yet imbuing the post with a conversational style that is inclusive as well as informative. Thank you Gene. Nicely done!
Cogito: "to shake together"
Architectural Challenge [on the people side]
Busy days, but not too busy to note:
Ahhh. It's good to have Charlie back sharing his wisdom and insight!
8/16/12: Charlie's work under the topic of "architecture challenges" is technically focused. He also posted on cognitive distance some years ago, so dig back through his archives for his treatment of the technical and the cognitive/people challenges in architecting.
It occurred to me that a pivot on this Trace is overdue.
I leverage the "learns more and more about less and less" joke but spin it in the direction of stereotypes of architect and engineer-developer. It is a joke, using, as jokes are want to do, hyperbole to spotlight the mythology we wrap into negative images like "architecture astronaut" but also in more insidious "labeling" and stuffing real people into perceptual boxes that limit our interactions with them, and hence what they -- and we -- are capable of). In other words, I was playfully suggesting that the stereotyped notion that a generalist "knows less and less about more and more until he knows nothing about everything" can (usefully?) be juxtaposed with the symmetrical specialist "knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing" to highlight that campist views such as casting architects as "astronauts" are the stuff of antagonisms we whip up to drive loyalties by cleaving turf but they obfuscate the valuable yet different contributions that developer/technology specialists and (enterprise) architects make.
That's a roundabout way to introduce a little link collection on the topic of the architect (and especially broader scoped architects like Enterprise Architects) as an area of specialization in systems understanding and design/designed evolution (or system shaping and desired outcome enabling) that is the bailiwick of systems-of-econo-socio-technical systems architecting (such as solution and enterprise architecting):
Complex systems encompass much, so the architect needs to understand and make decisions and provide guidance across a broad scope of impact, from economic/competitive to social and interpersonal and emotional, to technical and analytical being as engineering-rigorous as we can possibly manage in a multi-faceted, dynamic world fraught with uncertainty born of a myriad interactions, some mechanical but many organic and social, some obscured and others visible, etc., unfolding. [If you didn't just go read Charlie's Importance, Difficulty and Centrality post, you might want to do so now. ;-)]
We are probably all guilty of quoting the Peter Principle (the notion that people are promoted to their level of incompetence), and naturally in those cases we were perfectly right. ;-) Still, it struck me the other day that it is also invoked as a hostile framing for a situation where someone (senior manager or architect) is promoted outside the derider's area of competence and appreciation for the complexity and content of the more broadly scoped role! Sure, we tend to gain experience in an area, and promotions take one outside of that experience set and require new talents, experience and skill that has to be developed (so we're promoted outside our competence, and we stop moving "up" when we reach the highest level at which the competence demanded is outside the span we can encompass/develop/adapt to -- hence the Peter Principle). But it is perhaps worth noting that it is also, too often?, invoked/referred to in a hostile/derisive way by someone who doesn't/hasn't made an attempt to appreciate the challenges faced at broader levels of scope of strategy, decision making and leadership. That is, the derider assumes and labels incompetence. We judge the more senior person by how well they know our stuff, and by what we, with limited perspective, see of the demands on them. For example, if we can see how obviously stupid bad strategic decisions are, we think good strategic decisions are easy. If we think politics is icky, we're not going to have much appreciation nor admiration for those who are adept at working across diverse and divisive vested interests to get the traction of common ground under the feet, nor much compassion for those who struggle with its challenges and obstacles to headway on "obvious" "rational" courses of action. The architect role is not just one where we need to make architectural judgment calls across these different chartered organizational territories but we need to enroll and enthuse others so they understand what they can do -- how they can bring their talent and experience and passion to bear -- to make that bigger thing happen, to achieve sought system outcomes. If the architect could build the system all herself, such skill would not be needed, but it'd be a much simpler system. And much as we value simple, how many business critical systems can be built at all, and adapted and evolved in pace with a change-hungry world, by 1 or even 3 people these days? Our demand for sophistication or advanced capability (behind a simple interface) is rapacious because the "tide" keeps rising so we have more to build on and with, but expectations and needs keep rising too. Etc.
5/16/12: A tweet-xchange between Tom Graves and Martin Howitt flowed through my stream since I follow both good men, and I couldn't help but "barge in" to share/remind them of the story of Fatima the Spinner and the Tent (p72 -- but buy the book!) that Dana first introduced me to. Life builds in us our own special sets of experience and encounters (with mind-thoughts in books and conversations and insights and people and situations and and and), which give us our own special contributions to make to the work we do and the "ultimate concerns" that drive and impassion us. (I connect the Fatima story to Steve Jobs Stanford commencement address and his tale of connected dots.)
