iSAQB Software Architecture Gathering — Digital 2021

Bringing the Purpose Back to Architectural Work – An Interview with Uwe Friedrichsen

Uwe, your session is about “essential architectural thinking”. What does “essential” mean for you?

Uwe Friedrichsen: “Essential” for me means going back to the foundations, to the purpose of architectural work. *Why* are we doing it in the first place? I see tons of recommendations *how* to do architectural work better. But at least from what I have seen, none of them asks the *why* question. Architecture and architectural work are declared “important” without any further justification or explanation, just for being what they are. For me, it feels like architectural work has become an end in itself in most places.

That is why I ask the *why* question in this session: Why are we doing it? What is the value of architectural work? If I follow this question, I end up with trying to minimize the overall costs of a system over its lifetime without violating its desired properties at runtime – “overall costs” meaning all types of costs associated with a system, not only development costs (a shortcoming I often see in discussions about architecture).

In my session, I present a logical derivation leading to this purpose of architectural work, which for me is the essence of architectural thinking.

Is this all you will be talking about in your session?

Uwe Friedrichsen: No. As the session title suggests, I will not only talk about the “why”, but also about the “how, what, when and how much”. I will discuss the essential activities of architectural work, what needs to be done based on the purpose we just talked about. Additionally, I will discuss when to execute the activities best over the course of a software development project, depending on the type of project. Sometimes it is useful to do quite some architectural work upfront. Sometimes it is the worst idea possible. Sometimes a lot of architectural work makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, it just stands in the way. I will present a tiny framework that helps to figure out when to do what and how much of it depending on the characteristics of the project.

Probably, I will not talk so much about the “how” as we only have 45 minutes and this question would easily fill several hours. But if you have understood the “why” and “what”, from my experience it becomes quite straightforward to ponder the “how”.

What else is important for you regarding architectural work?

Uwe Friedrichsen: There would be a lot of topics to discuss. E.g., that a purely technical architecture design is nonsense, that you always need to start from the (business) problem to solve, that architectural work is about balancing needs, demands and forces and not about being right or wrong, that architectural work has a lot to do with communication and empathy, that a design must always be evaluated in its context, and many more things. Some of those topics I will touch in my session. But besides all the topics immediately related to architectural work, I would like to emphasize two more topics, that are not immediately related to architectural work. I consider them very important as they influence our work and its outcomes a lot. Yet, they are neglected most of the times based on my experience:

First: In the end, architecture is for humans, not for computers. Computers do not care about architecture, humans do. For me, the ultimate goal of architectural work, also the purpose I sketched before is to improve the life of the people who are affected by the solution we design.

E.g., good availability improves the lifes of the users and operations. Good maintainability improves the lifes of the developers. Good observability improves the lifes of the administrators. Minimizing costs makes money available for other topics and hopefully helps to improve the lifes of all employees of the company (and not only the accounts of the shareholders). And so on. We often forget this focus, that architectural work is about improving the lifes of humans. Keeping this in mind changes how we do our work and improves the architectures we design.

Second: Simplify! We add more and more complexity to our solutions, often for very dubious reasons. In IT, we drown in complexity and every day we add more. At the same time, IT becomes more and more indispensable for our business and private lifes. I think this is an extremely dangerous combination. We stand at the edge of a cliff and happily push forward.

That is why I think in architectural work we must strongly push towards simplicity. We must not add new concepts and technologies just because we can. We should always look for simpler ways of solving problems. Or to phrase it with a nod to Edsger Dijkstra: We must approach our work as very humble architects.

Looking at the whole conference: What other sessions do you find interesting?

Uwe Friedrichsen: I think, all of them are! I have the privilege to be part of the advisory board and I hope we picked sessions that are interesting for everyone. At least I find them all interesting.

Of course, there are some sessions I am interested in personally. Here I only want to mention three sessions that are a bit “outside the ordinary” and drew my particular attention:

Frank Pientka speaks about “Sustainable design for a better tomorrow“. Personally, I think that sustainability will become one of the most important topics of the future. But up to now we hardly ever consider it in our designs. That is why I am really exited about this session.

Kyle Jones gives a lightning talk “Building greener” about the same topic. I hope we will hear a lot more about sustainable design in the future and I would be happy, if these sessions would start a discussion we urgently need.

I am also very curious about “Debunking what makes a great leader” by Jenn Donahue. Jenn has a really impressive military and engineering background. She was leader of quite some perilous missions and I think we all can learn a terrible lot about leadership from her. That is why I really look forward to her session.

As written before, there are more sessions, I am personally interested in and the fact that I did not mention them here does not make them any worse than the ones I mentioned. E.g., I am really curious what James Lewis will talk about. And being a sucker for unicorn-scale solutions, of course I also look forward to the talk of Tejas Chopra — just to briefly mention two more sessions I personally look forward to.

But then again, I think all sessions are interesting.

Thanks a lot for the interview, Uwe!

Stay up-to-date with the SAG newsletter
Stay up-to-date with the SAG newsletter