Friday, June 17, 2011

Architecture: Context is Everything

If you run into me somewhere outside of work, don’t be offended if I don’t remember you. It’s a condition I have - called being human. The story you are about to read is true, only a name has been changed to protect the unfortunate Joe who had the unmitigated audacity to meet me out of the context in which we typically interact.

I’m at the grocery store and I see this guy I know very well - but his name escapes me. I know that I have bought (I’m not kidding) thirteen cars from him, all Saturns. His wife’s name is Diane. He used to be the Finance Manager at the Saturn dealership, but he is now the Sales Manager. He’s a great guy... whoever he is.

He hasn’t spotted me just yet and so I have a little time to recall his name. George? No, Paul? Ringo - don’t be ridiculous. What is this guy’s name? If my wife were here, she’d just pull it up out of thin grey matter - but for the life of me, I’m lost.

I resort to the alphabet game. I start with “A.”, Alan, Albert, Alfred, Alonzo, Aardvark - No that’s probably not it. Barry, Ben, Betty (unlikely), Brutus, nope - no "a ha!" moment. And so it goes for ten full minutes trying to recall every reasonable male name I can conjure, as well as a few outliers (Mufasa, Tiberius, and Zeus). I actually went through the list twice.

I could even remember that this fellow has a condition known as Hyperlipoproteinemia, which somehow came up in a conversation about fuel mileage and cruise control. BUT I CANNOT REMEMBER HIS NAME.

Context is everything. It’s why we spend 20 minutes in every Architecture Review to understand the business context of a solution under consideration. An architecture might be perfect in one context, inadequate in another, and overkill in a third.

I did the only reasonable thing I could. I hid in produce until I saw him leave. Two weeks later, I had my car in for service. I walked right up to him and said, "Hi Joe, saw you in the grocery store but you looked to be in a hurry." Context is everything.

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