15 slacknesses or lack of experience that can come back & bite you in the back

Production issues seek the attention of middle and top level management. Often these are intermittent issues that are harder to reproduce in lower environments without the right know-hows & tools. Some will shrug it off as “Cannot be reproduced“, whilst others will seize the opportunity to showcase their technical strengths & know hows to go places. Here are a few things that you must pay attention as a software developer, designer or architect to prevent any future embarrassments. You can use this as a check list.

#1: Not externalizing configuration values in config file(s) (E.g: .properties, .xml, or .yaml). For example, not making the number of threads used in a batch job configurable via a config file. You may have a batch job that worked well in DEV environment, but when deployed to PROD it takes a longer time to complete due to larger datasets. If the number of threads are configurable, the number of threads can be tweaked. This applies to all other configurable values like web service URLs, host names, port numbers, log levels, timeout values, etc. A Config Server is a MicroServices Architecture (aka MSA) feature where all configurable parameters of Microservices are written to & maintained.

#2: Not testing the application with the right volume of data. For example, testing your application with 1 to 3 accounts instead of 1000 to 2000 accounts, which is the typical scenario in the production environment. The performance tests need to be conducted with the real life data, and not cut down data. Not adhering to real life performance test scenarios can cause unexpected performance, scalability, and multi-threading issues. It is imperative that you test your application for larger volume of data to ensure that it works as expected and meets the SLAs (i.e. Service Level Agreements) in the non-functional specification.

#3: Naively assuming that external or other internal services that are invoked from your application are going to be reliable and always available. Modern architectures like MSA (i.e. Micro Services Architecture) are distributed in nature with lots of moving parts. There will also be intermittent slowness or unavailability of services once in a while. This means the design must take this into consideration so that core services must keep functioning even if the dependent services are not available.

Not allowing for proper service timeouts and retries can adversely impact the stability and performance of your application. Proper outage testings need to be carried out. Indefinitely trying for a service that is not available can adversely impact your application. The load balancers need to be properly tested to ensure that they are functioning as expected by providing High Availability (i.e. HA) by bringing each balanced node down. This will make the system more resilient to hardware failures, network failures, etc.

#4: Lack of due diligence relating to timezones (E.g. UTC vs local zones), monetary calculations (E.g. use BigDecimal or Money class as opposed to float/double), not writing thread-safe code, not defining transactional boundaries, reinventing the wheel by writing your own logic when there are already well written and proven APIs and libraries available, resource leaks, etc. This is discussed in detail In your experience, what are some of the common mistakes developers make?

#5: Not adhering to the bare minimum security requirements. As mentioned above, web services are everywhere, and web services can be easily exploited by the hackers for the denial of service attack. So, use of SSL layer, basic authentication, SSO via SAML tokens, OAuth and penetration testing with tools like Google skipfish are mandatory. Unsecured applications can not only adversely impact stability of an application, but also can tarnish an organization’s reputation due to data integrity issues like customer “A” being able to view customer “B’s” data.

#6: Not performing cross browser compatibility testing. Modern web applications are rich single page applications making use of JavaScript code and frameworks like angularjs. The sites you build need to use responsive designs to work well across devices and browsers. It is imperative that proper cross-browser and device compatibility testing is performed to ensure it works in all of them.

#7: Not externalizing business rules that are likely to change often. For example, tax laws, government or industry compliance requirements, classification laws, etc. Use business rules engines like Drools, OpenL Tablets, etc that allow you to externalize rules into database tables or excel spreadsheets. The business can take ownership of these rules, and can react quickly to changes to tax laws or compliance requirements with minimal changes and testing.

#8: Not having proper documentation in the form of

  1. Unit tests with proper code coverage. 
  2. Integration tests.
  3. A confluence or wiki page listing all the software artefacts like classes, scripts, configuration files that have been modified or newly created.
  4. High level conceptual diagrams depicting all the components, interactions, and structures.
  5. Basic documentation for developers on “how to set up the DEV environment with data source details.

Points 1 and  2 are the primary form of documentation in an agile project in addition to the COS (Condition Of Satisfaction) created via tools like MindMap.

#9: Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) process not properly implemented from the start. Continuous integration (CI) is a process in which developers and testers collaboratively validate new code. Continuous delivery (CD) is the process of continuously creating releasable artifacts. CI/CD is a process for continuous development, testing, and delivery of new code that enables organisations to release more often. Tools like Jenkins, Docker containers, Git Hub, Kubernetes, etc can be used to automate the process.

#10: Not having proper disaster recovery plans, system monitoring and archival strategies in place. It is easy to get missed on these activities in a rush to get the application deployed to meet the tight deadlines. Not having proper system monitoring through Nagios and Splunk can not only impact the stability of the application, but also can hinder current diagnostics and future improvements.

#11: Not designing Database tables with proper house keeping columns like created_datetm, update_datetm, created_by, updated_by and timestamp, and provision to logically delete records with columns like ‘deleted’ with ‘Y’ or ‘N’ values or record_status like ‘Active’ or ‘Inactive’. Proper constraints are equally important to not corrupt the data. Not having a version column for the optimistic concurrency.

#12: Not having proper system back-out plan to restore the system to its stable state before deployment if anything goes wrong. This plan needs to be properly reviewed and signed-off by the relevant teams. This includes backing out to previous versions of software artefacts, any data inserted into the database, properties file entries, etc.

#13: Not performing proper capacity planning at the beginning of the project.  Its no longer sufficient to simply say that you “need a Unix box, an Oracle database server and a JBoss application server” when specifying your platform. You need to be really precise about the

  • specific versions of operating systems, JVMs, etc
  • how much memory (including physical memory, JVM heap size, JVM stack size, and JVM perm gen space)
  • CPU (number of cores)
  • load balancer, number of nodes required, node types like active/active or active/passive and clustering requirements. 
  • file system requirements, for example, your application may archive generated reports and keep it for a year before archiving them. So, you need to have enough hard disk space. Some applications require to generate data extract files to be generated and temporarily stored to be picked up by the other system processes or data warehouse systems for multi dimensional reporting. Some data files are SFTP’ed from other internal or external systems, and need to be kept for a period like 12 to 36 months before archived.

#14. “Not using the best tool for the job”. Too often developers will use a tool or language in production systems that they want to learn but may not be the best choice. For example, using a NoSQL database when your data is actually relational. Remember, whatever tools you choose, you may have to support them for the next 3-5 years (or longer).

#15. Lack of good knowledge in some of the 16 technical key areas like identifying, reproducing and fixing 1). “Concurrency issues” 2) Transactional issues 3) Performance issues 4) Security considerations e.g. SSL certs, keystores, truststores, etc. In many job interviews, I have sold my skills in these 4 key areas to secure new contracts.

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