Barry's blog

Some thoughts on life and technology

Objectional programming

Written on 10 February 2022 by Barry

It was at uni during my masters programme, when one of my classmates (who happened to be a middle-aged uni professor) stormed into the classroom early morning and blasted at another - rather young - student “have you gone berserk!? I pulled the changes since last night and nothing is working anymore”, to which he replied “I thought it was better this way”.


I had seen this situation before both at work, and in teams working on coding projects during my bachelors’. In another instance, another developer had swapped out the annotation-based configuration of Hibernate (an ORM for Java) with XML-based configuration. The entities were in different packages and it was hard to spot what classes really represented the database. I called it ODD for Objection-driven Development1, but over the years have come to favour the name Objectional Programming because it often isn’t driven by anything and rather how individuals like to work (until told off, hopefully).

We can define Objectional Programming as follows:

A style of programming practised by those who disagree with the work of (all) other developers by introducing coding practices vastly divergent - if not orthogonal - to the project’s status quo, whilst claiming they know ‘better’.

Examples include:

Behaviours observed in such individuals may be:

If engineers who practice objectional programming have a good rapport with their leadership, they are seen as 10x developers, rockstar developers (not the language, although that would be rather objectional!) or simply as someone who ‘just gets things done’.

Whilst I’m being a bit satirical, such members can be seriously toxic to a team, bring down team morale, and create a future headache when they are a single-point of knowledge failure. Not to mention the techncial debt they introduce.

What to do about it

Software is all about people - and often creative people - and we shouldn’t discourage continuous change and improvement to a codebase that evolves mostly through stories from a backlog otherwise. So my advice is to always have a conversation with the individual first, replay their behaviour and explain the (negative) impact they’re having. Perhaps recommend that they channel their enthusiasm into work the team will benefit and learn from. That way it will still lead to praise for them as champions (they’re often keen to be seen as great, so give them that opportunity) but under the conditions of a greater good.

If you’re a tech lead or engineering manager, keep your ears open and watch out for these behaviours. They may help you hit a short-term milestone, but your experience should tell you that this is unsustainable and unacceptable when you pursue healthy, happy teams.


  1. My old colleague James Birnie created an entire alphabet of *-driven-development that is worth a read. 

Categories: Work
Tags: development and musings