Software development is a young profession, and we are still learning the techniques and building the tools to do it effectively. I've been involved in this activity for over three decades and in the last two I've been writing on this website about patterns and practices that make it easier to build useful software. The site began as a place to put my own writing, but I also use it to publish articles by my colleagues.

In 2000, I joined ThoughtWorks, where my role is to learn about the techniques that we've learned to deliver software for our clients, and pass these techniques on to the wider software industry. As this site has developed into a respected platform on software development, I've edited and published articles by my colleagues, both ThoughtWorkers and others, to help useful writing reach a wider audience.

photo of Martin Fowler

photo: Christopher Ferguson

Martin Fowler

A website on building software effectively

If there's a theme that runs through my work and writing on this site, it's the interplay between the shift towards agile thinking and the technical patterns and practices that make agile software development practical. While specifics of technology change rapidly in our profession, fundamental practices and patterns are more stable. So writing about these allows me to have articles on this site that are several years old but still as relevant as when they were written.

As software becomes more critical to modern business, software needs to be able to react quickly to changes, allowing new features to be be conceived, developed and put into production rapidly. The techniques of agile software development began in the 1990s and became steadily more popular in the last decade. They focus on a flexible approach to planning, which allows software products to change direction as the users' needs change and as product managers learn more about how to make their users effective. While widely accepted now, agile approaches are not easy, requiring significant skills for a team, but more importantly a culture of open collaboration both within the team and with a team's partners.

This need to respond fluently to changes has an important impact upon the architecture of a software system. The software needs to be built in such a way that it is able to adapt to unexpected changes in features. One of the most important ways to do this is to write clear code, making it easy to understand what the program is supposed to do. This code should be divided into modules which allow developers to understand only the parts of the system they need to make a change. This production code should be supported with automated tests that can detect any errors made when making a change while providing examples of how internal structures are used. Large and complex software efforts may find the microservices architectural style helps teams deploy software with less entangling dependencies.

Creating software that has a good architecture isn't something that can be done first time. Like good prose, it needs regular revisions and programmers learn more about what the product needs to do and how best to design the product to achieve its goals. Refactoring is an essential technique to allow a program to be changed safely. It consists of making small changes that don't alter the observable behavior of the software. By combining lots of small changes, developers can revise the software's structure supporting significant modifications that weren't planned when the system was first conceived.

Software that runs only on a developer's machine isn't providing value to the customers of the software. Traditionally releasing software has been a long and complicated process, one that hinders the need to evolve software quickly. Continuous Delivery uses automation and collaborative workflows to remove this bottleneck, allowing teams to release software as often as the customers demand. For Continuous Delivery to be possible, we need to build in a solid foundation of Testing, with a range of automated tests that can give us confidence that our changes haven't introduced any bugs. This leads us to integrate testing into programming, which can act to improve our architecture.

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St Agnes, UK (2018)

Data Management

There are many kinds of software out there, the kind I'm primarily engaged is Enterprise Applications. One of the enduring problems we need to tackle in this world is data management. The aspects of data managment I've focused on here are how to migrate data stores as their applications respond to changing needs, coping with different contexts across a large enterprise, the role of NoSQL databases, and the broader issues of coping with data that is both Big and Messy.

Domain-Specific Languages

A common problem in complex software systems is how to capture complicated domain logic in a way that programmers can both easily manipulate and also easily communicate to domain experts. Domain-Specific Languages (DSLs) create a custom language for a particular problem, either with custom parsers or by conventions within a host language.

Books

I've written seven books on software development, including Refactoring, Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, and UML Distilled. I'm also the editor of a signature series for Addison-Wesley that includes five jolt award winners.

My Books Page...

Conference Talks

I'm often asked to give talks at conferences, from which I've inferred that I'm a pretty good speaker - which is ironic since I really hate giving talks. You can form your own opinion of my talks by watching videos of some my conference talks.

My Videos Page...

Board Games

I've long been a fan of board games, I enjoy a game that fully occupies my mind, clearing out all the serious thoughts for a bit, while enjoying the company of good friends. Modern board games saw dramatic improvement in the 1990's with the rise of Eurogames, and I expect many people would be surprised if they haven't tried any of this new generation. I also appear regularly on Heavy Cardboard.

My Board Games page...

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How to do effective video calls

Thu 19 Mar 2020 10:42 EDT

During 2011-2012 there was a small but significant revolution in how we worked at ThoughtWorks. When we needed to communicate while separated we used to do telephone meetings, but within a year the telephone disappeared and we started using video calls instead. Now Covid-19 has struck, a lot more people are getting acquainted with remote working and the video calls that come with them. So I thought I'd share some of things I, and my colleagues, have learned about doing them.

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Coping with Covid-19, part 2

Fri 13 Mar 2020 10:58 EDT

As the Covid-19 outbreak continues to spread, we at ThoughtWorks continue to react. In China we're slowly restarting our office work, with some significant protective measures. Elsewhere it's all about a rapid shift to more remote work and plans to respond to the economic impact.

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The Elephant in the Architecture

Mon 02 Mar 2020 09:41 EST

Last week I gave one of the keynotes at O'Reilly's Software Architecture conference. When I was invited to do this last year, I asked my colleagues at a radar meeting dinner for suggestions on what to talk about. They commented about how they were often asked to do architectural assessments for clients, and almost always discovered that the architects neglected to properly understand the business value of the systems they were looking after. I then worked with Ian Cartwright to organize the material both for the talk and this article: to make the case for why we should consider business value to be a first-class architectural attribute, and the consequences of that framing.

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Coping with Covid-19

Thu 27 Feb 2020 13:40 EST

The Covid-19 outbreak is getting more serious. With offices in China, we've already been affected and have taken various measures across our global business. Here's what we've learned so far about what we need to do to handle this crisis.

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Product-Service Partnerships

Thu 13 Feb 2020 12:02 EST

When customer companies buy software products, they usually need skilled staff to install them. This staff is usually provided by a service provider company, since software product vendors don't find it makes business sense to build their own services arm. Customers need to be aware of the relationship between product vendors and service providers, and should require transparency on the relationship from those they work with. A transparency that is increasingly important as these partnerships grow in prominence with the rise of cloud vendors.

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Bliki: OutcomeOverOutput

Tue 11 Feb 2020 10:16 EST

Imagine a team writing software for a shopping website. If we look at the team's output, we might consider how many new features they produced in the last quarter, or a cross-functional measure such as a reduction in page load time. An outcome measure, however, would consider measure increased sales revenue, or reduced number of support calls for the product. Focusing on outcomes, rather than output, favors building features that do more to improve the effectiveness of the software's users and customers.

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