The Application Development Experiences of an Enterprise Developer

The Critical C's of Microservices - Competencies

Posted by bsstahl on 2023-01-09 and Filed Under: development 

"The Critical C's of Microservices" are a series of conversations that development teams should have around building event-driven or other microservice based architectures. These topics will help teams determine which architectural patterns are best for them, and assist in building their systems and processes in a reliable and supportable way.

The "Critical C's" are: Context, Consistency, Contract, Chaos, Competencies and Coalescence. Each of these topics will be covered in detail in this series of articles. The first article of the 6 was on the subject of Context. This is article 5 of the series, and covers the topic of Competencies.


It is our responsibility as engineers to spend our limited resources on those things that give the companies we are building for a competitive advantage in the market. This means limiting our software builds to areas where we can differentiate that company from others. Not every situation requires us to build a custom solution, and even when we do, there is usually no need for us to build every component of that system.

If the problem we are solving is a common one that many companies deal with, and our solution does not give us a competitive advantage over those other companies, we are probably better off using an off-the-shelf product, whether that is a commercial (COTS) product, or a Free or Open-Source one (FOSS). Software we build should be unique to the company it is being built for, and provide that company with a competitive advantage. There is no need for us to build another Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) or Accounting system since these systems implement solutions to solved problemns that are generally solved in the same way by everyone. We should only build custom solutions if we are doing something that has never been done before or we need to do things in a way that is different from everyone else and can't be done using off-the-shelf systems.

We should also only be building custom software when the problem being solved is part of our company's core competencies. If we are doing this work for a company that builds widgets, it is unlikely, though not impossible, that building a custom solution for getting parts needed to build the widgets will provide that company with a competitive advantage. We are probably better off if we focus our efforts on software to help make the widgets in ways that are better, faster or cheaper.

If our "build vs. buy" decision is to build a custom solution, there are likely to be opportunities within those systems to use pre-existing capabilities rather than writing everything from scratch. For example, many cross-cutting concerns within our applications have libraries that support them very effectively. We should not be coding our own implementations for things like logging, configuration and security. Likewise, there are many capabilities that already exist in our infrastructure that we should take advantage of. Encryption, which is often a capability of the operating system, is one that springs to mind. We should certainly never "roll-our-own" for more complex infrastructure features like Replication or Change Data Capture, but might even want to consider avoiding rebuilding infrastructure capabilities that we more commonly build. An example of this might be if we would typically build a Web API for our systems, we might consider exposing the API's of our backing infrastructure components instead, properly isolated and secured of course, perhaps via an API Management component.

Goals of the Conversation

Development teams should have conversations around Competencies that are primarily focused around what systems, sub-systems, and components should be built, which should be installed off-the-shelf, and what libraries or infrastructure capabilities should be utilized. These conversations should include answering questions like:

  • What are our core competencies?
  • How do we identify "build vs. buy" opportunities?
  • How do we make "build vs. buy" decisions on needed systems?
  • How do we identify cross-cutting concerns and infrastructure capabilites that can be leveraged?
  • How do we determine which libraries or infrastructure components will be utilized?
  • How do we manage the versioning of utilized components, especially in regard to security updates?
  • How do we document our decisions for later review?

Next Up - Coalescence

In the final article of this series we will look at Coalescence and how we should work to bring all of the data together for our operations & support engineers.

Tags: agile antipattern apache-kafka api apps architecture aspdotnet ci_cd coding-practices coupling event-driven microservices soa 

About the Author

Barry S. Stahl Barry S. Stahl (he/him/his) - Barry is a .NET Software Engineer who has been creating business solutions for enterprise customers for more than 35 years. Barry is also an Election Integrity Activist, baseball and hockey fan, husband of one genius and father of another, and a 40 year resident of Phoenix Arizona USA. When Barry is not traveling around the world to speak at Conferences, Code Camps and User Groups or to participate in GiveCamp events, he spends his days as a Solution Architect for Carvana in Tempe AZ and his nights thinking about the next AZGiveCamp event where software creators come together to build websites and apps for some great non-profit organizations.

Barry has started delivering in-person talks again now that numerous mechanisms for protecting our communities from Covid-19 are available. He will, of course, still entertain opportunities to speak online. Please contact him if you would like him to deliver one of his talks at your event, either online or in-person. Refer to his Community Speaker page for available options.

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