The Radar is a document that sets out the changes that we think are currently interesting in software development - things in motion that we think you should pay attention to and consider using in your projects. It reflects the idiosyncratic opinion of a bunch of senior technologists and is based on our day-to-day work and experiences. While we think this is interesting, it shouldn’t be taken as a deep market analysis.
Every six months or so, ThoughtWorks publishes its Technology Radar. What started as an interesting experiment has turned into quite a notable publication, which gets lots of attention from our clients and other netizens.
Frequently Asked Questions
As the Radar has made more and more of a splash, we run into a number of questions about it: why it has the format it has and how we come up with it. We've put together this FAQ to answer some of the most common questions we get.
What is the ThoughtWorks Technology Radar?
Who is the ThoughtWorks Technology Advisory Board (TAB)?
The Radar is written by the ThoughtWorks Technology Advisory Board, known as the TAB.
The TAB is a group of 20 or so senior technologists at ThoughtWorks. The TAB meets roughly twice a year face-to-face and bi-weekly by phone. Its primary role is to be an advisory group for Rebecca Parsons, ThoughtWorks’ CTO. The TAB acts as a broad body that can look at topics that affect technology and technologists at ThoughtWorks.
We build the Radar at our face-to-face meetings. These meetings last about four days, about a day of which consists of laying out the Radar. Other topics we might discuss include career paths for developers, reviewing the recruiting process for developers, how to grow our capability for new technologies, and our experiences with microservice architectures.
Rebecca chooses the membership of the TAB based on forming a group that can represent as wide a range as possible of technology leaders within ThoughtWorks. The group has a global membership (which makes scheduling phone meetings a pain). Rebecca seeks advice from lots of people on who to have on the TAB, but the final choice is hers. The TAB shouldn't be seen as the top table of developers at ThoughtWorks - there are plenty of important developers that aren't on it - but as a representative selection of the technology leadership.
The TAB's membership changes over time, so each Radar is chosen by a slightly different group of people to the prior one. Usually, we see two or three people change between meetings, although there is no formal term of service.
What's the structure of the Radar?
The Radar is all about tracking interesting things, which we refer to as blips. We organize the blips onto the Radar using two categorizing elements: the quadrants and the rings. The quadrants represent different kinds of blips. The rings indicate what stage in an adoption lifecycle we think they should be in.
What counts as a blip?
A blip is a technology or technique that plays a role in software development. Blips are things that are ‘in motion’ - that is we find their position in the Radar is changing - usually indicating that we’re finding increasing confidence in them as they move through the rings.
What are the quadrants?
The quadrants are a categorization of the type of blips:
- Programming Languages and Frameworks. This was just languages but we rolled frameworks into here with the October 2012 Radar.
- Tools. These can be components, such as databases, software development tools, such as versions control systems; or more generic categories of tools, such as the notion of polyglot persistence.
- Platforms. Things that we build software on top of such as mobile technologies like Android, virtual platforms like the JVM, or generic kinds of platforms like hybrid clouds.
- Techniques. These include elements of a software development process, such as experience design; and ways of structuring software, such as microservices.
We don't make a big deal out of the quadrants - they’re really just a way to break up the Radar into topic areas. We don't think it's important which quadrant a blip goes into, unlike the rings - which generate a lot of discussion.
What are the rings?
The metaphor of a radar says that the closer a blip is to you, the sooner it will be on top of you. Like most metaphors, you can't take it too seriously, but there's an essential sense to it.
Our Radar has four rings, which we'll describe starting from the middle:
- The Adopt ring represents blips that we think you should seriously consider using. We don't say that you should use these for every project; any tool should only be used in an appropriate context. However we do think that a blip in the Adopt ring represents something where there's no doubt that it's proven and mature for use.
- The Trial ring is for blips that we think are ready for use, but not as completely proven as those in the Adopt ring. So for most organizations we think you should use these on a trial basis, to decide whether they should be part of your toolkit. Typically we've used trial blips in production, but we realize that readers are more cautious than us.
- The Assess ring are things to look at closely, but not necessarily trial yet - unless you think they would be a particularly good fit for you. Typically, blips in the Assess ring are things that we think are interesting and worth keeping an eye on.
- The Hold ring is for things that, even though they are accepted in the industry, we haven't had a good experience with. Therefore we are calling them out to warn you that you may run into trouble with them as well. Sometimes this is because we don't think they're mature enough yet; sometimes it means we think they're irredeemably flawed; or just being misused. We do place things in the Hold ring that we wish the industry wouldn't use.
Unlike the quadrants, we do have some quite passionate arguments about which ring a blip should go into. We don't tend to have angry arguments, but rings are what generate the most energetic discussions. Over the course of making the Radar we've come up with some useful rules of thumb to help us put things into rings.
We can only put blips into the Trial ring when we have experience of that blip on a real project. This can mean we sometimes look behind the technology curve, because we may like the look of a technology but haven't yet persuaded a client to try it out - and until we do that blip cannot pass into Trial.
For the Adopt ring, we only include items when we think it would be a poor and potentially irresponsible choice not to use them given the appropriate project context.
What significance is there to the position of a blip inside its quadrant and ring?
We don't put much energy into deciding which quadrant a blip should go in, and none at all to its angular position within the quadrant. So the angular coordinate of a blip is decided by the people doing the visual design and carries no semantic meaning.
In contrast we do pay attention to the radial position. If we place a blip in the Trial ring but close to the Adopt ring, this means that we’re close to a broad recommendation.
Why is <some-cool-technology> not on the Radar?
There are various reasons why things are missing:
- None of the TAB members have come across it.
- Some TABers have looked at it but don't find it interesting enough.
