A Trace in the Sand

by Ruth Malan





Architects Architecting Architecture  

December 2015


What's This Then? A Trace? In the Sand?

This is where I keep a trace of thoughts on wanderings in the landscape of software and systems architecture and those that abut and have bearing on ours.


Design Visualization: Smoke and Mirrors

After my Design Visualization: Smoke and Mirrors (90 minute) talk at the Software Architect Conference in London on October 14, 2015, I thought I'd write up the things I said or intended to say -- because I thought I did something useful in that talk, and I wanted to capture it in a way others could have access to. I can only work on it in stolen moments, as there is actual work-work to do too. Anyway it's taken long enough that, while the slides are unchanged (except for a minor fix), and the first section followed the talk more closely, at this point the notes are more along the lines of "what do I imagine I could possibly have wanted to say about that slide?"

Architecture is an outcome of what architects (whether they are called that or not; whether led by a lead architect/designer or not; etc.) do. Intentionally, or not. What we do, is shaped, at least to some extent, by how we conceive of it. So the talk addresses both how we conceive of architecture, and how visualization does and could play into what we do as architects, as we design to get more what we want -- and, importantly too, less what we don't want. In other words, it is a landscape -- and day-to-day work -- shaping piece of work. For those who trouble to read it. Because. I do acknowledge. It has words in it. And words. They can make so much possible. But one has to be able to listen or read and attend to them. Such sigh. The intertubes so far just let us access an increasing muchness of words. And images. Squirrel! (Isn't that an awesome action shot though?!)

To save load time on this page, I'll leave the (full set of) slides and evolving notes on the November page:

I experimented with the slides and notes into a (Duarte-styled) SlideDoc, so we can see if that's useful:

And in Slideshare (probably best viewed in expanded mode) -- here are the sections that have been slidedoc'd so far:

Design Visualization: Smoke and Mirrors (Part I and first sections of Part II)

Oh, yeah. With respect to both my "this flight is going" quip and the silver bullet point, please note that Hadi Hariri's Silver Bullet talk was more than a month after mine. So they were independently derived. :) The quip??? Well, it was intended to playfully answer the usual wonderings about my accent -- it falls somewhere on a sliding scale of "Not-at-all" to "Completely" Americanized-South African; where it falls depends on whether you're in the USA or South Africa, or somewhere else. I also find that because I have an accent wherever I go (the cost and consequence of an -ized accent), people tend to take a few moments to reset expectations and tune in to how I talk, so I can't say anything of significant import right off. Favorite memory in this regard? Little girl turning to her mom and saying "she has an accident" and her mom saying "that's an accent, honey."

So. No-one is charmed by (slide 51):

Big things are made of smaller things,
With interactions to unite 'em,
And smaller things have smaller things,
and so, ad infinitum.

Because while it is a variation on a theme, it is varied just so. Just precisely so as to make it work. Structure and dynamics. The talk gently, intelligently, takes how we've been thinking about architecture and system design, and recrafts it into something better. Without smashing heads about it. It builds on. Rather than tearing down. Standing on shoulders, rather than ashes in the slash and burn style.




The Monk and the Mountaindraw

Isn't it cool that people are still working on the monk and the mountain problem, and still arriving at different answers (they are convinced about)? It is such a good demonstrator of what it demonstrates.


Software Architecture Workshop

We will be running our next open enrollment Software Architecture Workshop in Chicago-Schaumburg, IL, March 29-April 1, 2016. Enroll soon for the most discounted rate (early enrollments impact venue pricing, etc.).

Naturally, our workshops are awesome, as one would expect.


Hands on




Technical Wisdom

Technical wisdom? Yes, that's another piece of fire I stole from the frabjously awesome Dana Bredemeyer. Well. Here's one for the thought mill:


Which I relate to this point Grady Booch made:

Kodak moment



Thank You, and Maybe....

A few people have encouraged my work on the Design Visualization epic, retweeting or mentioning the slideset (now also on slideshare for easier navigation) or evolving slidedoc over the last 2 months. Thank you for mentions and responses:

And retweets:

Thank you too, to Ernest for Like-ing the Slidedoc. Social signaling with likes and tweet mentions is important. And as you can see, rare. The number of views relative to the number of likes starts to send its own message... I might need to cull the Slideshare presence... Oh well...

I guess that is a fair amount of social signal boosting for a work in progress. Still, even as it stands, it is a good and useful work. Part I, for example, is quite self-contained and advances how we conceive of software architecture. Part II, advances... :) Well, on second thought. It's settled into a quiet stasis. I just can't seem to motivate myself to work on something no-one wants to read. I think it is important. In a world where we have:

I put muscle on the bones of our notions about architecture. So that it can walk. Or something. ;-) (Some references you'll only get from familiarity with the slides and notes, and the contribution they make.)

And one day someone will read it! It is possible, you know. Unlikely, but possible. And think of the advantage that person will have -- ideas no-one else has access to, because, well, you know, words. There are words in it.

