Software Engineering

Building Software Systems: V1 and V2

In a┬árecent issue of Communications of the ACM, the article “Lean Software Development — Building and Shipping Two Versions” caught my eyes, as it describes one of the basic dilemmas faced in a lot of companies: how to build multiple versions of the same software at the same time, although the article discussed the issue from human resources perspective. The central argument of the article is that, certain engineers like prototyping while the others might love to prune or optimize the code, or to beautify the code, in the author’s word and therefore, it’s better off to separate them into two groups.

However, in practice, the reason to split teams into so-called V1/V2 sometimes is rather arbitrary. One common issue is that, V1 is a large and working system which, over time, team members have gained expertise on and a lot of people is familiar with the code base. But, as it might be developed in a rush at the first place, V1 is not flexible and sometimes full of hacks and heuristics. It needs a re-write, in theory. On the other hand, some management folks realized the issue but formed another team to develop the V2 system (usually called “next-gen”) with or without the consultant from the team of V1. Therefore, V2 is born in many problems. It is called “next-gen” but the developers of it may not really understand the real problems of V1 and sometimes, in order to separate V2 from V1, showing the superiority of V2, V2 tends to be overly engineered and overly designed. In the end of the day, both V1 and V2 may not be properly designed and implemented.

In the heart of the issue is that, why we need V1 or V2 at the same time? We need to write “correct code” rather than “fast code”. The need to build V1 and V2 simultaneously sometimes implies the bad design, the wrong requirements of the products and hacks that jeopardize the quality of the products.