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Linda Rising on the 15th Anniversary of Design Patterns

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Linda Rising shares her thoughts about Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software on the 15th anniversary of its publication.

Linda is the co-author, with Mary Lynn Manns, of Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas.

InformIT: If you were in at the 1994 OOPSLA in Portland where Design Patterns debuted, what are some of your recollections of that show and of the book at the show?

Linda Rising: I was at OOPSLA in 1994 and I tell the story every time I talk about patterns. I signed up for an interesting tutorial called Design Patterns, given by four people. As I remember, the room was packed and I had to sit way at the back. I couldn’t hear the speakers very well and the slides were not compelling because I was so far away. They kept saying that “the book would be coming out tomorrow,” so since I “didn’t get it” I vowed to buy the book because something about the idea intrigued me.

I will never forget the scene the next day. The line stretched from the Addison-Wesley booth out to the hallway of the exhibit hall. This was in the good ol’ days when people went to OOPSLA to buy the latest and greatest and corporate credit cards were used to buy one copy of everything. Even at that time, when the book frenzy was at its height, Design Patterns made everyone sit up and listen. I remember hearing comments up and down that line as we waited to get our copy of “the book,” the excitement, the curiosity, the BUZZ—-incredible!

InformIT: What was your initial reaction to the publication of Design Patterns?

Linda: I took the book home and as I began to spend time with it, I “got it.” I began holding some informal brown bag meetings at my company, just to share what I was learning. I have written numerous articles and a book about what happened next (The Patterns Handbook, Cambridge University Press, 1998). I thought at the time that the idea was intriguing and the patterns were good, but I could not foresee what the huge impact would be.

InformIT: How has your opinion of the book changed over the last 15 years?

Linda: In the beginning I thought it was a cool idea. Now I believe using patterns can change the way we think about solving problems and help us remember best practices or lessons learned. In the past we forgot things we knew because of the pressures of the moment, because there was no way to hang on to them.

InformIT: How has Design Patterns changed your impressions about the way software is built?

Linda: I used to think that you could start with an architecture defined as a set of patterns and build maintainable software from scratch. Now I believe that we do the best we can but that we’re going to learn a lot as we write code. We should be continually refactoring to patterns. Josh Kerievsky has written an excellent book about this. We can’t understand everything up front. Agile has brought that to our attention. Agile and patterns work well together.

InformIT: How has Design Patterns impacted the last 15 years of development?

Linda: I believe that the topic of patterns has become more mainstream. The GoF book is used in training and in academia so most products of those experiences now think that using patterns is the way it is. And, I believe, this is good.

InformIT: Have you been personally affected by the book? In other words, has it changed the way you think about software development or changed the way you develop software?

Linda: Patterns have not only changed the way I think about software development, they have changed the way I think about everything. As I now contemplate retirement, my husband and I have started writing a collection of patterns for creating sustainable development in the third world. I’m sure it will take us at least a decade, so I plan to spend the rest of my life writing patterns.

InformIT: What is your favorite Pattern (or least favorite Pattern) and why?

Linda: My least favorite is Singleton. When we started using patterns there were Singletons everywhere—and people were so proud! I’m wondering if Singleton should have been left out of the GoF book completely. It anoints what is a very bad solution.

My favorite is Mediator. I like to tell my Mediator Story, because it was a moment of insight for me about how patterns work. Before this Mediator event, I thought patterns were a way of capturing what experts knew so that the rest of us could apply those great solutions. I was surprised to discover that most of the GoF patterns were things I had already used. But it wasn’t until I was struggling with a team to work on a design problem that I “saw the light.” In our problem we had to create connections to a number of devices. Since the devices all communicated with one another, the diagram on the white board soon began to look like a giant spider web, and it was getting worse. When someone said, “Hey, why don’t we use a Mediator?” it was as though that person had taken each of us by the hand and gently guided us out of the darkness of the cave. We all stood there blinking and wondered, “Right! Why don’t we use a Mediator?” For me, it was a shift in the universe. Patterns aren’t about capturing some esoteric solution that a wizard shares with the rest of us lowly developers. Patterns give a name to a proven solution so we can remember it in the heat of battle, when the pressure is on, when we can’t remember our own names. Someone can just shout out, “Mediator!” and save us.

InformIT: Please add any additional thoughts or comments that you'd like to share.

Linda: There are still some folks who want to debate whether or not the GoF patterns form a pattern language. I don’t believe they do, but I also don’t believe that the important contribution of this book has to do with the “pattern-ness” or the “language-ness” of the patterns. The GoF book kicked open the door of software development and changed forever the way we think about the world. The members of the “gang” were the first so they led the way for the rest of us. In the best agile fashion, if we had waited for the best example of a pattern language for software development, well, it’s just my opinion, but I think we’d still be waiting and we would have missed all the learning that has gone on for the past 15 years.

I would like to add a personal note for what I see as the major contribution of one of the “gang.” I know they were all important and they all had a part to play, but whenever I think about the GoF, I think of John Vlissides. He worked with me to create the “Pattern Almanac.” That’s where I had the privilege of knowing what an incredible thinker and organizer he was. As I remember the 10th anniversary and that crazy play we put on at OOPSLA, I still remember him in that beanie sitting next to me and letting me make fun. He was gracious and a true gentleman, right up to the end. I miss him.

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