Monday, March 6, 2017

When Side Projects Become Brownfields

Brownfield projects are where you maintain old code that's been around awhile.  Greenfields are projects where most of what you work on is fresh and new and innocent.  That is what "brownfield" and "greenfield" means to me.

Spearking of brownfields, suppose there's a pile of work to be done on some legacy code.  The source is ugly.  The technologies it relies on aren't that great.  You need a temporary escape.

Wouldn't it be nice to do a side project where you can pick your own tools and build something cool?  Then the realization kicks in.  This IS the side project.  This is what such projects become given enough time.

It Always Starts Out Innocently Enough

Flashmark was and still is my baby.  And yet, things aren't as ideal as they once seemed when first starting.  It was a greenfield.  Bootstrap was beautiful.  AngularJS was Spring dependency injection done right.  It was to be a single page application with JSON data and a nice API done up in Flask.

Then Reality Sets In

Experience and time served up some reality checks.  Angular turned out to be overkill.  There was nothing there that couldn't have been done easier with JQuery and Handlebars.  But the front end investment is in too deep at this point.

Sometimes, it is okay to accept bad infrastructure decisions that a project uses.  So I do.  Buyer's remorse, by itself, is an insufficient excuse for ripping out and replacing huge chunks of a code base.

For example, Flashmark had a new tagging system added recently.  Unfortunately, it required writing more Angular code.  This was done to make the new code look and feel like the code that's already there.  Consistency is a good thing.

What Makes It All Worth It?

It turns out some choices stood the test of time.  Bootstrap is still good for interface building.  JSON is still a good data format to work with.  Flask and SQL Alchemy are still awesome tools for building a back end API.  Worth it!

As success goes, a worthwhile side project doesn't necessarily have to make money or even have a user base outside of oneself.  Flashmark does neither.  All it does is make learning easier for me.  And that's good.  You can sum up my attitude with the following function...

def is_project_successful(user_count):
    return user_count >= 1

Working on a side project is a little like raising and caring for a pet.  It isn't always joy and bliss.  Things can get downright ugly at times.  But for the right project, the warts are worth it.  And if you stick with it long enough, you can still come out with something cool.  Happiness is a brownfield.


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