What I'm up to now

Martin Fowler: 26 Aug 2021

A couple of months ago I announced that I was stepping back from speaking. A few people wondered whether I would still be writing. I did indicate in that article that I am, but I felt it may be worth saying a bit more about what I’m concentrating on these days.

One thing that’s different to much of my writing life is that I’m not tackling a big writing topic, such as a book-length material. After I finished the second edition of Refactoring, I spent most of the following year working on this website, and then put a few months into my article on Branching Patterns, which had been knocking on my brain for a few years. That done, I fancied revisiting one of the two big topics I started exploring, but then put on ice in the mid oughts: front-end architecture and events. For a while I spent some time revisiting front-end architecture, exploring how patterns I’d identified with rich clients systems 20 years ago mapped into the current world of the web and single-page applications. But I ended up putting that back in the freezer because I wasn’t making palpable progress. I’d get a couple of solid mornings on it one week, only to not be able to work on it again for a couple of weeks, which meant I forgot where I was when I needed to pick it up again. I wasn’t able to get momentum, and without that I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Why wasn’t I able to spend time on these things? Simply put, plenty of other stuff I was working on.

Some of this being involved in Thoughtworks leadership. My role in Thoughtworks is odd, I don’t have any management responsibilities, but I’m often called to contribute my point of view. Watching how my colleagues run a business that employs thousands of people, it seems inconceivable to me that I have anything valuable to add. Yet they keep asking me to participate, and I should trust their good judgment and be as involved as they wish.

The main thing that’s been occupying my brain in the last months has been working with my colleagues who are working on significant writing works. Those who follow this site will hopefully have noticed Unmesh Joshi’s collection of Patterns of Distributed Systems. Zhamak Denghani is working on a book to describe her Data Mesh approach. And last month I published the first few section of Ian Cartwright, Rob Horn, and James Lewis’s Patterns of Legacy Displacement. While I’m certainly not a co-author of any of these works, I have put a lot of time and energy shepherding them forwards. These authors are much closer to the reality of software development these days than I am, so I think I can contribute more by using what experience and talent I have in writing to get their experiences and ideas out into the world.

I should also mention that I suspect I’m not as energetic as I used to be as I age. I’ve long known that when you’re doing very creative work, such as writing or programming, the useful hours you can do in a day is rather less than the accepted industrial eight. I’ve always been nagged by my conviction that I’m not working as diligently or effectively as I ought to be. Sadly I’m not getting any better at not letting that bug me.

I still have some writing of my own simmering, but I’m keeping it small scale, so that it isn’t a tragedy when its pushed aside for a few weeks. Part of me is frustrated that I can’t tackle a big topic like I used to, but I’ve gained an immense satisfaction from seeing those I’ve helped making an impact on the industry over the years.