AntiPatterns: Golden Hammer

Another day, another blog post about a concept from Sourcemaking.com, this time on the Golden Hammer AntiPattern.

Software Development is a field that requires continuous learning throughout your entire career. With the sheer amount of tools at your disposal, it can be daunting to try to expand your skillset. However, knowing how to utilize as many tools as possible is important to help make an effective and well-rounded developer. Not only that, being brave enough to drop the tried and true way of doing things for newer, more effective solutions is an important soft skill to have as a team.

We’ve all heard of the expression, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”, and that’s the exact origin this AntiPattern. When a team fails to develop their knowledge and expand their skillset, they often fall back on the same process that they’ve used in the past. Sometimes, a significant financial investment has been made into training the team to use a specific product, and so they don’t want to let that methodology go to waste. That’s fine, except for the fact that there is a unique way to approach nearly every new problem that developers come across. Reusing old system design is a sure fire way to cause more problems than necessary for the development process.

There are countless issues with this approach — it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. In a way, teams will end up warping the problem in order to make their solution work, as opposed to designing a good solution for the problem. It’s self limiting too, because teams will only end up choosing problems that they feel comfortable with, relating back to approaches they have taken in the past. Not only this, but if the Golden Hammer is a particular product or tool made by another company, then the team can find themselves at the mercy of that company to continue support for that product.

Not only does this AntiPattern require a tremendous amount of refactoring (usually, a complete reworking of the product is necessary), it requires a change in the philosophy of the developer(s). Each and every member of the team needs to be focused on expanding their knowledge of shifting trends in technology, and there must be an emphasis on the exploration of new tools in the workplace with some leeway in deadlines as a result.

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