In software engineering, there is a prevailing idea that an engineer should only use a framework when he or she understands the internal workings. This is a fallacy.
Why is it that we must know the internal workings — do the details matter that much? Some might say ignorance is bliss.
Let’s examine the engine of a car:
How many really know how the engine works?
Can you tell me why it’s called a 4 stroke engine?
What does each stroke do?
What’s the difference between a 4 stroke engine and a 2 stroke engine?
And yet we still drive our cars without any thought on “how” the car is getting us to our destination.
We interface with the car using the steering wheel, the gear shifter, the gas pedal, and the brakes.
Who cares how it works, as long as it gets us to our destination. When the car breaks down we take it to an expert.
The Core Competency of a Business
In business, a company has specialized knowledge that allows it to be competitive. This is referred to as a company’s core competency.
A core competency can be a process or a product.
To stay competitive, a company must tirelessly improve their core competency. Using resources for activities other than supporting the company’s core competency weakens the company’s competitive advantage. Which opens the window of opportunity for competitors to overtake the company’s competitive advantage.
This idea is best illustrated with an example.
Apple is known for their simplicity and their beautiful products. You’d think this would be easy to replicate, but it’s not, just ask Samsung, HTC, and Microsoft.
Why have these companies failed? Because simple is hard and Apple is expert in simple.
The Core Competency of a Person
Core competency can apply to people too.
What sets you apart from others?
To have developed your core competency, you’ve had to rigorously focus in one area, sometime for years, gaining insights and knowledge setting you apart from others.
As in a business, to maintain your competitive advantage you must continually hone your core competency.
Using Small Pieces
A software engineer is no different from a company or any other professional. We must pick and choose what we learn to stay aligned with our core competency.
Understanding the internals of every framework we use is not practical and is time consuming. I’m expecting the framework’s author to be an expert in the framework’s domain, therefore, I don’t need to know it’s internal workings.
Isn’t this the point of software — to use black boxed bits of functionality to produce a larger more complex work? I believe it is.
In the end, it comes down to focus and time, both of which are limited.