Microsoft Patterns & Practices Summit 2007 - Day 3

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The topic of Day 3: Development.

Keynote - John Lam

Lam’s keynote was primarily a demo of IronRuby and an explanation of how they arrived at where they’re at with the project as well as where they’re going.  It was very interesting to see a Ruby app on Mono running Windows Forms… but I realized as I watched this that I don’t think I’m nearly as interested in the whole Dynamic Language Runtime thing as everyone else out there is.  I mean, it’s cool and all, and maybe I’m just burned out on it, but when people say “DLR” I don’t instantly think “Yes!”

The Right Tools for the Right Job - Rocky Lhotka

This was less a presentation on tools (as it sounds like it might be) and more a presentation on application architecture urging you to use the right tools - and patterns - for the solution you’re creating.  In most cases, this boiled down to the fact that you need to have the discipline to keep your application layers (presentation, business, data) separate so you can appropriately accommodate technology changes.

Model-Based Design - David Trowbridge, Suhail Dutta

This talk was specifically geared around the modeling tools built into Visual Studio Rosario.  Three modeling tools were shown:

  • Logical class diagram - An enhanced version of the exisitng class diagram functionality.  Generate class stubs based on the diagram and update the diagram based on code changes.
  • Sequence diagram - An extension from the logical class diagram. Show how classes interact in a standard sequence diagram.  As you add method calls to the sequence diagram, it updates the class diagram, which allows you to generate code.  What I didn’t see here was whether the actual sequencing in the diagram generates any code.
  • Dependency analysis - They called this “Progression.”  Pleading ignorance, I don’t recall why.  Anyway, this frankly looked like a watered-down version of NDepend.

Dependency Injection Frameworks - Scott Densmore, Peter Provost

A discussion on the principles of dependency injection more than specific framework usage, which was just fine.  I won’t go over the whole thing because there’s plenty out there on dependency injection. The two things I liked were the list of different types of dependency injection and the potential drawbacks.

Types of dependency injection they mentioned (who knew there were so many?):

  • Service locator (not really dependency injection, more late-binding to services)
  • Interface injection
  • Setter injection
  • Constructor injection
  • Method call injection
  • Getter injection

…and drawbacks of dependency injection.  (I liked this because proponents of dependency injection rarely mention these things as drawbacks, instead calling it “good design,” which is debatable.)

  • Lots of little objects - you generally have to break things down into very, very small pieces.  Rather than two-1000 line objects, you might have 20-100 line objects.
  • Runtime wire-up can be complicated and difficult to visualize - figuring out which objects were populated by what context and how the dependency came to be can be hard to wrap your head around, especially in systems of any size.  Couple that with the “lots of little objects” drawback and you might realize you have a defect… but which of the bajillion little objects is it in?
  • Interface explosion - everything gets an interface because everything’s gotta be pluggable.

They recommended that if you write reusable libraries with these techniques, you should wrap the public facing stuff with a facade to mask this confusion from the library consumers.

Designing for Workflow - Ted Neward

A two-part talk on things to keep in mind when designing for workflow (specifically, Windows Workflow Foundation).  The first part started out by basically saying that there’s not enough info out there to be able to identify best practices for workflow development.  That said, keep in mind the goals:

  • Capture long-running processes.  (Be able to “pause” and “resume” a long-running process.)
  • Provide “knowledge workers” with the ability to edit a process.
  • Provide a component market.  (Developers create activities - components - that knowledge workers can use to compose workflows.)
  • Keep workflows decoupled from the environment.  (What if you started a process on a Blackberry and resumed it when you got to work and logged into the web application?)
  • Embrace flexibility in workflow hosting.  (You might host the workflow in your web app, in a Windows forms app, etc.)

The second half of the talk was open discussion.  The key that came out here was that, when working with workflow and looking for patterns, don’t neglect work that’s already been done.  Check out the Workflow Patterns site for some documented workflow patterns.

Panel: The Future of Design Patterns - Dragos Manolescu, Wojtek Kozaczynski, Ade Miller, Jason Hogg

An open forum to debate whether future investment in pattern education for the masses should occur in tools (creating tools that more easily allow you to introduce patterns into your code) or in materials (web sites and books that educate you about patterns).

No real resolution was reached, but there were definitely some strong feelings on both sides.  Some felt that simply giving people tools would make it too easy for junior folks who don’t understand the patterns to shoot themselves in the foot by misusing the tools and making bad code even worse.  Others felt that there’s already enough material out there and investing in even more would be a waste.  And, of course, there are the middle-ground folks who say we need both.

But if you can only have one of those things, which would you take?

EntLib Devolved - Scott Densmore

An exploratory discussion on why the Enterprise Library is the way it is and ideas on how it might be made easier to use.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say EnterpriseLibrary.Get<Database>("Sales"); or something as simple as that?  What’s stopping us?

The answer: Nothing.

They’re working on it.

An Evening With Microsoft Research - Jim Larus

A peek at some of the stuff Microsoft Research has been working on. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) at the breadth of topics they look at.

I think my favorite one was the analysis they did on a developer’s day including all of the interruptions and task switching that goes on - things you might not even notice - and how that impacts not only that developer but others around them.  They call it “Human Interactions in Programming.” Looking at a graphical representation of a 90 minute period that shows interruptions for several developers was fascinating.  They even analyzed what the most frequent question types were that people interrupted to ask (“Why is my code behaving like this?” sorts of things) and how satisfied they were with the answers they got back.

Neat stuff.