5/16/12: The system has to bear the "weight", so to speak, of features that delight users (and functions they rely on but barely notice unless we mess up). Hence, the system must have structural integrity which raises different arenas of attention and competency than coding the features. That is, it requires attention to emergent properties associated with resilience and scalability and evolvability and such. Properties arise from the structure (elements and relationships) and mechanisms (interacting elements to accomplish some function addressing, often, a cross-cutting concern) of the system. But architecting is not just about structural integrity -- or we could just call the role structural engineering and be done. Architecting is about the design of the system to achieve (more) its desired outcomes across the contexts of relevance -- various contexts of use, as well as operation and evolution. And architecting is about bringing insight to the strategy table when those desired outcomes are shaped. This means dealing with lots of different constituencies. Different turfs that are zealously protected and their causes advanced with passion -- I've seen career traps laid that bear comparison to the most sordid political plots in history (but with heads rolling metaphorically, thank goodness). Yadda yadda... generalist is not a good term (as a cap-all for architects), but those who don't live in the architect's shoes often don't get the scope of challenges faced.
8/27/12: Oh. Richard Veryard chipped in too -- Richard's post contains a number of interesting references and perspective. And as always, having a smart and thoughtful person push at one aspect of the problem makes it kind of "bulge out" temptingly in another place, inviting discussion. ;-) Irresistible to one who uses discussion to slant new light on a tricksy subject of exploration. :-) Levels of abstraction might at once clarify and cloud the issue here... In organizations, the systems being designed and evolved and "governed" (hopefully also organically the way organisms use feedback to regulate and adapt) are at different levels of "granularity" and strategic impact, generally with increasing scope and decreasing boundedness (i.e., more fuzzy/ambiguous/porous). Sure, anything can affect anything and a butterfly flapping its wings might cause a hurricane... whatever. But big mess-ups at the broader scoped higher impact level have large and visible consequences. So those that work with business units as design elements have a somewhat* different design game to play than someone creating an inventory dashboard, or whatever. We want to have really smart, informed and organizationally (consider that a placeholder for a long list of qualities) adept people making decisions of high consequence to the lives and livelihoods and quality-of-work-life of the entire organization. The design elements and considerations are different and the stakes are different. Ugh. I have work to do.
* [playful alert] for those whose hyperbole sensors are impaired, that was exaggerated understatement
I included Ondrej Galik's post in the list above and the mention got passed on:
Well, it's nice to see support for Ondrej's blog. He does a good job. And a serious and respectful hat tip to Richard Veryard for reading between the lines on Tom's tweet and scouting out/reading/responding to my postlet. :-)
I edited the first paragraph (of this post) a bit to make what I was saying more clear (though now I fear I showed too much of the architecture of the joke frog...;-)... What I was trying to do was frame a post that is about the scope and challenge of the architect role with a caveat about the progression from "broad scope" to "generalist" to "not a master of anything" kind of thing that does damage when it paints perceptual obstacles over real people facing really wicked problems. Sometimes being understood matters. But in this case. Not so much. I mean, it puts me in danger of coming under fire from the Joel-camp defenders of the "architecture astronaut" notion... Most every architect who read Joel's diatribe thought he wasn't talking about them but rather that other kind of architect, the kind they too rail against. Still, the piece had the kind of stickiness that clings to how architects are perceived. Sure "outright hostility" was not rampant, but common enough that "we don't need no stinkin architects" had its own corner in the meme pool. The tide does seem to have turned, and hopefully this will be the decade where we recognize that uncertainty doesn't render architecting moot.
My post wasn't a response to Tom's -- at least not directly, though his posts certainly were "in the air" we were all breathing this past week. ;-) The thrust of his argument is only tangential to mine -- the point of tangency being my mention of his post, which I included along with others that convey some of the scope of the enterprise architect's role. That scope may tempt some to use the "generalist" label. The level of abstraction and the design focus may tempt the "astronaut" label. And these labels are important to be aware of if they paint architects into a corner where their contribution is challenged by perceptual blinkers. Sometimes the work is "high level." At others it is tactical and reactive. Sometimes we have an understanding of the forces at work, and heuristics we can apply, at others it's making it up as we go, leveraging insight and intuition that can look like luck -- and might be, but is also the kind of luck we make by being alert and observant and perceptive and knowledgeable and having a toolkit of conceptual models and a slew of analogies to draw on and leverage into, and yadda yadda stuff of experience and inquisitive active exploration and sense-making... The "extraordinary moment" principle is a handy tool -- an Archimedes lever if you will.
