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i-Technology Viewpoint: We Need Not More Frameworks, But Better Programmers

"I view poor developers as a symptom of frameworks"

It's no secret that I've been outspoken about not liking frameworks for quite some time now. The truth is, I believe that frameworks have a lot to offer. The most significant benefit that organizations stand to gain from using frameworks is a standardized way to code and an environment that is generally more conducive to allowing multiple developers to work on a project at the same time. If frameworks help to standardize how things are done and make it easier for many developers to work on a project, why have I been vocal about not liking them? Am I just trying to create controversy?

The truth is that by and large, yes, I am trying to cause controversy...but only because I want to make people think - a statement that I make for a very good reason. I don't like frameworks because I've met a lot of developers over the years who have maybe one or two years of experience building applications with a framework but who don't have a good grasp of the CFML programming fundamentals you'd expect from someone with a few years' experience. I've met many developers who aren't capable of developing anything outside the context of the framework they're used to. In these scenarios, the framework is a crutch.

I view poor developers as a symptom of frameworks. Is this the fault of frameworks? No, not at all. There's nothing about a framework that says you can't use it and still be a terrific programmer. It's the fault of the developers, for sure, and it is for that reason that I don't truly dislike frameworks. I don't think any one framework should be used to build every application, and I personally prefer to develop without them, but when it's appropriate I see nothing wrong with using them. If developers are really good at what they do, they should feel comfortable and be competent working without a framework and/or bouncing in and out of several frameworks. This is unfortunately not the case for the majority, though not all, of the people who use frameworks. It is especially true for developers who began their programming career working on projects that are built with frameworks and have never had the need to build an application without one.

You might be surprised to hear that I have a similar dislike of object-oriented programming and an even stronger distaste for design patterns. That's an extremely controversial statement to make and I'm sure that if my commentary on frameworks didn't upset or confuse the majority of our readers, talking poorly about OOP and design patterns will. Now that I've managed to get everyone worked up, let's talk about it.

What could I not like about object-oriented programming? Similar to frameworks, I actually do like OOP, but I don't like what it's done to ColdFusion developers. This is truer for design patterns, which I view as the buzzword of the day right now. The reasons behind these statements are simple to explain, but very difficult to do anything about. I spend a lot of my "free time" reading about object theory and various thoughts and approaches to software architecture. The vast majority of the reading is not specific to ColdFusion but is certainly applicable. Likewise, my statements about OOP and design patterns are not specific to CF but apply to developers in all environments. An overwhelming number of programmers, not just CF but Java, .NET, C++, etc., talk about object-oriented programming without really understanding it at all. The roots of OOP are grounded in ideas, radical at the time they came out, about how to think about software development. Most of the books, courses, and, therefore, developers today have completely missed the point when it comes to OOP. These misconceptions and misapplied ideas are magnified greatly when developers begin throwing around talk about design patterns, which is why I said that I don't like them. The truth is, I think design patterns are an excellent learning tool and I am an avid supporter of OOP...but only when they're approached the right way.

My definition of "the right way" is for developers to learn "Object Think." Object Think is an approach to thinking about the objects that make up an application and is used for object modeling solutions. The original OOP concepts were based on this line of thought but it was quickly lost among developers, as they tend to use sequential thought when formulating solutions. Sequential thought comes more naturally to most people with a background in traditional programming and, to be honest, tends to be a more natural line of thought when formulating machine solutions, as programmers do. I have spent the better part of my free time for the past five or six years studying the writings and interpretations of the architect Christopher Alexander, software architecture pioneer Dr. David Parnas, Kent Beck (best known as the founding father of XP), and a handful of other early thinkers in the realm of object thought and behavioral programming. To apply these philosophies and thoughts to ColdFusion development requires changing the way we plan and execute solutions. At the heart of this change is the need to be more object-centric, achievable via object-personification, in our approach to planning applications.

Describing a philosophy of how to model applications is obviously beyond the scope of this editorial. It's beyond the scope of an article and, in all fairness, is even difficult to achieve within the limitations of a book. My Sensible Assembly Methodology is based on these teachings, taken from Streamlined Object Modeling, Object Think, other thoughts and writings, and my architecture and development experience in the real world. Due to an extremely hectic schedule, I should have some documentation on that by the end of March at the latest, with a book to follow. My advocating a methodology (SAM) as opposed to a framework is driven by a personal belief that by doing so, I can offer developers something more valuable and transferable - a better way to think about development.

What is important to me, for the good of the community, is not whether developers choose to use one framework or another or choose to use my methodology or another; it is that we not only accept that the way we solve problems and develop software could be better, but examine every alternative approach in our attempts to find better ways to work. This idea has become more important with the recent buzz about Web 2.0 and next-generation Web applications. Simply throwing a Flex or AJAX front end on our application isn't good enough - in order to develop a true next-generation interface we have to change the way we think about our users and the experiences they should have when they interact with what we create. This is something that the XD (extreme design) group at Macromedia has been talking about for several years. As applied to software architecture, these ideas have been discussed for several decades. My hope is that now, with the vast amount of available information and the mature tools and technologies available to developers, the ColdFusion community can begin to put these ideas into practice.

More Stories By Simon Horwith

Simon Horwith is the CIO at AboutWeb, LLC, a Washington, DC based company specializing in staff augmentation, consulting, and training. Simon is a Macromedia Certified Master Instructor and is a member of Team Macromedia. He has been using ColdFusion since version 1.5 and specializes in ColdFusion application architecture, including architecting applications that integrate with Java, Flash, Flex, and a myriad of other technologies. In addition to presenting at CFUGs and conferences around the world, he has also been a contributing author of several books and technical papers.

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