8. Stick to Your Knitting | The Axioms of Software Development

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Mikel Lindsaar
January 6, 2021

Axioms are self-evident truths. The axioms of Software Development isolate key basics underpinning successful software development. These axioms build on each other. Understanding the first one will aid your understanding of the subsequent ones. This is part of the series on the Axioms of Software Development. If you haven’t read the previous axioms - you can see them here.

It’s my aim that by helping you understand these axioms, I can help you resolve problems associated with coordinating developers, time and resources and ensuring your software project is successful.

8. Stick to Your Knitting

“Stick to your knitting”, is an idiom. It loosely means; Do what you’re good at and what you know. Don’t dive into fields that aren’t your expertise.

For example, If you are building an eCommerce solution, don’t try and build an entire payment provider hooking into the credit card network as part of your eCommerce solution. It just doesn’t make sense to try and handle this complexity. Not at least until you are doing billions of dollars in transactions! Just stick to building what is special to you and what you need to go live.

This can also happen at the smaller scale. Need some marketing automation? Well, hook it into a marketing automation solution and use the tools provided there, don’t try and build it yourself.

Out-source as much as you can to other proven software platforms. If you need to upload files into the system, use Amazon S3 or Google Cloud Storage - don’t try and build an entire file hosting service, even if file hosting is core to your business. A great example of this is Dropbox. They built their entire business on top of S3 and only started building their own solution when they had 500 peta bytes (500,000,000 gigabytes) of data being hosted.

These are obvious examples, but it is easy to fall into the “I’ll just build it” trap.

The problem with “I’ll just build it” is that you under estimate the complexity of the edge cases that exist in the problem domain. Sure, building a file server for a bunch of files might seem easy, or a simple marketing workflow email system might be ok, but as soon as you start wanting more features, the complexity grows and you are stuck now with a home built solution.

Bluntly, there is a reason these established companies have spent millions of dollars in developing their platforms and solutions and you don’t have the development budget to build features that duplicate their functionality.

Spend that money on YOUR features that make you unique.

Stick to building what is important for your app and use existing proven software for the added functions you need. Develop with software that allows use of external libraries so you’re not having to re-do work that someone else has already done.

We have found we can integrate almost any system into your app.

I have focused on Ruby on Rails for the past 14 years for this reason. With over 166,000 gems (code libraries) that you can use to add functionality to your application.

With such a widely used and supported community of support, it allows you to code only what is needed for your specific application and 95% of code to support common functions are available to rapidly implement. You can view my reasoning for Why Ruby on Rails here.

Stick to your own knitting!

I hope you are getting value from these axioms. Please send me through your feedback and thoughts.