Sunday, October 9, 2011

Not Invented Here Syndrome, why reinvent the wheel?

From my point of view Not Invented Here Syndrome is both a great anti-pattern and a way to be very productive in short term.

When developing application without using third party software (libraries, platforms or APIs) there is nothing to stop you from delivering the SW. Except for your own inability to design and implement it. I'm not talking about the fact that developers don't have significant experience with the 3rd party SW and they spent time, money and effort learning and getting used to it. At least learning and investigating new SW is not a waste of time but it's always a new experience. Also there are pieces of software like Spring (Spring helps with everything and is very mature and stable) or some MVC and UI technologies (you will hardly work with servlet api directly when building web application) that might be considered an exception.

I'm talking about software, that you could either substitute (implement from scratch) easily or software that contains a few features and abilities that you need and the rest of it you'll probably never use. If you find yourself standing before this question and you decide to use this software, there are two resolutions depending on the quality of its opensource community, because you would most probably need to make modifications to it, deliver a good patch and make others to apply it.

  1.    Either you hit road block. You come across serious bugs, idiosyncrasies and bending SW is not possible because nobody listens or it is a remote API that you don't have sources available to. Or suddenly after further experience it is not what you expected. What now? Weeks of work have been done, you can't make such a huge step back, refactoring would be awful. You get stuck.
  2.    The opensource community is good, software is perspective with good architecture and devoted developers and project leads, that responds to what you have to say. To define a good community is hard, because in huge, active community with thousands of users and developers nobody will listen to you soon unless you make a significant effort. In small but active community of mostly developers you get immediate response and you deal with everything very quickly. 

Not using open source SW and reinventing the wheel is the anti-pattern. Because instead of improving and testing an existing universal and generic software, you make a new custom piece of software that suits your needs.
   On the other hand you can't hit the road blocks, you don't need anything from anybody and you won't have to wait entire days or weeks for response.
   Big companies like Google, IBM, Red Hat etc. usually have Not Invented Here Syndrome. I guess they have to from various reasons.The wheel is being reinvented on daily basis. I'm very grateful that there are hundreds of specifications and standards for Java development that reduce the consequences of this.

To exemplify these facts on two pieces of software :

Google APIs are great, you can think of hundreds of use cases of their utilization. Fancy AtomPub based GData protocol, tons of client libraries, what not. But after all they are very buggy, at least from my perspective. Right now I'm using Google Translator Toolkit API that has such a tremendous bug that you can hardly believe. The funny thing is that GTT is in "Labs" stage and the API is restricted and might be shut down in December 2011. Anyway the bug consists in that fact that API results do not correspond to what you see in Google Translator Toolkit. There are 2 documents listed, API resolves one or none. You delete a document, GTT still lists it whereas API does not. It's like nobody is testing or using it what so ever, because they would have seen that. Now what? I merely get any response from Google and their engineers as to concrete API issue reports. Road block.

Liferay might be another example. Liferay is a sophisticated and mature piece of software. But think good what you expect and need from it ! Do you want to use it because some of its plugins? You need groups, roles and you'd have to implement permissioning system on resources, but Liferay already has that implemented, so why would you? You go for Liferay and you get incredible platform but tons of road blocks as well. So you better be sure that you really need a full-fledged Portal or professional Web Content Management system.

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