Accidentally Load Bearing: Understanding the Hidden Roles of Components in a System

Tara H

Hatched by Tara H

Oct 17, 2023

3 min read


Accidentally Load Bearing: Understanding the Hidden Roles of Components in a System

In the world of software development, it is crucial to understand the intricacies of the components that make up a system. Often, developers find themselves facing unexpected challenges when attempting to make changes or improvements to a particular component. This phenomenon is known as "accidentally load bearing", where a component takes on additional roles or responsibilities over time without the developers realizing it. To effectively navigate this complexity, it is essential to consider both the original design and the current integration of the component.

When faced with the task of modifying or removing a seemingly useless component, it is tempting to dive straight into the code and make the necessary changes. However, taking a step back and examining the change history and original design documents can provide valuable insights. By understanding why a component was built the way it was, developers can gain a deeper understanding of its intended purpose and functionality.

However, it is not enough to solely rely on the past. Components within a system can evolve and adapt to new requirements and constraints. This is where the concept of Chesterton's Fence comes into play. This principle states that before making any changes, one must first determine why a particular structure or component was set up in a certain way. In the context of software development, this means considering not only the original purpose of a component but also any additional roles it may have taken on since its creation.

To illustrate this point, let's consider an example from the banking industry. Barclays, one of the leading financial institutions, offers online statements to its customers. These statements are available for viewing through their online banking platform or the Barclays app. However, there may be cases where a customer needs a statement that is not available online. In such situations, it is important to understand why certain statements are not accessible through the usual channels.

Barclays has made efforts to digitize and upload electronic copies of statements dating back to July 2013. This allows customers to conveniently access their statements online. However, for customers who registered to receive online statements before this date, there may be limitations in accessing statements from the time of registration. Understanding the reasons behind these limitations can help both customers and developers find alternative solutions.

So, how can developers apply these insights to their own projects? Here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Conduct a thorough analysis: Before making any changes to a component, take the time to thoroughly analyze its purpose and functionality. Dive into the change history, read design documents, and consult with team members who have worked on the project for a longer period. This will provide a complete picture of the component's evolution and any hidden roles it may have taken on.
  • 2. Communicate with stakeholders: Engage in open and transparent communication with stakeholders, including end-users and other team members. Understand their requirements and expectations for the component in question. By involving all relevant parties, you can ensure that any changes or modifications align with the overall goals of the system.
  • 3. Test and monitor: Implement changes in a controlled environment and closely monitor the system's behavior. By conducting thorough testing and monitoring, developers can identify any unforeseen consequences or dependencies that may arise from modifying a component. This will help mitigate risks and ensure a smooth transition.

In conclusion, the concept of accidentally load bearing highlights the importance of understanding the hidden roles of components within a system. By considering both the original design and the current integration of a component, developers can make informed decisions and avoid unintended consequences. By conducting a thorough analysis, communicating with stakeholders, and testing changes, developers can navigate the complexities of software development more effectively.

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