Biml, Book Reviews, and Metadata-Driven Frameworks

I occasionally (rarely) read reviews at Amazon of books I’ve written. If I learn of a complaint regarding the book I often try to help. If a reader experiences difficulty with demos, I often offer to help, and sometimes I meet with readers to work through some difficulty related to the book (as I offered here). About half the time, there’s a problem with the way the book explains an example or the sample code; the other half the time the reader does not understand what is written.

I own both cases. As a writer it’s my job to provide good examples that are as easy to understand as possible. Sometimes I fail.

In very rare instances, I feel the review misrepresents the contents of a book –  enough to justify clarification. This review afforded one such opportunity. None of what I share below is new to regular readers of my blog. I chose to respond in a direct manner because I know and respect the author of the review, and believe he will receive my feedback in the manner in which it was intended – a manner (helpful feedback) very similar to the manner in which I believe his review was intended (also helpful feedback).

Enjoy.

My Reply to This Review of The Biml Book:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this review.

I maintain successful technology solutions are a combination of three factors:

  1. The problem we are trying to solve;
  2. The technology used to solve the problem; and
  3. The developer attempting to use a technology to solve the problem.

I believe any technologist, given enough time and what my mother refers to as “gumption” (a bias for action combined with a will – and the stubbornness, er… tenacity – to succeed), can solve any problem with any technology.

I find your statement, “It doesn’t really teach BIML but rather teaches a specific optional framework for those who want to do everything with BIML rather than increase productivity for repetitive patterns” inaccurate. Did you read the entire book? I ask that question because I most often encounter readers who state the precise opposite of the opinion expressed in this review (some of your fellow reviewers express the opposite opinion here, even). I disagree with your statement, but I understand your opinion in light of other opinions expressed to me by readers during my past decade+ of writing several books. I share one example in this blog post. The short version: we often get more – or different – things from reading than we realize.

There is a section in The Biml Book – made up of 3 of the 20 chapters and appendices – that proposes a basic metadata-driven Biml framework which is the basis of a metadata-driven Biml framework in production in several large enterprises. I wrote those 3 chapters and the basic metadata-driven Biml framework in question. Varigence has also produced a metadata-driven Biml framework called BimlFlex – based upon similar principles – which has been deployed at myriad enterprises. The enterprise architects at these organizations have been able to improve code quality and increase productivity, all while decreasing the amount of time required to bring data-related solutions to market. They do not share your opinion, although they share at least some of the problems (you mentioned ETL) you are trying to solve.

Am I saying Biml – or the framework about which I wrote or even BimlFlex – is the end-all-be-all for every SSIS development effort? Goodness no! In fact, you will find disclaimers included in my writings on Biml and SSIS frameworks. I know because I wrote the disclaimers.

Misalignment on any of the three factors for successful technology solutions – the problem, the technology, and/or the developer – can lead to impedance mismatches in application and implementation. For example, Biml is not a good solution for some classes of ETL or data integration (points 1 and 2). And learning Biml takes about 40 hours of tenacious commitment (which goes to point 3). This is all coupled with a simple fact: data integration is hard. SSIS does a good job as a generic, provider-driven solution – but most find SSIS challenging to learn and non-intuitive (I did when I first started using it). Does that mean SSIS is not worth the effort to learn? Goodness, no! It does mean complaints about simplifying the learning process are to be expected and somewhat rhetorical.

Architects disagree. We have varying amounts of experience. We have different kinds of experience. Some architects have worked only as lone-wolf consultants or as members of single-person teams. Others have worked only as leaders of small teams of ETL developers. Rarer still are enterprise architects who are cross-disciplined and experienced as both lone-wolf consultants and managers of large teams in independent consulting firms and large enterprises. Less-experienced architects sometimes believe they have solved “all the things” when they have merely solved “one of the things.” Does this make them bad people? Goodness, no. It makes them less-experienced, though, and helps identify them as such. Did the “one thing” need solving? Goodness, yes. But enterprise architecture is part science and part art. Understanding the value of a solution one does not prefer – or the value of a solution that does not apply to the problem one is trying to solve – lands squarely in the art portion of the gig.

Regarding the science portion of the gig: engineers are qualified to qualitatively pronounce any solution is “over-engineered.” Non-engineers are not qualified to make any such determination, in my opinion.

By way of example: I recently returned from the PASS Summit. Although I did not attend the session, I know an SSIS architect delivered a session in which he made dismissing statements regarding any and all metadata-driven frameworks related to ETL with SSIS. If I didn’t attend his session, how do I know about the content of the presentation? A number of people in attendance approached me after the session to share their opinion that the architect, though he shared some useful information, does not appreciate the problems faced by most enterprise architects – especially enterprise architects who lead teams of ETL developers.

My advice to all enterprise architects and would-be enterprise architects is: Don’t be that guy.

Instead, be the enterprise architect who continues to examine a solution until underlying constraints and drivers and reasons the solution was designed the way it was designed are understood. Realize and recognize the difference between “That’s wrong,” “I disagree,” and “I prefer a different solution.” One size does not fit all.

Finally, some of the demos and Biml platforms were not working at the time you wrote this review. Many have been addressed since that time. In the future, updates to SSIS, Biml, and ETL best practices will invalidate what this team of authors wrote during the first half of 2017. As such, the statements, “And much of the online information is outdated and no longer works. It’s a shame someone hasn’t found a way to simplify the learning process.” is a tautology that defines progress. Learning is part of the job of a technologist. I encourage us all – myself most of all – to continue learning.

Peace.

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