I try to keep memory of how various aspects of development were for me in past years. I do this by keeping specific projects I've been involved with fresh in my memory, revisiting them every so often and reflecting on how my methods and experiences have changed in the time since. This allows me to wander backwards 5, 10, 15, 20 years in the past and reflect.
Today I was presenting the "final" code-level design for a project I've been tasked with: an IMAP payload filter for use with Kolab. The best way I can think to describe it is as a protocol-level firewall (of sorts) for IMAP. The first concrete use case we have for it is to allow non-Kolab-aware clients (e.g. Thunderbird) to connect to a Kolab server and see only the mail folders, implying that the groupware folders are filtered out of the IMAP session. There are a large number of other use case ideas floating about, however, and we wanted to make sure that we could accommodate those in future by extending the codebase. While drawing out on the whiteboard how I planned for this to come together, along with a break-out of the work into two-week sprints, I commented in passing that it was actually a nicely simple program.
In particular, I'm quite pleased with how the "filter groupware folders" will actually be implemented quite late in the project as a very simple, and very isolated, module that sits on top of a general use scaffolding for real-time manipulation of an IMAP stream.
When I arrived back at my desk, I took a moment to reflect on how I would have perceived the same project earlier in my career. One thing that sprung out at me was that the shape of the program was very clear in my head. Roll back a decade and the details would have been much more fuzzy. Roll back 15 years and it probably would have been quite hand-wavy at the early stages. Today, I can envision a completed codebase.
If someone had presented that vision to me 10 or 15 years ago, I would have accepted it quite happily ("Yes! A plan!"). Today, I know that plan is a lie in much the same way as a 14-day weather report is: it is the best we can say about the near future from our knowledge of today. If nothing changes, that's what it will be. Things always change, however. This is one of life's few constants.