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Pawel Kadluczka
Pawel Kadluczka

Posted on • Originally published at

Respect 'boring' technologies, they are your lifeline

Software developers are constantly bombarded with new, shiny stuff. Every day, there is a new gadget, JavaScript framework, or tool promising to solve all our problems. We want to use them all and cringe when we think about the boring technologies we use in our day-to-day jobs.

But we should love these boring technologies.

They get the job done. They pay the bills. They are there for us when we need them the most.

Most boring technologies have been around for years or even decades. They are versatile and battle-tested. Are they perfect? Absolutely not! They all have quirks and problems, but there are good reasons why they survived most of the contenders trying to replace them.

I don't suggest that you avoid new technologies altogether. On the contrary, I encourage everyone to explore what’s new out there. You just need to know when to do this and understand the risks.

I recommend using mature technologies for risky, critical, or time-sensitive projects. When there is little margin for error, you want to use a reliable technology you understand and can work efficiently with. New technologies rarely meet these criteria.

Smaller or non-critical projects are perfect for trying something new and learning along the way, as long as you understand the consequences if things don’t work out. The most common issues with new, often unproven, technologies include:

  • trade-offs - you are trading a set of reasonably well-understood problems for a set of unknown problems
  • bugs or unsupported scenarios whose fixing is outside of your control
  • issues with no acceptable workarounds may block you or even force you to pivot to a different technology
  • poor documentation and support; limited online resources
  • the technology may unexpectedly lose support forcing you to either sunset your product or rewrite it completely

Occasionally, you will get lucky, and the new technology you bet on will become a 'boring' technology. I experienced this at my first job, where we decided to experiment with the .NET Framework. At that time, it was still in the Beta stage. Today, millions of developers around the world use the .NET Framework daily. I ended up working with it for more than 15 years. I even contributed to it after I joined Microsoft, where I worked on one of the .NET Framework teams.

I had less luck with my Swift SignalR client. For this project I needed WebSockets, but at that time, there was no support for a WebSocket API in the Apple ecosystem. I decided to use the SocketRocket library from Facebook to fill this gap. When my attempts to get help with a few issues failed, I realized that the SocketRocket library was no longer maintained. This lack of support forced me to look for an alternative. I soon found SwiftWebSocket, which I liked because it was small (just one file), popular, and still supported by the author. Moving to SwiftWebSocket required some effort but was successful. Fast forward a few years, and the library stopped compiling after I updated my XCode. I fixed the issues and sent a pull request to make my fixes available to everyone, but my PR didn't receive attention. I also noticed that more users complained about the same issues I hit but were not getting any response. This unresponsiveness was a sign that the support for this library ended also (the author later archived the project). As I didn't want to go through yet another rewrite, I forked the code, fixed compilation issues, and included this version in my project. Eventually, Apple added native support for WebSockets to the Foundation framework. Even though it was a lot of work, I was happy to migrate to this implementation because I was confident it would be the last time!

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