Wide Awake Developers

Names Have Power

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Names have power. Shamanic primitives guard their true names – give me your name and you give me power over you. In the ether, your name is your only identity. Give away your name and you give away yourself. No cause, issue, or crusade has a follower until it has a name. A good name evokes images, emotions. A well-named issue becomes uncontestable. (Who is really opposed to "family values", anyway?)

Naming things well may be one of the hardest jobs in design. Somebody once said that object-oriented design was about creating the language that you would use to solve the problem. Start with the language (a collection of names, and rules about how to assemble the names), then deal with the problem.

I’m struggling with naming something right now. I can sense what it is. There is a real thing there. I can feel it. I need to define it, give it boundaries. When I can name it, I will give it life.

Find the line, find the shape
Through the grain
Find the outline, things will
Tell you their name
–Susanne Vega

The best name I’ve come up with yet is fluid. There are fluid methods, fluid tools, fluid technologies, fluid designs, and so on. Things that are fluid welcome change. They adapt. They are pleasant to modify. If I have a fluid architecture, then integrating a new system into the mix does not cause massive headaches and heartburn. (Hmmm. So dropping a new system into a fluid architecture doesn’t cause a ripple effect? Right. See how hard it is to name things?) Fluid "stuff" does not resist change. Being fluid means nothing is ever carved in stone. Things that are fluid encourage certian emergent properties that we value: fast, flexible, joyous.

Pah. That’s damn close to gibberish.

Let’s try analogy and contrast:

FluidNot fluid
Publish-subscribe messagingFlat file integration
Typeless languagesStrongly-typed languages
Tuple-spacesRelational databases
eXtreme ProgrammingSEI CMM Level 5
Cross-functional teamsSilos
Whiteboard task listsGANTT charts
20-person startupThe same company at 150 people

Does that help? The items on the left share some essential, underlying attributes. The things on the right lack those attributes; they embody different values. (I don’t like the semiotics of "fluid". Call that a working title, not a true name. Besides, the natural opposites of "fluid" would be "solid" or "concrete". These are both positively-connoted terms.)

So what can I name this quality? Is there really something essential there, or is this just reflecting nothing more than the way I like to work?