At a minimum, it is an example of a form factor... Nice that Nancy Duarte and team's slidedoc work is getting exposure. As it should.

" The audience creates 50% of the presentation" -- Aino Vonge Corry




2015 Awesomeness -- the Short List

These have been a personal pleasure to see take shape:

  • Amitai's Agile in 3 Minutes podcast series
  • Michael geepawHill's Tiger Patrol Stories -- oh, I mean, his unique twitter voice (the twitter-sized micro-installments form is new this year, or I just missed it in the past?)
  • Brenda Michelson's 100Stickmen -- more like this please :)

And some that just kept on getting stronger:

And some new to me in 2015:

I imagine this will become a long list in short order.




Nearly 10 Years?!?

On February 3, this Trace will be 10 years old! So the usual end of year stock taking has an extra dimension... Well, I took a break from public tracing from December 2014 to June 2015, in protest at my own paradoxical sense that sometimes it would be nice to have this stupid thing resonate with someone, yet terror that it would actually be mentioned in a way that got unfriendly attention... The catch-22 of being online... Anyway, it's almost 10 years old, but there was a break of 6 months...

I do realize it is an unusual format. I happen to think there is room for some unusual formats in our field. That having a presence full of vitality and life is a good thing. Of course, I'm almost alone in that delusion -- at least, as far as it applies to thinking that my Trace has been a good thing. Oh well.

The people thanked above, are almost the extent of the set of people I am visible to -- at least, visible and credible enough to retweet my work. There are also a few people who have dropped off Twitter -- foremost Peter Bakker. And my long-time great friend, Daniel Stroe.

A few people are extremely generous in terms of giving exposure to my Trace through retweeting my links to it, or by mentioning it in a positive way. Gene Hughson comes to mind for the former. Amitai Schlair, Cory Foy and Eugene Barker for the latter. Brenda Michelson and Ernest Buise have also been most kind, mentioning traces and retweeting links. And Grady Booch (who also links to my site from his Handbook of Software Architecture site)! People who have been kind with retweets and mentions include Sally Bean, Stuart Boardman, Mark Burgess, Marc Burgauer, Paul Harland, Martin Howitt, Tom Graves, Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz, JP de Vooght, Vish Persaud, Gernot Starke, Matthew Skelton, and Richard West. And recently, Matt McLarty and Mike Amundsen kindly mentioned my Conway's Law post and traces -- with enthusiasm even! And Uwe Friedrichsen mentioned my trace on empathy. Gratitude to, to my dear friend and a leading thinker in the software architecture space, Charlie Alfred.

The people most notably missing, are everyone else in software, but most especially those who have a focus on software architecture and design. Ducks and runs. ;)

(It is hard drawing the line -- for example, Robert Annett kindly retweeted a link to my workshop at the Software Architect Conference in London, but this trace is about my Trace, and people who have given it positive exposure in their circles of influence. Likewise, Larry Kuhl mentioned my Conway's Law blog post, but not this Trace. These kinds of mentions are rare too, and very much appreciated!)

But. My Trace is pretty damn awesome -- well, in the sense that if you like this sort of thing, you'll find this the sort of thing you like (after Lincoln, I believe -- at least, F. Scott Fitzgerald thought so too).... This, for example, is from 2009:

Boundary Conditions and Interfaces

Catching up on xkcd... I hadn't even finished reading this one, when my son (11) said "It doesn't work if you're under 14." His immediate test of xkcd's dating rule, and his instinct to then find just where it falls down, is certainly right in the ballpark for engineers and architects. We learn (if we're paying attention we learn this early) that the boundary conditions need to be explicit, or they'll be fail points. Then we learn that it's the boundary conditions and interfaces and integration points! We pay attention to the (Booch) fundamentals, the separation of concerns, the abstractions, the balance of responsibilities, and then we have to watch those interfaces! And watch for holes in the fences! Rabbits. Mixed metaphors.Encapsulating

Interfaces! The strength and the weakness of systems! Parts, chunked according to the paradigm du jour (components, services,...), give us realms of intellectual and organizational control--units of innovation and experiment, units of expertise, units behind the walls of which we can simplify and refactor and otherwise manage (or not) "technical debt" or local integrity of the part. Ah, but parts needs-must collaborate to produce system outcomes, and therein lies the rub. Literally, for many physical systems. But no less truly for software systems.


12/17/15: I need to add thanks to Simon Gough and Tony daSilva. And Grady Booch -- again.



Must Reads

Aside from the obvious (my Visual Design slidedoc, natch), the following are don't miss:

"what’s everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility"

I also enjoyed:


I also write at:

- Trace In the Sand Blog

- Bredemeyer Resources for  Architects


Architects Architecting Architecture'


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Copyright © 2015 by Ruth Malan
Page Created:October 21, 2015
Last Modified: January 15, 2016