Domain knowledge – why do you need it in software development?

Domain knowledge – why do you need it in software development?

domain knowledge

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Domain knowledge is defined as knowledge of a certain specialized field, discipline, or profession. It means that a person has in-depth knowledge in one specific area as opposed to general knowledge. In business, this means that a person has knowledge of a specific industry or field relevant to their role. But often, domain knowledge doesn’t pertain only to businesses or people with business knowledge.

Nowadays, domain knowledge is an important aspect of software development. One can argue that developers are here to program, but can they truly maximize their skills without knowing who they are programming for?! In a world where everything has become user-centric, it’s unfathomable to focus only on the technical aspects of the software. 

This is where we can distinguish between technical and domain knowledge. If you’re a developer, you must possess skills related to certain tech stacks and programming. That’s technical knowledge, where you know how to work with certain technologies used to deliver end results or in this case a software solution. But, when you have to go in-depth to understand the user you are developing the software for and learn about the user, the business, its processes, and its rules, we talk about domain knowledge. Understanding user behavior or business behavior allows you to know how to get from point A to point B and fulfill your client’s goals.

You can’t code without knowing the why

It can be daunting to learn about each industry every time you start a new project. And, yes, we can say that project managers or business analysts should be tasked with it, but how will you know which questions to ask? When developing software you’ll follow requirements from clients and people in your team will make sure that you understand them. But, how can you make sure that your code follows the best principles in achieving set goals? 

Imagine developing a custom software application for a complex industry with specific business processes implemented in their daily operations. Your task might be to develop software that will optimize those processes. If you don’t understand the logic behind those processes and how users are involved in them, you won’t know what aspects should the software cover. Only by fully immersing yourself in the business domain, will you be able to know how to code something for software to, well, execute something. 

The why is probably the most critical question you’ll have as a developer. Why and what will your line of code do? What will the user see or experience when they press an icon? Will they understand what each feature does? Without knowing the story behind it, a developer won’t be sure that their code is done correctly in terms of business logic. It can be perfectly and beautifully written from the technical side, but what’s it worth if the user doesn’t gain anything from it? 

Developers can’t fully grow and maximize their skills without understanding the business side of it. It can only enhance their knowledge and transform them into quality developers. Their value increases with their ability to understand the business side of projects they work on. 

No domain knowledge? Now what?

Honestly, if a developer constantly switches from one project to another, they won’t have time to acquire some domain knowledge. In those cases, they will have to strictly follow the guidelines and requirements and do their job. It’s much easier to get domain knowledge on long-term projects. Some might prefer one over the other, but in custom software development, you can’t go on without knowing the ins and outs of that specific business. 

In some projects, the knowledge doesn’t need to be that extensive, but in others, it may require you to delve deeper into the industry or field. But without being thrown straight into the fire, what’s the best way to deal with missing domain knowledge?

Talk to domain experts or add a domain expert to your team

Even if you started to work on a project in an industry you know nothing about, it’s never late to start delving deep into the business aspect of the software. Converse with domain experts to try to understand what exactly you are trying to accomplish with your coding. If the domain expert agrees with your logic then you can rest assured you’re going in the right direction. Even adding a domain expert to your team makes a difference. Having someone on your team who knows all about the industry or business, can help you understand what needs to be done to maximize your efforts and reach those goals.

Put some effort into researching the domain and learn as you go

When you don’t have domain experts in your team or someone you can rely on, you’ll have to put some effort into researching the industry and gaining some knowledge. You don’t have to be an expert right off the bat, but you should learn as the project progresses. Often, developing a certain part of the software won’t require you to delve that deep into the domain, but some level of knowledge is still required. Some developers might think that it’s just too much work, but you never know when it could come in handy. Especially when a software development company specializes in certain industries.

Break the problem down into smaller fragments

If the problem or not understanding the whole picture poses a problem, divided it into smaller pieces. Try to separate the problem into steps you have to understand, one by one, and start slow. You don’t have to be an industry or business expert all at once. Take a closer look at the task at hand, your programming requirements, and the issue, focus on the ambiguities, and try to answer them concisely. You don’t have to have the answer to all problems, but even understanding smaller fragments of it can lead to conclusions and clarity. It can also help identify areas where you need to focus more to be confident in what you know.

Use research and development techniques

Let’s be honest, most won’t have the time or resources to go that deep into the domain and understand it. But various research and development techniques can help developers dive into the source of the quality of their code. Test the code and software with users that will work with it. Gain their input on what works and what doesn’t. As you build your code, you will slowly build your knowledge base, but user testing can be your go-to technique for validating your software.

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If someone is more expert than you in certain areas, use their knowledge to your advantage. They might point out things you haven’t even thought of. Also, they might clarify some things and you could avoid making assumptions and building something that is not correct or most accurate. In software development, especially custom development, using all resources to make the best digital products according to the business needs and goals, is imperative.

Through domain knowledge to quality products

If you know a lot about the industry or the business you are working for, it’s no wonder that your software will probably deliver what it promises, and with high standards no less. Why is that? Well, if you are knowledgeable about business processes and the intent your product should have, then you know it will fulfill its purpose and last longer. 

Developers who write code for the sake of witting it will miss important details and a chance to learn something new. If they don’t think beyond the lines of codes and visualize how it will look in real life, they’ll probably overlook some important features or business logic.

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