Simple Is not Simplistic

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"Very often, people confuse simple with simplistic. The nuance is lost on most." Clement Mok.
"Simplicity before understanding is simplistic; simplicity after understanding is simple." Edward de Bono.

First of all a couple of definitions (from the "New Oxford Dictionary Of English"):

  • simple easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty
  • simplistic treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are

I'm sure that most developers know that simple software is more maintainable, has fewer bugs, has a longer lifetime, etc., and that they always try to implement the simplest solutions they can possibly think of. We also know that many of those developers often end-up with unmaintainable code very quickly.

In my experience, the most common reason for that is due to lack of understanding of the problem being solved. In fact, when implementing a new piece of functionality, the real problem being solved has several aspects:

  1. The users' requirements (is what the users are asking for, what they really need?)
  2. The time necessary to implement it (when do the users really need it?)
  3. How to fit the functionality into the system cleanly (what parts of the current system need to change, if any, to accommodate it nicely?)
  4. What and how to test (How can I prove that the functionality is implemented correctly? How can I make the tests easy to write and easy to run?)

In other terms, simplistic solutions leave some important parts of the original problem unsolved. In the world of software development two typical victims of this approach (but by no means the only ones) are the users, who end up with buggy systems, and the maintainability of the code base, which gradually worsens.

[this is still work in progress]

By Giovanni Asproni

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3

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