Become a Domain Expert

It is only possible to design a feature correctly if you have enough understanding of the underlying business domain. Large software systems may have complex domain models with many special situations that aren’t immediately obvious. Taking the time to understand the domain is crucial for making the right assumptions during development.

Failing to understand the domain correctly will result in features that work “most of the time” but break in special occasions. The detection of the these problems will happen late in the project, cost time to analyse and debug (see the famous estimate), und may in the worst case require a redesign of the whole feature if the domain model was used inappropriately.

A little example of domain knowledge in the project I’m working with is the following: we have train timetable modelled as sequences of stops at trains stations. Using the identifier of the station to uniquely identify a stop in the timetable is not enough since a train might pass the same train station twice in some case. Instead, it is needed to work with pairs of train stations to correctly identify the stops. It’s easy to do if you know it, but if don’t consider this correctly early on, you’re good to rewrite your code later on.

Without enough domain knowledge, the intent of the existing code remain obscure. Sure, you will understand what the goal was technically, but the problem it solves on the business side will escape you. This is unfortunate, because it limits your range of action. If you understand the problem on the business side as well you can put things in context and come up with more technical solutions.

Each minute spent better understanding the domain is worth it. If you want to become a better engineer, become a domain expert.

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