The Slayers of Layers

Frankeinstein montage, using images in the public domain.

Once upon a time, tech had no layers. Tech was obscure, unmaintainable and inaccessible, reserved to the few. Few implementors, few maintainers, and few users. Tech, ingenious as it is, circumvented its issues by introducing layers, and now tech is for the masses. Layers conceal the ugliness underneath, each layer bringing with it understandability, maintainability, and accessibility.

We have the layers to thank for the incredible development that put us in the Information Age. Doubtlessly, the layers have brought with them a lot of good things, but we should not forget that they exist because of a bad thing. Because tech is immature, poorly designed, insufficiently researched, or plainly opportunistic, layers are slapped on like makeup until it is beautiful enough to be sold to the masses. This has led to the rapid development of ugly tech and a tremendous waste of resources.

Unfortunately, efforts in the line of layerless architectures are often met with resistance. This is understandable. Due to the large sunk costs and workforce occupied with layers, the protectionism make them next to impenetrable. How much money is your organisation spending on layers? How much money are you making from layers? Have you ever stopped to question the existence of layers?

It is easy to see the incentives to keep the layers around, but they will have to go. Charles Darwin will make sure they do. The “survival of the fittest” will, over the long run, favour organisations that adopt well designed tech on which they spend less resources than their competitors. The only caveat is that evolution requires time, and right now precious time is spent researching layered architectures, rather than layerless ones. In its eagerness to satisfy the industry, too much effort is steered towards applied science and too little towards pure science.

We need to go back to the drawing board and question the inability of every tech that needs layers. Some may even have layers only for the sake of having layers, some cannot be saved, but some are ugly ducklings on their way to become beautiful swans. We will have layers for a long time still and they do serve a purpose while the underlying tech is immature, but we cannot let the layers prevent the tech itself from reaching maturity.

In every discipline there will be one tech to rule them all, and trust me, that tech will be layerless. Which side are you on? Are you going to be slayers of layers?

It is time to rethink the layer. When you see a layer, act with suspicion and question its existence. If nothing else, think about the costs involved having to maintain every additional layer. Above all, we need to go back to the root of the problem and create tech that needs few or no layers to be acceptable.

Published by

Lars Rönnbäck

Co-developer of the Anchor Modeling technique. Programmer of the online modeling tool. Site maintainer. Presenter and trainer.

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