WICSA 2011

I was at WICSA last week. I am a lousy trendspotter, but here is what I have seen as “trends” so far:

There seems to be several efforts, especially on the tool side, that focuses on capturing and navigating architectural information. Is this a sign that architecture information is getting bigger and bigger and is distributed among different sources/artefacts? I thought one of the tangible deliverables from an architect was a comprehensive documentation/model/wiki/whatever with architecture information. As a contrast there wa a tutorial the last day by George Fairbanks on writing a 1-page architecture document. I would say this was a highlight of the conference, to bad most people had gone home by then.

In general it seems architects are more aware of the need to adopt to agile development. I don’t think there is any contradiction, contrary I believe that it is necessary for agile developers to be more aware of “architectural thinking” and what benefits there is of having an explicitly defined architecture. But I do agree that often architecture is the same as Big Upfront Design. At the panel debate I understood better the historical background; many of the originators of the agile manifesto were active developers already in the late eighties and nineties when a lot of focus where on software design. people who started as developers in the last decade don’t have that background and think that the last years focus on process is all that is necessary for developing good software.

There was some discussions  on architecture-based testing (this is a good strategy to define a new research area, combine two or more buzzwords), but it was confusing. some people seemed to mean an architecture where it was easy to verify the quality attributes it was designed to achieve. others seemed to mean an architecture for a systems that was easy to test for testers. I like the latter better, and hope there will emerge more patterns for this than the general patterns of encapsulation etc.

Compared to the last WICSA in 2009 I think the acceptance rate was much higher, above 40%. I think this could be one explanation to why some papers had a rather weak scientific methodology. One other thing I did not like at all were some studies based on industrial practice where the results were too polished. if you present a case study you should include all the small (and big) problems that occur in real settings, otherwise the cases are not of more interest than textbook examples.

Reference architecture, what is it?

I am at WICSA 2011 and the words “reference architecture” come up now and then in discussions. I am not sure I like the definition in Wikipedia, I think relies too much that you already have knowledge or experience of a reference architecture.
One simile (parable?) would be to a building code, a set or rules that underlie the actual architecture and construction of a house. The architect is free to build any type of house, as long as the code is adhered to.
But I like to use cooking as an example. A recipe is like an architecture, when you actually cooks the recipe and serve it is the implementation of software. You need to do certain things that are implementation specific, like tasting to see if the amount of salt suits your taste etc, and maybe you need to double all the ingredients to fit your  dinner party.
Julia Child writes in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking that there are 6 principal ways to make a sauce, one being an emulsion of melted butter with egg yolks, which is common the common method for béarnaise, hollandaise and choron sauces. The type of emulsion is similar to a pattern while the three different recipes are designs.
For a restaurant; a product line architecture would be the menu they have based on the ingredients they stock, for example chicken could be used in more than one dish.
So what is a reference architecture for a restaurant? It would be the “rules” that guides and controls what is possible or desirable. It could be for example driven by the business domain, e.g. it should focus on French or Hunan cuisine. Woking as a “development method” would not be relevant in the former, but certainly in the latter.
Or it could be driven what is technically possible, e.g if the kitchen has no deep fryer it is impossible to for example make french fries.
Or there could be other restrictions, such a desire to only use locally produced ingredients.
Maybe I went to far with this simile (parable)?
 
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