[Oldletter #17] Why the middle tier won't matter, Commoditise your product's complements, and the Developer docs sniff test

Every Friday, I’m sharing a short list of evergreen articles/resources broadly related to software engineering that wouldn’t typically get shared in most tech newsletters or social media feeds.

Note: This will be my last newsletter for a while as I’m taking 3–4 weeks off for summer holidays.


  • Why The Middle Tier Won’t Matter to Most of Us (2015) by Joe Emison. An argument for serviceful architectures written when the “serverless” concept was in its infancy.

    as we get better and better cloud services, we reduce the amount of time and effort and code we spend on non-core-business-specific functions. Like middlemen in many situations, the middle tier in applications is being disrupted. the immense benefit of outsourcing workloads does not end with moving from VMs in a local data center to containers running on public cloud computing.

  • Strategy Letter V (2002) by Joel Spolsky. An economic directive to folks building tech products to commoditize their product’s complements. Often great products get little traction due to costs or frictions involved in using necessary complements of the product, rather than the product itself. Joel gives several examples in this piece.

    Smart companies try to commoditize their products’ complements. If you can do this, demand for your product will increase and you will be able to charge more and make more.

  • Evaluate your documentation like a developer (2021) by Adam DuVander. If you’re writing public documentation for a tech product, Adam poses three questions as part of a “Developer Sniff Test” that your docs need to help answer. I think most people aim for point 1, but 2 and 3 are also crucial to address.

    Developers come to your website and documentation with at least three questions:

    1. Can It Do What I Need?
    2. Do I Have Enough Control?
    3. Will It Be Maintained?

Submitting your recommendations

If you’d like to share an evergreen article/book which has significantly influenced your thinking or practice around software delivery, please email it through to me and I’ll add it to my backlog for sharing in future editions.

Have a great weekend!

— Paul

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