Essence vs. Ceremony

At the past Dynamic Languages 08 conference, Neil Ford of ThoughtWorks Inc. gave a keynote presentation entitled “Ceremony & Essence”, which took the case of programming languages to reflect on two fundamental approaches to any given problem: The “ceremonious” approach that builds libraries over libraries, creates patterns and protocols to eventually solve the initial problem with a huge flagship of infrastructure; and the other that creates infrastructure that remains light and compact and tries to get out of the way, allowing you to focus on the issue at hand.

Excessive ceremony is a dangerous trap, and not only for software itself but also for all the collateral efforts like documentation, configuration and release management. Here is a story of a personal encounter I had recently.

When I came across a broken link on the Python documentation web site, I would have ignored it since I knew how to get at the information anyway. But since Python is besides Javascript the other intrinsic language for qooxdoo, I thought “be a good citizen, save the world and report this broken link”. After some looking around I was directed to a feedback page that offered a couple of choices. One of them was that if I had spotted a concrete problem with the web site I should be so kind and open a bug for it in Python’s issue tracking system.

Now filing bugs is not the most pleasurable activity, especially if you need an account in the first place. But eventually I had filed my first Python documentation bug in two lines of text, which was really a no-brainer saying this is the page, this is the broken link on it, and here is it where it should actually point to. I felt like a good boy.

You might be surprise to hear about the feedback I got a few days later. The link had been fixed in the development system. Hmm. The (offline) development system was fixed but the (online) production system not?! I asked back and learned that the documentation was treated like released software. The current presence has been released (2 years ago) and will not be fixed but superseded by its successor which is expected to come out in a couple of months. So you accept your users running into a dead end for more than 2 years?! And the policies and procedures do not allow this trivial issue to be fixed?! – Thank you, ceremony!

One thought on “Essence vs. Ceremony

  1. Bravo!

    And thus the platforms which require a “huge flagship of infrastructure” to solve any given problem will be unceremoniously replaced by nimble platforms that possess no such cumbersome inertia.