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Real cost of your new library

tomekbuszewski profile image Tomek Buszewski ・2 min read

Creating application nowadays consists mostly of implementation. We are using tools. But are those tools, albeit open-sourced, really free?

When starting a new project, be it a simple micro service or a large foundation for a platform, you stand before one question. What frameworks, libraries and tools to use. Sure, you know the requirements, have your well-tried favorites and are eager to use them once more.

But every once and then, there goes a thought. Perhaps I should switch to something else. Maybe instead of Express, I will use Hapi or Koa. While those are safe choices (given their reputation and market presence), you might be tempted to try an underdog of the API framework race. Something with less than 100 stars on GitHub, maintained by a guy from Someplace. It has everything you need, public API is written with you in mind, docs are clear and vast. Why not?

And here comes the cost of this solution.

You read the documentation, create some concepts and demos, expand it further and after sometime you got a working application. Backed by a framework known to you and roughly a hundred other people. And it's fine – it works good, it's testable and stable. But then your project goes out. Colleagues are joining, to help you develop it further.

And they don't know what is going on.

They have never seen this library. Public methods aren't that clear to them as they are to you. So, what now? This is a mature prototype, which costed you some time, so refactoring it won't do. They will have to learn it. You can help them, provide training, documentation, own knowledge. But still, this will take a couple of days.

Was that learning beneficial?

It terms of sheer knowledge – yes. It's always better to know something than to not know. They might have learned more about the language itself. And they learned a new tool. But in the long run – was it really? They have grasped a library no one else uses now, so this isn't really market value. It is not used on other projects in the company, so no company-wide value as well. And, since this is one time usage, this knowledge probably won't stay there for long.

Another problem is recruiting for the project. You require something most people don't know. So you take the best and train them, besides the normal on-boarding. This also costs money.

Okay, so how to introduce new technology without this problem? It's really quite simple – discuss it with your teammates at first. Even if this is a greenfield project and you've been given total control. Actually, especially then. Because real cost of an application isn't just development. It's development and maintenance, with the latter, quite often, being the costly one.

Bottom line of this is – choose a stack you will be able to hand over with as little overhead as possible. Never assume that you will be working on a project from start to finish. You might get reassigned, leave, in need of help, whatever, the options are endless.

Discussion (7)

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michi profile image
Michael Z

I agree that you should probably not jump head first into some random new framework. At least you could try it out on a side project first.

But how does Express help in this case? It is a minimalist framework that in and of itself is not enough for a mature application so you install a bunch of different dependencies and somehow make them work together.
How does that make onboarding easier when every project can have an entirely different folder structure, set of libraries, test framework etc.

tomekbuszewski profile image
Tomek Buszewski Author

Hey Michael,

Express was used merely for illustrative purposes, as it is easily recognizable. But it quite often starts from there, someone choses a framework, no matter how small footprint it has got, and then application is snowballing towards tools' mindset/guides etc.

jessekphillips profile image
Jesse Phillips

I think the discussion part is irrespective of the chosen stack.

Not that my experience is larger than a pebble, it does appear that people stand clear of learning something in the midst of needing to also solve problems.

tomekbuszewski profile image
Tomek Buszewski Author

Hey Jesse,
what you describe quite often defaults to "select what I know" rather than "select what I would like to learn", because the time constraints. When you don't really have the time to learn, introduce and develop some feature basing on a new solution, you go with the one you know to meet the requirements.

tennixpl profile image

Welcome to enterprise concerns.
You may be trying to solve problem A, but don't forget about problems B-Z that aren't in your immediate vision.

Most programmers and software developers forget concerns like this, this is actually one of the strong elements missing from the career field that keeps it from being a profession.

tomekbuszewski profile image
Tomek Buszewski Author

Hi, tennixpl,

You are addressing far wider problem that was tackled by my text. When creating new project, be it a microservice that will only store simple key/value pair or a monolithic enterprise application, the amount of choices is terrifying ;) But choosing a stack that will be fine with the team and market-compatible is one of the most important ones.

theodesp profile image
Theofanis Despoudis

I couldn't agree more