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How to Avoid Overengineering


Printed October 01, 2020

This text considers the situations that lead groups to bear overengineered instrument and describes the attain you’ll doubtless be in a position to get faraway from falling prey to such situations.

What’s going to we imply by “overengineering”?

When a instrument developer says that a portion of instrument is overengineered, they are announcing that they deem it has too many fascinating system, too great abstraction, or an excessive emphasis on efficiency. The number of concepts required to know the object feels unreasonable.

It’s a essentially subjective name, however you are mindful of it whenever you happen to witness it. Take care of a Ferrari at a race kart roam, an overengineered draw is out of scale with its working ambiance and intended usage.

But how does it happen? Are there obvious situations that lead groups to bear programs that observers would gape as overengineered?

To uncover this, let’s take into legend two stereotypical instrument
engineering phenomena: cargo culting and a linked sample that I’ve
began to name “the Xoogler make”.

From there, we are able to symbolize obvious cognitive biases that pressure a physique of workers in direction of overengineering.

​​Cargo culting

The Trillion Dollar HomepageFig. 1. The Trillion Buck Homepage.

A cargo cult is a cultural phenomenon by which technologically-developed artifacts change into objects of obsessive ritual to a community of parents exterior of the artifact-producing society. While the term has fallen out of prefer within the sphere of anthropology (in acknowledgement of its reductive and colonialist overtones), it’s reasonably frequent in instrument circles.

To a instrument engineer, “cargo culting” is ragged pejoratively to focus on with the adoption of a abilities or practice based mostly completely on its foundation or popularity. Loosely, the thinking goes that if a instrument, language, or convention became as soon as developed at or impressed by suggestions from a salubrious, a success firm, then that instrument would possibly want to maintain contributed to the firm’s success. Thus, in adopting it, you extend your odds of additionally succeeding.


  • “Generation-defining firms fancy Intel and Google ragged OKRs, so we would possibly presumably presumably silent too.”
  • “The SRE book talks about how Google relies on carrier level targets, so the usage of them will inspire our companies change into more legit.”
  • “Most a success firms prove needing developed load balancing and question-proxying programs to scale their microservices architectures. Our 10-person startup would possibly presumably presumably silent adopt these programs in confide in inspire us scale.”

Take care of incorporating in Delaware or only hiring graduates of name-stamp universities, a explicit practice correlating with principal instances of firm train doesn’t imply causation. Proper because a favorite or a success firm makes employ of a abilities doesn’t imply that it’s appropriate or useful for your enviornment.

The Xoogler make

When other folks race away engineering jobs at mountainous, a success tech firms, they take their used employer’s engineering custom with them. This tends to be highly precious, for every the technical acumen of the unique firm and the incoming engineer’s compensation kit.

But this tendency would possibly presumably additionally be taken too far. The incoming worker, believing that they’ve an immediate line to the narrate of the artwork, would possibly presumably presumably fit on to recreate programs of their used employer’s picture to an unreasonable diploma.

To not employ on Googlers, however something about that firm’s custom truly brings this out. There are many principal examples of Xooglers replicating Google-inner programs and practices within the exterior world, either as autonomous startups or efforts within existing firms. I don’t obtain this terribly safe, given the tone that’s attach of residing within Google—you exhaust your time there always being suggested that you’re amongst the single instrument engineers to lumber the face of the Earth, the usage of technologies unmatched of their vitality, fantastic, and scalability. It is shimmering that used workers truly feel compelled to emulate issues that labored at Google1.

But this generalizes to a bunch of well-known and/or a success firms. Many participants race away the productivity bubble of a “FAANG and associates” firm and prove building tools and programs that they miss. To name however a pair of, right here is how we obtained Thrift, Envoy, and three a bunch of tools based totally on Google’s manufacture draw.

Cognitive biases

I deem these two phenomena would possibly presumably additionally be linked to a handful of extensively-known cognitive biases. Cargo culting is a transparent manifestation of authority bias. And the Xoogler make appears linked to the law of the instrument.

It’s rational to must set within your circle of competence, nonetheless it will additionally be counterproductive in extra. Whenever you’ve been inculcated within the expert employ of hammers, every enviornment appears fancy a nail. Your thinking in unique environments is anchored by prior abilities in used environments, which is ready to hinder discovering out and the improvement of unique talents.

And it appears that these two patterns can feed on every a bunch of. Cargo culting is catalyzed by the Xoogler make in cases when a used mountainous firm worker’s abilities is uncritically venerated by unique colleagues.

withstand the hunch to overengineer

Resisting the temptation to overengineer requires one to be tremendous with themselves about the context by which they’re working.

You can silent always make programs to tackle problems which would maybe perhaps presumably presumably be in front of you quite than falling for choices to problems confronted by mountainous firms within the previous. You shouldn’t unsuitable your firm’s infrastructure on GitHub stars. And as wistful as you’ll doubtless be in a position to be for your final firm’s tools, they’d perhaps presumably presumably not be as appropriate to your present enviornment as you suspect.

Assessing cargo with out changing into a cultist

When evaluating a favorite instrument, language, or convention, it’s useful to take some time to know the underlying forces that motivated its invention2. Sooner than making any choices, are attempting to contextualize a abilities within the ambiance that formed it. From there, you’ll doubtless be in a position to sample match that ambiance to your have in confide in resolve if the abilities is appropriate.

As an instance, let’s take into legend everyone’s favorite overengineering punching procure: Kubernetes.

Kubernetes traces its conceptual lineage to Borg3, the cluster-management draw that’s bustle Google’s production workloads for over a dozen years. The main stamp that Borg provides to Alphabet is its skill to maximise the capital effectivity of their datacenters. The abilities that we now name “container orchestration” allowed them to earn more computing oomph out of their instant by maximizing utilization and making more efficient employ of machines they’d already paid for.

Is maximizing capital effectivity of your datacenter or cloud ambiance a enviornment for your firm? Ought to you mediate Kubernetes affords a bunch of advantages4, are you confident that they outweigh the complexity and maintenance overhead?

I obtain this idea path of valuable when evaluating unique tools, patterns, frameworks, or management practices. Feeble knowledge advocates that you fully perceive a enviornment before applying a reply to it. It’s additionally crucial to know the situations that led to a reply and the procedure those situations align with those you gape yourself in.

Regardless of the decision you raze up making, this path of is possible to value you a wiser engineer. The job is basically about building programs to resolve problems at sensible stamp. That stamp is measured not only as upfront capital expenditure, however within the ongoing proceed linked to maintenance and cognitive load. Extra typically than we ticket, engineering is set lovely-sizing a reply in light of these ongoing costs.

Additional reading

About a links to a bunch of reading enviornment cloth on linked topics:

As a consequence of
Parth Upadhyay,
Ehsan Noursalehi,
Wilhelm Bierbaum for reading
and offering suggestions on drafts of this essay.

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