Let’s jump in.
Q: You have a Pluralsight course named “WCF for Architects.” In a nutshell, what are the core aspects of WCF that an architect should know, even if they won’t ever dig into the framework or build a service themselves?
A: Architects should know that WCF has all the facilities and hooks one might need to build a robust messaging system. Architects should spend time thinking about how their WCF services will interact with other consumers and what technologies the consumers use. This knowledge will assist in picking appropriate versioning policies, message formats, and security for any services their applications expose. For example, if I know that my clients will primarily be PHP and Ruby, I will make different choices than for a .NET or Java based client.
Q: As we continue to build bigger systems that span applications and organizations, where does one even begin to start troubleshooting performance and functional problems? How does one architect a solution to make it easier to analyze later on? Or, if you get stuck taking on a system that is behaving badly, where do you begin?
A: What I’ve seen is that really big interdependencies in a system creates a brittle system. One should take advantage of the fact that we can build discrete, interconnected systems. These systems can be composed of many special purpose, simple, standalone processes. Each system should provide a special service (send email, process payments, manage customers) and do that one thing well. Other systems then consume those endpoints as services. It then becomes simpler to manage and debug the systems that are unresponsive or behaving badly. You do need to spend a lot of time thinking about application manageability at this level: logging, health monitoring, and so on are important design items along with the business processes that are being automated. For each system, what you will do is ask and answer these questions:
- How can I tell that this feature is healthy?
- What should happen when the feature becomes unhealthy?
- How can I log this?
- When should a human be notified via email, telephone, etc.?
If you are analyzing a system that is behaving badly, you need to start with basic “is it plugged in?” type testing. This is exactly what it sounds like: analyze the components in the system and make sure that each connection is functioning correctly. All too often, this is what is actually wrong. It might be a changed password, and downed database, or something else. The connections frequently point to the exact problem. After that, look for the logging that was implemented. This might be the Windows Event Log, log4net files, or something else. You need to figure out which system or systems actually has an issue, then begin fixing there. It helps to know what “normal” is for the system as well.
Q: Although you are a Pluralsight instructor and possibly biased, what do you think is the preferred way for developers/architects today to learn new technologies? Are books passé, in favor of articles/blogs/videos/podcasts? Over the past 6 months, which educational medium have you employed to learn something new?
A: I think that written materials have never been the preferred way for humans to learn. We are social animals and we tend to learn best through storytelling, demonstration, and experimentation. To learn new to you technologies, the best way seems to be to find a project and a mentor that can help you over any bumps in the road. Pluralsight is a great proxy for an actual mentor because we can tell the stories and demonstrate how to use the technology. Over the last 6 months, I’ve been using personal projects and mentors to learn new (to me) technology.
Q [stupid question]: I recently got into a big Facebook debate with some friends over my claim that the movie The Fifth Element is the most rewatchable sci-fi movie of the last 15 years. I made this declaration based on the fact that it seems that whenever I catch that movie on TV, I almost always have to stop and watch it through. What television show or movie sucks you in, regardless of how many times you have seen it?
A: The movie that continues to do this for me is Rudy. Yeah, it’s a football movie, but it is also one of the best tales of how real people actually achieve their dreams. Real people who succeed look at where they want to be and then figure out what that path looks like. They enlist mentors to help figure out what the path looks like, adjust the path and the goal as they receive new information, and keep moving forward. While I’ve never been confused with an athlete, I have been confused with someone who had natural talent! There are a few moments in that movie that make me cry with joy every time I see it. When Rudy gets accepted to Notre Dame, when he gets onto the team, and when he gets to play on the field, I get so emotional because I’m reminded how exhilarating it is when years of planning and executing pay off. That realization happens in an instant and unleashes a wave a relief that all that work did have a purpose. For me, these moments happened upon receiving a final copy of my first book; my first day at Microsoft; my first day working on Indigo (aka WCF); and later teaching for companies like Wintellect and Pluralsight. Getting to that stage isn’t instantaneous. To the best of my knowledge, Rudy is the best portrayal of what that journey looks like and feels like.