Lessons learned in Software Development (2) – Abstraction

Long ago during our weekly tech meeting @ Therap, we had this intriguing discussion, “What is the most crucial skill for a software developer?”. It was quite interesting to see how different people at different skill level had different opinion about the topic. I remember my answer was “Algorithm” (Back then I was into solving ACM style problem). Other inputs were “Language”, “Communication”, “Optimization”, “Clean Code” etc. However, we all agreed finally that it was “Design skills” that matters most.

My view on this topic also changed from time to time as I grew older and played different roles. I tried to master java (with two java certification under my belt) when I thought language was the most important, I memorized all design patterns from GOF books and tried to apply them when I thought design was the most important one.

Well now a days, I feel like I got the bigger picture. I think it is the power of “Abstraction” that can turn you from a good Software engineer to a Great one. You can find the importance of abstraction everywhere. When we were tought object oriented design at our schools, we first relate the word “Abstraction” as one of the three attributes of Object Oriented Programming. Well, it has much bigger meaning than that. Abstraction is not only part of  detailed design or Object design, Its the most important part when you want to architect big systems.

When I started my career, I used to get overwhelmed by big problems, big tasks, big projects. I tried to address them all together and made a mess of things. Now a days, I try to apply abstraction in such scenarios. Whenever I get big problems, I try to divide them into smaller pieces. “Divide and conquer”–Thats the trick. If you can abstract away the smaller problems and focus on the big picture, at the end of the day, you are going to achieve the big goal. If you are working in a team, you can put your team members to work with each of the abstractions.

I am not going to talk about the Abstraction @ code level. There are enough materials on them. But here is the key, If you can abstract away the components/responsibility/code, you will always be safe from big disaster and achieve the bigger goal.

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