Clean Architecture vs. Startups

Disclaimer: I do not work for a startup. I have never worked for a startup. I am not interested in working for a startup.

Uncle Bob recently wrote an interesting post called “The Startup Trap” which prompted Greg Young at to respond with “Startups and TDD”.

The heart of their disagreement can be captured in two quick quotes:

As time passes your estimates will grow. You’ll find it harder and harder to add new features. You will find more and more bugs accumulating. You’ll start to parse the bugs into critical and acceptable (as if any bug is acceptable!) You’ll create modules that are so fragile you won’t trust yourself, or anyone else, to modify them; so you’ll work around them. You’ll build a festering pile of code that, with every passing week, requires more and more effort just to keep running. Forward progress will slow and falter. It may even reverse as each release becomes buggier and buggier, and less and less stable. Catastrophes will become more and more common as errors, that should never have happened, create corruptions and damage that take huge traunches of time to repair.

–Uncle Bob

What really mattered was that after our nine months of beautiful architecture and coding work we were making approximately 10k/month more than what our stupid production prototype made for all of its shortcomings.

We would have been better off making 30 new production prototypes of different strategies and “throwing shit at the wall” to see what worked than spending any time beyond a bit of stabilization of the first. How many new business opportunities would we have found?

— Greg Young (emphasis in original)

I disgree with the advice that Mr. Young seems to be giving. My initial comment on his post was:

I agree that you shouldn’t have spent a bunch of time building a new application alongside your prototype. You did the right thing in shoring it up and fixing the worst pain points. I personally do not believe in building a green-field app when you already have a working brown-field one.

I’m curious, is your prototype app still in use? Did it survive?

I can understand why Mr. Young’s attitude may be tempting for some developers to embrace, but how would we feel if we heard a comment like this from a used-car salesman? Would you want to do business with a salesman that would sell you a car that was held together with duct-tape and baling wire and then spend his time looking for other business opportunities while you’re stuck using his pile of shit?

Let me ask the question another way. Is working for a startup an excuse to churn out crap software and move on to the next big idea before the company that just paid you starts to notice that festering pile of rot you just created for them?

I’m not personally accusing Mr. Young of having this attitude, but it does seem to capture the attitude I’ve heard expressed by some developers in the startup world.

Update: Uncle Bob’s follow-up.

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