05Nov

“Huh. So UML is actually useful?”

Posted by Elf Sternberg as chat, Design

Since I’m generally opposed to giving Hacker News oxygen, I refuse to comment there on a recent question, Do You Still Use UML?

As I’ve made clear, I have both anxiety and confidence about being an older developer in this world of high-tech startups and high-speed, high-burnout “only twentysomethings can do anything” world. Bloomberg the other day pointed out that almost all productivity gains over the past four years are in the hands of people like me, folks in our forties or later, folks who know stuff, folks with experience.

Anyway, to answer the question: Yes. When I was at CompuServe, they were kind and crazy enough to go through a full-on UML phase. It was a huge drag and it produced terrible software, mostly because the powers that be thought they could buy Rational Rose and jump straight into Class Diagrams and Sequence Charts without, you know, actually caring if anyone on the team knew about SOLID, DRY, KISS, YAGNI, etc. (I heard a great one the other day: TYKD, pronounced “Ticked:” Test, YAGNI, KISS, DRY. An acronym of acronyms.) The promised productivity never showed, and we ditched it after a year or so.

This cycle I have the responsibility for developing a fairly complicated piece of data analysis software, and while trying to describe my ideas for it, other members of the team weren’t getting it. Desperate to make myself clear, I actually plunked down $70 for a piece of UML software (StarUML, and pretty good, actually) and designed a sequence diagram to show how I expected the system to work with failures and fallbacks clearly described.

It was a rough diagram, and it had some ad-hockery because UML was designed before asynchronous and reactive programming became a thing. But when I showed it to my review committee, they were like, “Wow. That really does explain what’s happening here. That’s amazing. What is this?”

I explained what it was, and the reaction was, “Huh. So UML is useful?”

They approved my project quickly, and things are underway. And so far, it really is looking much like what I drew, which is fabulous. But I was able to get approval because I had bothered to learn UML.

Because I know things.

1 Response to “Huh. So UML is actually useful?”

Greg

November 6th, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I’m re-educating myself to be a software engineer (hardware background) so I’m reading Uncle Bob’s (Robert Martin’s) Agile Software Development. Top-down, up-front design is so 1980’s, and and so are UML diagrams.

(paraphrasing) “But wait… here are dozens of UML diagrams to describe the software we’re writing together here in this book” :)

Both class diagrams and sequence diagrams are used throughout the book. So, diagrams are sort of essential for communicating things and clarifying thought!

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