You Can’t Wish Away Technology Complexity

By Paul Preiss

I attend a great number of architectural discussions at all levels of scope. And it is a constant reminder how much humans wish really, really hard to have all that technology complexity would go away. It is a shame really, as we have plenty of ways to reason within the scope of complexity.

Paul Preiss

It was great to see David Knott article this morning as I was writing this as well. As you know I am a big fan of his work, but the topic hit home immediately. I am working on a lot writing about Living with Legacy for my upcoming talk at NFJS in Denver in a couple of weeks and it perfectly matched my mood this morning in writing this piece.

The concept of technology structure and complexity doesn’t come up as much in strategic conversations at higher levels of scope as I’d like. Or if it does, it is either treated as an annoying detail (“Oh, the technologists can worry about that. That is an implementation detail.”) or as an emotional negative (“That can’t be done. No one ever listens to us about how complex everything is!”)

I find this humorous because the same business people will spend hours discussing financial investment strategies and accounting, the legal nuances of incorporation, operational methodologies or techniques in manufacturing, or any number of other highly complex and nuanced parts of being successful business people. But mention the words cloud, containers, SPA, caching, development pipelines, complex data dependencies, or lifecycle management, and with dead stares, you get, “That is for the technology people. Let’s stay focused on the business problems.”… I find it humorous because those same people will go into ANOTHER meeting and tell people digital transformation is their top priority… But here is the rub.

You Can’t Wish Away Technology Complexity

“It is not about the Technology” is just that. A wish. A dream. Palms together, on knees, pleading, “let me not have to think about technology!!” 🙂 It is a hope that we geeks will somehow pull the magic out of our hats yet again. It is the cry of every person who didn’t like math, who didn’t have time for science, and who gets freaked out when the wifi goes down. For some reason, technology creates a LOT of fear.

But. that. is. why. you. hire. us. I study business. I don’t shoot c# laser beams out of my eyes. Dont worry, architects can help. You just need to catch up with the 2000s, maybe even the 2020s, if you are feeling brave. Those big decisions are only going to be successful if 17,367 smaller decisions get made really, and I mean really, well.

Because now business totally IS about technology. Everything is about technology. Every business succeeds because of technology. Every person gets paid by technology. The value of our currency itself is about technology. Of course, it is not only about technology. But tell that to the CFO or CLO. When it is about finance, there is very little pushback in saying it is all about money. When it is about legal, there is no push-back about it being about law. I’ve noticed only technologists pull back and say, “You’re right, it’s not about technology.” Is it because we weren’t popular in high school? Who knows but it is WAY past time to stand proud and tall, because here is another secret… they need us as much as we need them.

And don’t give me any of that happy path, let’s all get along crap. I had to listen for decades about ‘the business’ and how important they were and how I was ‘just IT’ while we made more in our systems than any salesperson in history.

How did that Matrix phrase go? “It’s our time now.”

Plus, Technology Complexity is Exciting

I remember when I built my first asynchronous API. We called it message-oriented architecture then, but it was that same old pub-sub feeling you get with EDA, topics, queues, and freedom! Ha, but why was I so excited? It was because of the cool things we could do with it. Oh sure, reliability and guaranteed delivery were fine. Performance improvements and innovative structural arrangement of message replies, we cool too. But it was the things I could give my client that excited me. Think long running business transactions, document-focused interactions, hell, just being able to fire and forget. You realize that Uber Eats is just an asynchronous set of interactions. Ha, I remember when one of the pizza chains put an EDA in for order status. “Suzy is putting toppings on your pizza” is so great. My daughter watched that thing religiously.

See what people often forget that technology complexity is cool on multiple levels. It gives us the ability to make different choices for stakeholders and customers (I mean real customers not stakeholders that think they are customers – note to business stakeholders, you and I get our paychecks from the same place, you are not my customer. Our customer is my customer). But while this complexity allows for choice, it also creates a dependency on understanding those choices. Or a dependency on a professional who does. I don’t pretend to understand medicine. That is why I ask doctors what to do.

Now I’m not as on the bandwagon about GenAI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning and the like as everyone else. I think we are going to find about 60% of the business cases being thrown out as failures. But that doesn’t mean Im not working on a series of ML based components in the tool I am building as well as experimenting with LLM inclusive software architectures. It is just that I am a) convinced hype is always bad, and b) oh come on we all know its going to take decades and lots of massive failures to actually roll out.

It is time our business partners begin understanding that business complexity is now fully dependent on technology complexity. And that the misuse of that complexity will lead to business failure just as surely as making poor financial choices.

This doesn’t have to be horrible. We as architects have to get our excitement back. We have to stop our run-the-business and reduce-cost mentality and remind our orgs that technology is just wonderful place to compete. From banks to manufacturing, airplanes to politics, technology complexity is here to stay. And we can help our business partners understand… we aren’t in back of the house anymore.


Your Friendly Neighborhood

Badass Business-Technology Architect (BBTA for you acronym lovers)