Clear software development governance needed in this polyglot world

New architectures composed out of language agnostic software containers have made polyglot programming a new reality. But out of this newfound freedom chaos can ensue if clear software development governance policies do not exist that describe when, where and why certain programming languages can be used, and which other languages cannot.

When advocates talk about the various things organizations should be doing to prepare for the move towards modern middleware servers like Amazon and OpenShift, the increased use of serverless systems and all of the headaches that go along with DevOps adoption, a topic that far too often gets overlooked is software development governance. Organizations should address how they are going to manage these new software development stacks and deployment targets rather than discuss technology adoption or how to continuously deploy.

“If you look at all of the Cloud platforms, you know, open shared Cloud Foundry, Amazon, Google, Azure, OpenShift, they’re polyglot,” said RedHat Product Manager Rich Sharples. “They support multiple languages.” And that’s great for organizations that want to put together a tapistry of best-of-breed applications where each one is built with the language that best suits the application’s purpose. But best-of-breed environments can be incredibly difficult to manage over the long term, especially when an application written in a language that has fallen out of favor needs fixed, enhanced or just generally maintained.

Flexible software development governance

How can software development governance address the problems a poloyglot programming shop might encounter? One way is to simply make the organization monoglot and settle on a highly proven and capable programming language like Java. “Java is clearly the best language for running large, complicated, transactional applications in the traditional, long-lived server model,” said Sharples. “It is the active standard for enterprises building those kind of applications.”

But an inflexible and rigid governance model is exactly what caused the colonies to revolt and create a union of states. While settling on Java as a fundamental standard is a good start, a software development governance model should also allow for alternate languages to be used when certain extenuous conditions are met. For example, an organization might specify Scala to be the language of choice if it is understood that an application might have an exceptional requirement for parallelism or list processing speed. Similarly, Kotlin might be agreed upon for the development of mobile applications that require support for the latest Java version.

It’s understood that Java might not always be the right language for every situation, especially in new arenas where containers and microservices dominate. “Java must prove itself when it comes to building smaller microservices on a small stack. It’s got to proove itself in serverless where the environment is even more dense and constrained. And it’s got to compare with languages like GO, which is super lightweight.”

Containing the polyglot chaos

Ask a group of programmers to choose the best coding language and you’ll find it’s a great way to start a fight. To ensure peace and harmony on the development team, a software development governance policy needs to be well defined so programmers  know which languages are permissible, and under which conditions alternates can be used. Setting clear guidelines avoids the chaos that can ensue when every program is written in a different language. Furthermore, clear expectations in a software development governance model ensure egos don’t get bruised when a developer’s choice of programming options is limited to those the organization has standardized upon.

In this new age of poloyglot programming, DevOps adoption and serverless systems, the potential for chaos is a real threat to the wellness of the IT department. Software developers with a host of different languages from which to choose are understandably excited about developing microservices and deploying them into language-agnostic, container based architectures. But for the long term health of the IT department, software development governance models should never be agnostic about the languages they permit.

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