Edwards Lorenz was a meteorologist and a mathematician who set off to devise a model to predict the weather but ended up discovering the chaos theory. He observed that small changes in a simple model led to different and drastic effects on the weather, from sunny skies to violent storms; and there was no way to predict the outcomes in advance. The computerized weather model that led to its discovery resembled a butterfly which ultimately resulted in formulating the Butterfly Effect. In a poetic sense, “A little flutter of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a cascade of atmospheric events, leading to a tornado in Texas.”
This simple concept suggests that small and seemingly trivial events or occurrences may result in producing much larger non-linear impacts on a very complex system. Small shifts – big outcomes!
In the world of software engineering, the butterfly effect can be applied to almost all things we do. A minor tweak in your codebase, or the insignificant bug that was overlooked, can be that little flutter which eventually leads to unexpected and much significant consequences to alter the behavior of your software.
This does not mean that changes should be avoided to eliminate unforeseen catastrophes. Because change is integral in software development and it is only through change, we can accomplish resilient, customer oriented, robust products. Therefore, the key is to adapt processes and tools that will harness dependability and thereby manage the butterfly effect in software development effectively.
“Best Practices” is a relative term
We all talk about best practices, but it can be a dangerous term if interpreted wrongly. Because when taken separately, all best practices are lucrative, viable, and have uniquely important characteristics. However, in tandem, they may not always have the same outcome. The magic lies in understanding and maintaining cohesiveness within those best practices you choose for your project to ensure that your software is thriving and resilient in the long haul.
DevOps and Feature Flags
Delivering and controlling new features is one of the biggest challenges in product development. Feature flags are a best practice in DevOps, often occurring within distributed version control systems, allowing developers to continuously update their applications without breaking anything or releasing untested features. Allowing for faster release cadence, feature flags enable you to instantly toggle between different versions of your product. With feature flags, there will be no need to make any disruptive code changes to modify the system’s behavior, allowing engineering teams to work freely on their tasks. This will conveniently ensure a continuous delivery process.
CI / CD and Automated Testing
Continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD), also known as CI/CD ensures that your software remains dynamic. By establishing a constant cycle of development, testing, and integration, CI/CD will further facilitate regular health checks on your codes to catch issues and resolve them before they create a butterfly effect on the system.
Automated tests can be run as a part of the CI/CD pipeline to make sure unexpected outcomes from code changes are identified in advance and deliver timely feedback to engineering teams to ensure that risks are identified and mitigated early on. Unit testing, integration testing, system testing, and user acceptance testing also play a critical role in spotting issues before they intensify into much larger defects.
Code Reviews and Static Analysis
We all know that prevention is better than cure. Regular code reviews, static code analysis, and pair programming are methods by which you can catch potential issues that may have been missed during initial testing. By providing additional layers of defense, methods such as static code analysis will ensure debugging is handled automatically by examining the source code without having to execute the program.
Refactoring your technical debt
Technical debt, just like financial debt, can accumulate interest if left unaddressed. Refactoring is the process of changing the implementation, definition, and structure of code without changing the software’s functionality. It is not about adding or removing functionality but making the code easier to maintain to combat future technical debt and avoid potential butterfly effects by harnessing the maintainability and reliability of the software.
Pre-mortem over post-mortem
A post-mortem or a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) entails a team reflecting on what went wrong with an event which had already ended, to review and identify gaps in a process, (and) or documents to ensure it will not occur in the future.
However, a pre-mortem is conducted at the beginning of a project by working backwards to support better decision making. By looking at the bigger picture, a pre-mortem encourages varied viewpoints, collective intelligence and imagination playing a significant role in mitigating the potential butterfly effect at a much early stage of projects.
The Future of Software Engineering
Some say enterprise software lasts forever. Forever can only be rewarding if you are geared to accelerate the digital transformation that customers seek. To remain evergreen, it is a journey that organizations must take by making sure the butterfly effect in software engineering is managed with greater visibility, predictability, and control; All the while embracing innovation, transparency, boundless potential, and daring to dream big.
“You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby … changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.”
— Fichte, The Vocation of Man (1800)
This is part of a series of posts from the IFS Technology team in Sri Lanka. The IFS Technology team enables the core technologies that power our solutions, from Oracle PL\SQL to Angular to Java, Kubernetes, and .Net. If you are interested in joining us in Sri Lanka, see our open job positions in IFS Technology team in Sri Lanka! We are also hiring in other teams and locations, so check out all our open positions!
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