In other words, you could take this to be a response to the impetus of Tom's exploration (hey, I invoke the woman's priviledge of being paradoxical ;-), but it's an oblique one and we can bring it around to face the matter head-on. Like this: In my view, system understanding and designed evolutionary nudges and outright major design interventions to get more what we want is an area that merits specialization, or concentration of skill development and day-to-day job focus. The design "matter" at enterprise scope is different than the design "matter" (forces, concerns, contraints, elements, relationships, mechanisms and design considerations, ...) for tangible more bounded systems nearer the bottom of the organizational composition and choreography stack. (Ok, that's kinda loosey goosey but I'm in a hurry because I really do have much-too-much work to get back to...) But since the design matter at enterprise scope has a mix of very tangible to the quite ambiguous and shape-shifting, the demands on those who must understand such matters as value flows and transformations, and inhibitors, enablers and constraints thereto, contextual factors as they shift and morph, etc., are diverse. This demands a span of understanding and a ready grasp of what to focus on and tease out to better understand, etc. All this may tempt the label of "generalist" but I'd say it is better to focus on sufficient variety -- sufficient flexibility in the mental and behavioral option set, sufficient technique and deep skills to apply but also an adaptiveness that comes of honed flexibility to do the unique, essential and challenging job of architecting. You could say that this means the architect is a specialist and a generalist. I only care if the labels impede. And if they do, then I'd prefer to strike out with "sufficient variety" (or requisite variety as I have used -- kudos to Dana -- in this regard for a long time... but lately I find I'm somewhat antsy around a control system notion that can be too mechanical -- notions of control and defined state space in fuzzy dynamic domains feels awkward to me). Well if you read this far, you earned the easter egg. Of course, you will only recognize that it is an easter egg if you respect me enough to seek to understand I just gave you chocolate. Or something like chocolate in the brain response it triggers. ;-)
It is beyond strange to think of Tom scanning my Trace enough to bounce on over to Ondrej's post. Not to mention Richard. Or you. When I stop and think about dribbling words into this Trace and having them spill into brains of people oceans away it is downright freaky strange and not exactly comfortable! Well, back to work.
Oh, oh, oh -- do look to our Fractal and Emergent paper for more on the architect role. Remember, it's not a long paper, it's a short -- and free -- ebook!!! ;-) Seriously, it positions (enterprise) architecture and the role in terms that should get more credit and attention. I think. Perhaps. Maybe. Well, you read it and tell me. ;-)
A Fractal Collection
As Fractal goes, here's a collection Peter Fingar had pulled together that -- wahoo!! -- also included a quote from our overview of the Fractal and Emergent paper:
Ok, it was just included in a collection, with no context and no enthusiasm for our paper, but hey, it's a mention! ;-)
Software architecture workshop:
I'm looking forward to doing two back-to-back Architectural Leadership workshops in Europe, as well as various Software Architecture Workshops this Fall. There is so much exciting client work going on but we will keep making progress on the game-changing system we're proto-evolving too. :-)
Please consider following Kevlin Henney. His writing (fiction and software/patterns/etc.) is awesome and so are his presentations. And he followed me which is neat and he deserves like major kudos for that -- it must surely be a hallmark of significant distinction. :-)
8/15/12: I pushed a slippery slope at Michael Feathers and he followed back! Mwahaha!! ;-) No, just kidding!!! I just love Buttercup Festival and am compelled to share the joy. Besides, Michael set the bait. I couldn't help but parry. (Remember, if you can't handle mixed metaphors, you can't innovate.../ architect...)
So, have you followed Michael? I've pointed to as many of his presentations as I've come across on the i-way and also to various of his blog posts (and tumblr) and his book so you know it's not just his tweet-humor that is awesome.
(Quiz: how many insight Easter eggs did you find in this post? Yes, some were indeed placed in plain sight. Someone told me there were some good insights in my Trace. Well, I was right on that -- I mean, what better segue to my Useless post? You know, it's all insight, but what you don't have a use for right now you think is useless. Ah. Yes. You're more impressed with me now, aren't you? The absolute necessity of what has no use. Wink. Oh. You have to follow the links on that post that go to xkcd and (qwantz) Dinosaur Comics. The latter are bit of a read, but they're worth it.)
