Øredev 2013 – Day 1 (the first half)

2013-11-06 13.01.18

This is my third year in a row attending the Øredev conference. The last two years were totally fantastic so I was really looking forward to this year’s edition. This year I travelled with a large group from Tradera (my new job)  and me switching jobs made some sessions more interesting and others less so. For example, mobile stuff is much more important to me now.

I’m not feeling as ambitious as in previous years with my blogging so check out my colleague, Daniel Saidi’s blog for more detailed reviews of sessions. I will mostly focus on my favourite sessions and try and examine them in more detail rather than cover all the sessions I attended. With that said, let’s go!

Scaling Mobile Development at Spotify – Per Eckerdal and Mattias Björnheden

This session was interesting for me because it ties in so closely with the work I am doing at Tradera right now. Per and Mattias gave us a before and after story of how they changed the technical and organizational structure of their mobile app development. The story starts with two mobile teams, 30 developers in the iOS team and 20+ developers in the Android team.

This didn’t work too well for them so they changed their organizational structure to cross-functional teams that each own a feature in the Spotify app e.g. My Music or social. These teams are responsible for the development of that feature both on the backend and in the mobile and desktops apps as well as in their web player. These features are loosely coupled and for the most their only connection to another feature is to call it to open it. Spotify also changed their branching strategy to have one main branch and use toggles/feature flags to control when new features are released.  This allows them to have shorter release cycles (every 3 weeks).

This organizational change required changing their architecture as well. They had a core library which a core team worked on and then specific apis for each platform. So for example the Android team had an api called Orbit that they used to connect to core and the desktop team had an api called Stitch and the iOS team had an api called Core ObjC (I think). This architecture was a bottleneck for them as changes in core (or one of the apis) could only be done by the team that knows that part of the system. This meant waiting for another team to do the change and as Per said: Waiting sucks.

The solution was to cut away layers. The clients now all call to a common core api that is just a thin layer over the feature subsystems. The client code is moved down a layer to either this thin core api layer or into the feature subsystem. They make just one call to fetch data (view aggregation). The idea is that a feature should work pretty much the same in the different clients and that the clients should do as little as possible in the the platform specific code.

This idea of view aggregation is very interesting. We face a similar situation with our web and mobile clients at Tradera. The client makes a call and gets the whole view model (view data) in one clump and then shows that to the user. This means there will be duplication at the api level. Per from Spotify explained that this is a deliberate design choice.  I am working on a web app and if we applied this in our case this would mean making our ASP.NET MVC controllers dumb (we would be using them just to create html) or maybe eliminating them altogether.

Per and Mattias explained more about how they use feature toggles/flags and then showed off their inbuild QA tools in the Spotify apps. They recommended that everyone build these types of QA tools and I for one, will be ripping off some of their ideas in the near future. Especially the login chooser they showed for switching between different test users so that you don’t have to remember test logins or passwords.

Nice session. It was great to hear how another company solved the problem of multiple platforms by both changing their organization as well their architecture. The video is already available on Øredev’s website.

Less is More! – Jon Gyllenswärd and Jimmy Nilsson

“The root cause of getting stuck in a rut is if we are carrying a large codebase” – Jimmy Nilsson

This session was about the story of how Sirius International Insurance rewrote a monolithic codebase into a set of subsystems. Jon is a former colleague so I couldn’t miss this one! Sirius is a reinsurance company, basically a company that insures other insurance companies so that they can spread the risk in the case of large catastrophes. The system in focus here simulates the outcome of these large catastrophes.

The Sirius story contains a similar theme to the one in the Spotify session. It is always interesting to see examples of architectures in real life and on a larger scale than the toy examples used in most tech sessions.

The first interesting idea from this session was building new service balloons (as they called them). Instead of building a new feature into the old monolithic system they built it as isolated service on the side. This worked well for them but it wasn’t enough.

Sirius met Jimmy after watching one of his sessions at Øredev in 2011 (pretty cool that the conference inspired them to make the change) and invited him to help them out. They got the business to buy into the idea of rewriting the system and were given 9 months to rewrite the system and create a new UI as well.

The basic architecture style is that each subsystem owns its own data AND its own UI. This leads to some duplication of both data and of concepts. One of the ways they got around this self-imposed design limitation is to have a shared-data subsystem. However this also owns its UI. So if you want a dropdown list of regions in the UI then you would fetch the whole component from the shared-data subsystem (both the UI and backend parts). Not sure I can apply this to my current project but thought-provoking nonetheless.

They also changed the organization of their teams during this rewrite (just like Spotify did) but in a totally different way. They went back to specialized teams rather than having cross-functional teams e.g. UI and database teams. Their experience is that developers enjoyed this more and that it was worth the overhead of the extra meetings. I think I’ll have to eat lunch with Jon soon and discuss this more as it is a totally different approach to what we use at Tradera.

Jimmy presents some of the interesting solutions they came up with during the project like saving the serialized object graphs from their domain model to json files instead of using a database. All part of their keep it simple motto. The video can be found here.

As I want to go to bed now, I’ll write about the rest of day one tomorrow. It was great I saw Woody Zuill’s session on Mob Programming so stay tuned for more.