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Avoid Pop Culture Architecture

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“ActiveRecord is so hot right now!” - comment in 2006

Pop Culture Architecture is the current “fad” of the day. I have seen it be microservices, business capabilities, CQRS, service-oriented architecture, Domain-Driven Design, test driven development, ORMs, ActiveRecord, and MVC. Each of these have been fashionable at some point.

Fashion is ultimately a signaling mechanism for status. We are attracted to fashionable architectures because they signal we have worked on elite teams. The more difficult or costly the trade-offs of the architecture, the more elite and special our team must have been to implement it successfully.

Example: Microservices

Microservices is a current fashionable design. Microservices have very clear pros and cons. They come with the ability to have a huge team or a fragmented deployment that potentially allows for horizontal scaling. For that ability, you will pay the immense costs: loss of strong consistency and transactions, a labyrinthine operational footprint and deployment, increased communication effort, expensive integration testing, and a code base that takes longer to program. (1).

If you have a small team or system that does not need horizontal scaling on every single component, a microservice architecture is unlikely to solve your communication or trust issues. You will spend dollars on deployment, consistency issues, distributed debugging, and basic programming just to save a penny on communication and teamwork. (2)

For most teams, the logical conclusion probably will be: a microservice architecture solves problems we don’t have.

Microservices remain fashionable because they indicate work at the size and scale of a handful of elite companies. You would only likely encounter a couple hundred companies in the world that have a development staff so large or loads so high as to truly require such a system. Because of the rarity of actual need, it is a perfect signaling mechanism for status.

Saying that you implemented a microservice architecture implies “my team was so large or my product so popular, my team could afford to pay almost any cost to meet the demand.”

Carefully consider your architecture decisions. Do not allow fashion to dictate your choices. Take pride in selecting the appropriate architecture for the project, no matter how unpopular.

steve shogren

software developer, manager, author, speaker

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