Saturday, April 05, 2008

A Phrase Past Its Expiration Date

I've been a fan of Roger von Oech for a long time. I love his books, blogs, and cards (yes, cards). His latest blog entry entitled, "A Phrase Past Its Expiration Date", struck a chord with me that I thought I would share. In it, he asks his readers what phrases are overused and should be put to rest. His phrase was "It is what it is." The reason why was because it is commonly used to end debate and thought.

There are several phrases that carry the same role. Here's mine:

  • "YAGNI" also known as "You Ain't Gonna Need It"
    If I never heard this phrase again in my entire life, it would be too soon. I hate it. The original intention was well meant, but many a poor developer took it the wrong way. I've heard it uttered too many times to end discussion because a weak mind couldn't support their assertion.

  • "Do The Simplest Possible Thing That Could Work"
    Another well-intentioned phrase that originally came from Albert Einstein. How could it be bad? Again, I've heard it from one too many hacks to be lazy and not think through their design. It was once used in a debate to store records in XML files instead of a relational database. Even though it was known that the system was to deal with lots of records that had to be randomly accessed. Why? Because they thought relation databases were "hard". The resulting XML files architecture turned out to be way more complex than any OO mapping tool could dream of being. On the surface, the XML seemed simpler, but only when you ignored all the other factors to take into account. The above phrase ended the debate despite cries of the obvious. Confusion abounds because simple is often confused with easy instead of elegant.

  • "If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It"
    The maddening catch all to stop refactoring code that everyone fears. This one has been used because apparently certain developers like hearing the buzzing of pagers at 3am. The code in their eyes "worked" even though it was riddled with bugs. The code need to be cleaned, but they just wouldn't let it go. Fear is a terrible thing to use matras to justify.

That's my list for now. I'm sure there's more. I'm really bothered by most mantras because they are used in the most inappropriate places. I'm for debate and rational thought. Anything that short-circuits that annoys me without measure.

1 comment:

Andrés said...

It seems to me the real issue is a general lack of vigorously intellectual communication. I know exactly what you mean by the use of these phrases used to end conversation. Fortunately, sooner or later evolution weeds out the good from the mess.

What you do not learn by comprehension, you learn by suffering --- or so the saying goes...