8/17/12: Why I follow Hal Hildebrand (and Greg Wester): Tweets so sharp you have to watch you don't cut yourself on them. ;-) [For political balance, I also follow "Uncle Bob" Martin. ;-) ]
That Useless post points to a "stepping out of circles" point that is quite buried in a circle-the-wagons-to-protect-sacred-cows of a post. Let me draw out the point, because it is one of those most necessary useless thingnesses.
Dana introduced me to Bucky Fuller's "If I find myself in a circle, I step out." Now, there is a problem with that. What about the circles we aren't seeing? So I keep hopping out of perhaps-circles just in case.
I like the way Emily Dickinson approached Higginson: "The Mind is so near itself-it cannot see, distinctly"...
Why do I mention this? Because oh my, are some minds close to themselves! Those that claim self-awareness most sorely so. (Yep, I'm hopping!)
Well, I've got a workout ahead of me -- circles to jump out of, 'n all.
The circles thing is hard! They are everywhere!!! Like this:
Of course, it is ok to subject you to my inner fool while dissecting one joke frog to set up another.
You don't see the joke? This one's on me folks. Like most of them.
Happy Birthday to Michael Feathers!
He won't read here, but you can parlay this notice into
This field overlooks its women and it is NOT OK. Tim O'Reilly, who I much admire and who does much to raise awareness in our field, pointed out a technology hall of frame pinterest board observing "Not enough women." Indeed! Three women. Screenloads upon screenloads of men including Tim, which is good but not, for example, Hedy Lamarr or Caterina Fake which is bad -- really bad! Get some indignation going you gentlemen on that pinboard! You want the company of the wonderful women in tech on that board, do you not? You're ashamed to be named before Elizabeth Feinler or Margaret Hamilton are you not? You want to build a future with many women feeling seen and included in it, do you not?
See also: Rewriting History
It is not ok, because we are building the future on the present identity of this field. And having "Halls of Fame" that leave off the women, presents a demoralizing image for women in and considering the field. Either we haven't done well enough or we are being ignored. Or worse -- people in this field have such low expectations of us, they aren't even looking at what women are contributing or where women played pioneering roles.
Waves of Creative Destruction are Re-Forming Society
I think we're in the liquid gel state, all shook up and ready flow... but where?
Ushahidi is a glimpse of the kind of people we can be. People who care and connect. People who act outside their own self-interest.
:-) Things to do.
8/22: It is indeed heartwarming to see how little credence you give that. ;-)
8/23/12: I thought of a characterization for what this Trace could/should be: a "whole earth catalog" sort of thing for software, system and enterprise architects. ;-) It's kinda like that already, but could do without the me-fulness.
8/25/12: Of course, then it wouldn't be quite the same "open brain experiment"...
Well, this guinea pig is all but done in by the indifference. I suspect that is the groundswell of realization around social -- it isn't. The digital connections leave an empty feeling of promise disabused. Disillusion is rushing like a tsunami through our times.
But here's a solution: social network minions! As in ME WANT!
Missed connections? A moment of possibility in a waltz. What an image for our times! We encounter such moments, but the damning damping indifference sucks us along. We shuffle in irritated silence, scoffing and begrudging the space-time taken for a moment of indulgence in LIFE sparkling and vibrant and reorienting. A break in the flow, opening up possibility.
This Trace, you should know, is that waltz. Words that danced with you, invited you to dance along. The indifferent silence has too often crushed and overwhelmed me, but I am a defiant* sort. I persist in challenging the staid expectations of our field, and invite it to dance.
Ok. I'm kidding. But for goodness sake, dust off your sense of magic and wonder! (Me too, of course!) Mediocrity and chariness holds delight away from itself; it looks with bitter envy for what to find fault with, what to tear at and tear down. It mires and sinks. Delight shines its discerning rays on what is worth building on and with. We need to allow the necessity of delight!
We need to FEEL! Like THIS.
(* some link irony in there; chuckle)
What We Can Do
Where Are The Women? My 2c: People aren't going to notice contributions unless they are advocated; attention is limited, distractions including those from chest-thumping alphas abound, and girls are socialized to not self-promote/brag and assert/occlude. Women generously advocate the work of others. We need more mutualism when it comes to appreciation, recognition and credit! So we each must hold ourselves accountable for advocating the work of a woman or women in tech. We can't just point to the White House and the honors that the "powers that be" bestow. We have to fix this in ourselves. Too.
