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Silver bullets dipped in snake oil: Why architecture work matters and what’s the catch

The ancient, time-tested wisdom on silver bullets has been around for some time. It has even become a cliche. Would the time be right to question it? What would a silver bullet be then?

Person working on a computer

The silent power of repeating patterns

Disruption was one of the big hype words of the last decade for a good reason. More than resilience is needed to make an enterprise thrive through times. A business must also be able to transform to adapt to changes in the market.

As a company grows, these transformations become ever more complex. Architecture work is the bedrock on which successful enterprises are built and transformed. Architects work to solve entire classes of problems instead of individual issues. That's often easier said than done.

A key lesson learned in this work is that often, organizations across industries struggle with the same kind of challenges. The same patterns of problems repeat, and a seasoned architect has often gathered a personal set of tools to solve the patterns. The decision they need to make is to identify when a tool fits or does not. After that, there is still the challenge of communicating the idea and making it happen.

Architecture seeks to find actionable ways to break or amplify

We can find examples everywhere. Many organizations struggle with multiple user accounts for different applications. Clients find this cumbersome and maintenance is a burden. Pattern? A centralized directory service for all applications. There’s the benefit of reduced maintenance of solutions, and understanding what the clients do across the application landscape is much easier. The idea is simple to understand and a set of tools supports consolidated identities from fragmented sources. This kind of architectural debt is still fairly common. The opposing force is naturally making things too centralized. It’s great for cost control but often introduces bottlenecks due to the inertia centralized service comes with. Does this kind of balancing sound familiar? It’s called SNAFU for a reason.

Software and Enterprise Architecture is often associated with creating diagrams. These diagrams have no intrinsic value and their ornamental value is often limited. They must only be created and maintained to act as means of communication and decision-making. Their true power? Revealing repeating problem categories across different abstraction levels. If the problem is known or similar enough with a known problem, it can be approached with a known pattern. When these patterns are applied correctly, they have predictable consequences. These solutions or architecture patterns are the silver bullets of modern technology business.

Applying the wrong pattern is like eating spaghetti with a hammer – technically possible but often just plain stupid

It’s hard to come up with a pattern that would be universally applicable. For example, building loose coupling is often a great idea, but if you are a small-scale business, having just one monolith webshop that does it all is often a great idea. There is little point in having an isolated product management system that can be accessed over an interface. If the business at some point starts to scale, that’s the time to worry about it. It’s naturally important to recognize the point of investing in serious business technology. Making it too fancy too early is expensive, both in resources and missed opportunities. The cost of silver is tenfold compared to the cost of lead at the time of writing.

Grasping the true nature of different patterns and matching approaches requires experience - i.e. which bullet to shoot

A casual dip into the world of architecture might offer a shimmering glimpse, but true understanding is forged in the depths of experience. While formal training lays the groundwork, real-world application and hands-on problem-solving solidify this knowledge. Sadly, many developers bear the scars of misapplied patterns, often due to cursory training. Without deep comprehension, even the most potent solutions can seem as cryptic as arcane rituals – often as good as voodoo.

It’s not all that bad. The software industry has been around for some time now. We’ve seen a generation who has been educated on it and making software for decades. Some are consultants, some work inside the industry, and some of them serve the public. There are brilliant individuals and even smarter teams who know how to keep their game together. It’s not just silver bullets that are available, but people armed with knowledge on how and where to apply them. The interesting news is that the range of available bullets has been expanding. Also, the effectiveness of these bullets has steadily been improving. Patterns available to architects and developers can handle more complex problems with ease which makes technology magical again.

It all sounds complicated, but once you get going, it's not. A consistent thought and steady effort are all that is needed.


  • Portrait of Juho Jutila
    Juho Jutila
    Tech Principal
  • Portrait of Ville Takanen
    Ville Takanen
    Tech Principal