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Technology Radar #24: Automotive SW perspective

I am following the Thoughtworks Technology Radar since approximately five years. Since I first became aware about it (IIRC a colleague forwarded a version to me), I enjoyed its volumes as a condensed summary of current trends in the software industry. There is some bias towards cloud technology and machine learning which is out of my current professional interest, however there are enough other concepts/tools/aspects every time which make me investigate and followup to my best possibilities either at work or in my private projects. In this blog post I will try to list those parts which are roughly new and relevent from an automotive software perspective.

As usual, there are some selected topics on the top level they are presenting. Already the first one – Platform Teams Drive Speed To Market – is highly relevant. Its no secret that the automotive industry is widely moving towards in-house platforms, recent example from the news are vw.os (Volkswagen) and MBOS (Mercedes-Benz). The particular recommendation is to handle such platform activities explicitly as products, with all the implications. Only a platform with its own set of features, product vision, dedicated team and lifecycle can actually serve its purpose. A platform handled as a side-gig of an enduser product will neither serve the platform users well nor will it provide sustainable value, plus there would be a high chance of not surviving the first generation.

The second highlighted aspect – Consolidated Convenience over Best in Class – is also very relevant in the automotive SW sector. All of us love the regular discussion which code review tool is the best, and which CI tool is the newest hot shot we must adopt. Integrated workflow tools which integrate requirements/tickets to code, integration, tools and deployment such as gitlab and github (with github actions) promise so much more convenience in inter-tool integration and generally less setup hassle compared to having multiple tools each with its own authentication foo. However, there is also much higher risk of vendor lock-in. This can result in financial dead-ends and of course sooner or later lead to loss of flexibility on adopting new technology in the workflow area.

Jumping over the third highlighted topic and going straight ahead to the fourth – Discerning the Context for Architectural Coupling – this covers the architectural state of the union address. Baseline of the message here is “it depends”. Discussions with buzzwords like “monoliths” and “microservices” are seldom helpful, the real discussion needs to happen on the detailled requirements, constraints and principles.

Going deeper into the four sectors of the radar – Techniques, Tools, Platforms, Languages&Frameworks – lets start with Techniques. The new entry API expand and contract is directly an “adopt” recommendation. It means rather than breaking changes with new API versions too often its more about adding new interfaces while keeping but deprecating old ones, giving consumers a chance to adopt without breaking their usage. I can see immediate benefit of such patterns especially on highly used interfaces such as the vehicle communication interfaces. If “deprecation would be a thing (at scale)” it could relief many breaking integration challenges in the automotive domain.

In the trial circle we find Hypothesis-driven legacy renovation:

Rather than working toward a standard backlog, the team takes ownership of a measurable technical outcome and collectively establishes a set of hypotheses about the problem. They then conduct iterative, time-boxed experiments to verify or disprove each hypothesis in order of priority. The resulting workflow is optimized for reducing uncertainty rather than following a plan toward a predictable outcome.

https://www.thoughtworks.com/radar/techniques/hypothesis-driven-legacy-renovation

Sounds quite interesting. I am, too, used to handling technical stories like user stories. The given approach may indeed yield more efficient and effective collaboration on technical improvements.

Another very relatable technique is Lightweight approach to RFCs. Its something which my personal workstyle already incorporated since long time. I strive to create very fast first drafts for any task and then seeking review comments from my peers. Hence, I can absolutely understand the point of this topic and clearly recommend this. Any organization in need of collaboration and frequent alignment on concepts can benefit from a very lean set of templates encouraging early feedback rather than a culture which expects “perfect first shots”.

Team cognitive load and its linked Inverse Conway Maneuver give also very interesting food for thought. I am well aware about some teams in my environment who struggle a lot with the complexity at hand, and the organzational environment adds to that complexity significantly. The Inverse Conway Maneuver – organizing the team organization around how the proper architecture of a system looks like rather than structuring the architecture around the semi-random existing organizational structure – makes a lot of sense. It chimes well with the notion of Feature Teams and team ownership.

Remote mob programming as an extension of local mob programming, which is by itself the advancement of pair programming is certainly a recommended practice in many situations. Recently I have tried to bring teams together in “remote debug sessions” for hard inter-team nuts (=bugs) with not so great success. There is a lot of hesitance of teams to just spend some focus time together, and time difference in international setups is only one external factor. While (local) pair programming is something I think every team manager should at least try with his team a few times to see if it works out, mob programming depends an order of magnitude more mature team dynamics.

Under “hold” we can find Peer review equals pull request. The baseline here is that pull requests are only one way to conduct peer review, and as such its a very valid claim and call for further action. Looking only at fragmented changes (which 99% of PRs usually are) and reviewing that alone doesnt give context how a codebase looks overall. Full code reviews or audits certainly give great insights for potential refactoring efforts and even re-designs, besides other learnings.

The scaled agile framework SAFe is a hold and a look in the history shows it was since the beginning. Thats interesting. I am no expert in SAFe, and only know it in theory.

Separate code and pipeline ownership is really triggering me while I write this. Thats because I recently gave a presentation about the exact same thing and why both shouldnt be separated. I am wondering if that thought appeared to me myself or if I read about it the radar earlier. Nevertheless, I think anything else than keeping both together cannot really be justified from a professional sw development context (neglecting some extreme theoretical circumstances). Having that said, its not yet an established truths, and organizational structures and other opinions enforce a separation more often than I would wish for.

The tools sector doesnt offer really relevant insights this time, its all about backend intra, web dev, ML and that kindof stuff.

In the platforms sector the first thing which appears intersting is Backstage. Its a platform developed by Spotify which in essence is a simple overview on projects going on within an organization (company). It can be used to advertise cool efforts in the developer community. Something which could be worth a try. However, as a separate tool it may lack synchronizity with the actual developer activities. Integrating such a frontend into gitlab could yield some interesting dynamics, because that could leverage existing information about activitiy of projects and use data directly from the individiual projects/repos in there.

In the languages & frameworks sector again nothing relatable.

In total the new tech radar volume give me some very valuable insights and food for more thought.

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