Trust me, I know better

Today I was working on fixing some unstable tests. We use Gradle as our build tool, and we’ve built so much on top of the regular Scala-Java-Javascript plugins that it’s staggering: our Gradle files contain more than 50K lines. We added abstractions, IDE management tools, complex test and binary generation with application outputs and startup script generation. There’s probably much-much more I don’t actually know about as I’m not a build infra developer. Most of these features try to hide and abstract away the complexities of managing the largest Scala project in the world (and all its little side modules). While I was working on fixing these tests, I wanted to simply print a value to the console to check if the test infra picks up a runtime dependency correctly – both on developer desktops and on CI servers. I wish it was as simple as that though! Gradle itself redirects test output and on top this we also forcibly change the logging settings so everything just works. Except when you want to do something out of the ordinary. I needed to start googling for vanilla Gradle solutions to find out how we actually do it by digging around in our code. It took me good 20 minutes to figure out this seemingly simple thing. It turned out all these were hidden away in some test configs and dependent properties. I managed to achieve what I wanted in the end.

When similar things happen, I really miss simpler days. I feel that most of the time we, developers try to fight a war of I know better. Most of us think that we’ve covered all use cases, all the little configurations are straightforward, the documentation lists all possibilities and if not, well, it can be figured out as it’s all logical. I can see the same thing happening with how the new way of JavaScript development happens in the world: you should use a couple of tools and libs that hide almost everything from you: dependency management, language and browser differences; even language features! All this so we only need to care for what’s important. This is really nice from the outside, but as soon as you need to walk off the regular path, you find yourself in a nightmare of multiple levels of abstractions, hidden little tricks and things that only a handful of people know about. I also understand that this complexity needs to live somewhere, but I feel we’ve gone a bit too far. The learning curve has become steeper than it was ever before.

Unfortunately I can’t offer a solution at this point – not even hypothetical one. Sometimes I just simply start daydreaming of good old days when everything was simple. Or at least simpler.

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