It is important, too, to treat women with dignity -- that is to say, to avoid being condescending. It is better to assume that a woman has a sophisticated and nuanced grasp of the matter at hand than to assume that she has misunderstood something pretty obvious. Sometimes the latter may be true, but the more respectful assumption is that wisdom and perspective is being offered that will be useful to understand.
9/5/12: We shouldn't make it hard for men to link to women's work, especially if they are well-intended and honestly trying to give her work more exposure. But by the same token, it is important not to misrepresent and condescend to the woman, or more harm than good is done.
This brought tears to my eyes:
What giant leaps for mankind! We're disabused of the notion that naive optimistic opportunism merits simplicity without consequence; instead the realization that it wreaks knock-on consequences that have imperilled the future is unsettling our confidence, but we have much cause to put sense and sensibility to work, to learn from nature, and work with it, to create an ever enriched world.
Well, of course it is a "Race with the Machine" -- for a sector of the population. The problem is we're cleaving society, shunting ever more people into obsolesence with no way out. We need to redefine the game, so that it is not so much a race, as one where we co-create and co-evolve to enrich and enhance diversity, to support ever more opportunities for humanity to thrive. Enabled by our digital substrate and the machines we intelligence, and which augment what we can accomplish. Humanity is in trouble, but not because there's nothing to be done.
Ok. Back to work.
Ok, so I sort of see sociometers (you know, like follower counts and klout) being something like this cartoon... but maybe that says too much about me. ;-)
Oh I'm kidding! I think that "independents" and "work from home" (some or most of the time) folk need a digital "watercooler" for a spot of social interaction here and there so we don't feel isolated, and because those chance encounters bring new content onto our radar, serving Serendipity and giving us new material for our thought weaving, connecting, making, doing. That's why I value the collegial camaraderie of some of the folk on Twitter or email or Skype.
That said, when my daughter asks me what my follower count is, I do know... And she ribs me because she has more than twice as many subscribers on Youtube and is acquiring subscribers much more rapidly... Her affinity group sure demonstrates what "social" can be like, when the quotes come off.
Being a foolish "Alice" sort of a person, and in need of a little playful conversation I suppose, I did the uncharacteristic (for me) and tweeted the quip that should have stayed in my head...
I do like the point I think Kevlin is making, that "strong opinions weakly held" gives too much rope to being opinionated and arrogantly occlusive of other views and too little guidance on how to behaviorally evidence flexibility and invite investigation and resets. I think that concern, and the advice to question, is spot on.
Invading the streams of those folk who are kind enough to follow me, and sensible enough to follow Kevlin, with several tweets discussing the point may seem frivolous, but it is, I think, rather central for us: we need to design as if we mean it, and "strong opinions weakly held" contains a paradox which is an accommodation for our paradoxical human nature (competence, flaws, cognitive biases, etc.) not to mention the uncertainty and complexity that is the nature of our game.
The subtext for my exchange was: (weak) opinions strongly held... smacks of canalization/entrenchment which disallows the possibility of being wrong. Hence, while I don't especially like "strong opinions weakly held," I do understand why it got tweeted around in the architect affinity pool. And wouldn't characterize it as intellectual dishonesty if it is, as I believe, being used as a reminder that we lead with strong opinions -- assertions even -- but we should know (and remind ourselves that) we need to test them and be willing to move the pegs (or stakes)... So, nudged by Kevlin, we have:
More on stakes:
And this from my very first day of Tracing in this journal (2/3/2006):
Aside: You can see that last was written in 2006. Being more sensitive to trees these past years, I'd say whiteboard (though we still use flipcharts in workshops because we need all the work to stay around us so we can connect the dots of our reasoning to all the work in play; that said, if the room is fully wall-papered with whiteboards we like that).
I also write at:
- Bredemeyer Resources for Architects
Architects and Architecture
- Todd Hoff (highly recommended)
- Anna Liu
- JD Meier
Architect Professional Organizations
Agile and Lean
Agile and Testing
Other Software Thought Leaders
- CapGeminini's CTOblog
CTOs and CIOs
CEOs (Web 2.0)
- Don MacAskill (SmugMug)
- Wired's monkey_bites
Social Networking/Web 2.0+ Watch
- Dan Roam
- David Sibbet (The Grove)
Strategy, BI and Competitive Intelligence
- Freakonomics blog
Um... and these
- CNN Money Business of Green videos