by Leon Rosenshein


Perspective is important. Where you see things from changes what you see. Some things are visible from one perspective, but not visible from another. This applies not just to your physical location, but also to your mental location. Your experiences, your history, your expectations, and your biases all have a huge impact on not just what you see, but how you interpret what you see.

Consider this video of Saturn’s small army of moons moving around it. In the video the point of view (POV) is always focused on Saturn, and as you can tell from the fixed stars in the background, it’s always looking perpendicular to the plane of Saturn’s orbit around the Sun. In this case the moons move mostly across the image, and slight above/below Saturn, which always remains centered in the image.

Saturn’s Moons

In contrast, this video of the planets in our solar system moving around the Sun, starts out with the same POV, centered on the Sun, looking down from a point perpendicular to the ecliptic, the plane of the orbits around the Sun. It stays there until about 5 seconds into the video. Then it starts to move. The camera stays at the same distance from the Sun, but starts to move. It moves down towards the ecliptic, goes through it, moves along it, then ends up doing some kind of rotation in the same plane as the ecliptic.

Solar System

That looks like a very different kind of motion, doesn’t it? The planets are moving around, above, below, and sideways. Or at least they seem to.

In fact, the motion is effectively the same in both videos. And it’s the same as the motion in the first 5 seconds of the solar system video. The smaller objects revolve around the much more massive object in the center of the video. What makes the second one so complex looking is the changing perspective of the viewer.

It’s the same thing in software development. You see things with your perspective. If you’re responsible for the storage of data, you see things as rows in a table or key/value pairs. If you’re responsible for dataflows you might see things as pipeline or processing nodes with branches, tees, and connectors. From a user interface perspective, you might see views (input forms and controls) and the models (the hidden processing), and the resulting views (graphs, tables, gauges, animations, etc). All of those views are correct, but they’re not the whole thing.

Just as in the parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant, we often see things from our limited perspective, and miss the bigger picture. The trick is to overcome the bias of our perspective without losing our perspective. To take advantage of what we see from our individual POVs and combine that with other people’s POVs. Like everything else in development, how much to focus on one POV or another is a balance.

And just as important as balancing the different technical perspectives, is ensuring that we include other perspectives. There’s the customer perspective. There’s the short term business perspective. There’s the long term perspective. Which all gets back to understanding why you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. Which is the most important perspective of all.