For many years, I associated the concept of “making the complex simple” with teaching. And that’s certainly not wrong. We’re in an industry filled with complexity, both essential and accidental. To survive in this industry requires understanding essential complexity and eliminating accidental complexity, and novices struggle with this. As developers become self-sufficient, they figure out complexity reduction enough that they can mentor others in the concept. Once they get to the point of teaching concepts pretty seriously — giving conference talks, creating courses, coaching, etc. — it can definitely be said they’ve become good at “making the complex simple.”
Of course, it could also be said that the term applies to communications with non-technical stakeholders and not just teaching inexperienced developers. Think fast — how would you explain to the CIO who doesn’t have a programming background why you should stop delivering features for a couple of weeks in order to retrofit an IoC container onto your codebase? If you start saying things like “inject your dependencies” and “switch your database driver without recompiling,” you’re keeping the complex complex as the CIO stares blankly at you. Making it simple isn’t easy, is it?
To take complicated concepts and communicate them simply, with minimized loss of pertinent information, is a skill you could (and should) spend a lifetime improving. It requires overcoming the curse of knowledge, understanding your subject matter extensively, knowing your target audience’s world fairly well, being adept at mapping concepts and creating analogies, communicating clearly and, oh yeah, often doing it all off the cuff. Piece of cake, right?
Hard though it may be, it’s a skill worth developing.
I originally wrote this post for John Sonmez’s site, Simple Programmer. Click here to read the rest of my argument as to why you should develop this skill.