Move Deliberately and Don’t Break Anything

Move Fast and Break Things was first coined at Facebook, and has since become a startup mantra. The idea is that if you’re not occasionally breaking things, you’re not moving fast enough. And of course as a business if you’re not moving fast enough you’ll die.

I recently watch a talk by Brian Goetz (Java Language Architect at Oracle) called “Move Deliberately and Don’t Break Anything.” This post is a recap of that talk and what I thought were important points.

As with most things, Move Fast and Break Things does not apply to everything. Success comes at a price and that price is you have to stop breaking things. At a certain scale (millions of users? billions?) the cost of breaking something is higher than the cost of not moving at a particular speed. Facebook, the originator of the idea, has realized this too and had to modify their philosophy accordingly.

So what does this mean for the Java language?

In Java, there is a tension between Progress and Preservation. Pushing for progress are developers who tend to overestimate the value of code and underestimate the value of working software. Pushing for preservation are the decision makers of the business who need software to not break, period. Some people would like to change the Java language more quickly, but changes can play out in unpredictable ways. A feature is not just a feature, it’s the interaction with every future feature… forever! You are really locked into your decisions if you need to preserve, which you have to do if you are successful and have a billion users.

So the designers and maintainers of the Java language have to move carefully and deliberately. According to Brian Goetz, if you don’t yet know what is the right thing to do, don’t do anything. Just don’t do the wrong thing. This gives you a chance to still do the right thing in the future! I think he makes a good argument for why you can’t have that language feature you really want. 🙂

What do you think? Is the Java language moving too slowly to compete in the modern software engineering world, or moving at the just the right speed to ensure our critical systems stay up and running?


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