- We put it on our initial list, but had to cull back the number of blips to let them fit on the Radar. This item was one of the victims - meaning we felt it was less important than the others.
- We've talked about it in a past Radar, and don't have anything new to say about it now. If a blip doesn't move, it fades from the Radar.
- We blipped something more generic, to talk about the wider concept. For example we didn't talk about specific NoSQL databases in our very first Radar edition, instead mentioning "non-relational databases". Later, we called out blips for specific NoSQL databases.
Why do blips disappear between Radars?
The Radar represents technologies that are currently on our mind. Given how fast technology is advancing, our default rule is now that any blip only appears on the Radar for one edition. After that it gets archived. Older blips do remain searchable under the full A-Z index.
We think it’s important to keep older blips in the index for completeness and visibility, but please be aware that we’re not updating them. In some cases, the advice could be outdated. Many ThoughtWorks teams may still be working with and recommending these technologies but we will only update the blips if we feel that something new and noteworthy has happened (either with the tech or with our experience of it).
How do blips change?
We've come up with various ways to show blips changing from one Radar to another. Firstly, we show new blips differently to blips that have appeared before. We allow blips to move between rings. Blips may explode as a general category breaks out into different particular elements, or coalesce when we think we can treat several things as one.
Typically we do the splitting and combining when we see different parts of the broader blip should lie at different points in the rings.
Sometimes we move blips from one quadrant to another. This indicates our take on how to classify the blip has changed, since the quadrants aren't a big deal, we don't see such a change as important and thus it doesn't deserve any comment in the text.
What's the criteria for getting a blip?
Fundamentally, it boils down to one or more TAB members thinking it's important. We stress that it's a personal choice of the TAB - we aren't trying to build a Radar for the whole industry, this is our Radar. We publish our Radar because we've found that other people find our opinions interesting, but we don't believe we have some special authority. We do have a bias for technologies we've used in production, indeed that's a necessity to get into the Trial and Adopt rings.
The changing membership of the TAB affects the blipping. If a champion of a blip leaves the TAB, it's quite possible that the topics he or she is most interested in will get less attention in the future.
We do try to limit how many blips we have on the Radar, so if we think it's getting too crowded we'll discuss which blips should stay and which won't fit, often with a vote to help focus the advice. The final decision-maker for placing blips is Rebecca Parsons.
Is the Radar a list of ThoughtWorks approved technologies?
The Radar captures things that are moving - so we only blip things if we’re seeing a significant change in how we regard a technology across the rings. There are plenty of technologies that we like and use all the time that aren’t on the Radar because we think they’re settled and have long earned their place.
You'll find many of these technologies in past Radars, particularly those in the Adopt ring that have since faded. But even this is not a comprehensive list, since we’re always battling with space on the Radar.
How do we build the Radar?
The focus of building the Radar is our bi-annual face-to-face meeting. Before the meeting TABbers are usually talking to plenty of people and thinking about what ought to be blipped. Non-TAB ThoughtWorkers lobby for things they’re interested in, although it's the TAB's Radar, we seek out opinions from lots of sources, inside and outside ThoughtWorks.
At the face-to-face, we spend several hours on the Radar. Our main aim during the meeting is to decide what the blips are, and which rings they fall into. Since this is the most contentious part of the process, it's valuable to do this while we’re together.
We begin by putting candidate blips up on the wall, each placed in their suggested quadrant and ring. Often different people suggest the same blips, commonly in different rings. Once we have the candidates up on the board, we go through the long process of evaluating each blip. We take each blip one at a time and discuss whether we think it ought to be on the Radar, and if so, where. This discussion’s always enjoyable, there's lots of opinions and experiences around the room, but there's also a friendliness and mutual respect that makes the arguments much less grating than these kinds of discussions usually become.
Once we have the blips chosen and positioned, we then need to write the text for them. We do this using Mingle, so we can easily collaborate on the descriptions. Each blip gets one champion who is responsible for writing it up, which typically happens after the meeting. The TAB has a coordinator who has the unenviable job of chasing us to get our blips written up.
At about the same time as we're doing the writing, a designer works on the graphic. We tell the designer what blips to show and their distance from the center, but he or she decides on the angle within a quadrant.
Our coordinator pulls the text out of Mingle and puts together the various formats of the Radar.
What formats is the Radar published in?
Traditionally, the primary format for the Radar has been PDF, since it's a design-rich document we like to send to people. In recent Radars we've built an interactive HTML version to provide better ability to explore, search and link to blips.
Can I build my own Radar?
Yes, we encourage people to build their own Radars, it a great way to visualize a tech strategy and we can help you get started. As an exercise, it encourages people to think about what technologies they should be investigating and helps them avoid the perils of living inside a technological bubble.
How can I get my product on the Radar?
To get on the Radar you need to get the attention of TAB members, particularly in the context of our project work. If you get a TAB member excited, that can get to the Assess ring, but we need actual experience to progress further.
We don't have a formal process for external people to nominate tech, or to arrange demonstrations. But ThoughtWorkers are always looking for ways to improve the software creation process and we're active members of numerous tech communities.
Why do so many ThoughtWorks open-source projects show up?
Primarily because we use them. Often, these projects are the result of a need we have in a client situation, frequently when we feel we're rebuilding the same thing again.
Can I get someone to give a talk about the Radar?
We often give talks about the Radar. These are up to the individual speaker, most people like to focus on the blips they're particularly interested in, although they'll happily answer questions about all the items. Usually Radar talks are given by a TAB member or two, perhaps with another ThoughtWorker who's familiar with it.
Neal also gives a talk on building your own radar.
If you're interested in getting someone to talk about the Radar, or for more information on these topics, contact your nearest ThoughtWorks office.
Why doesn't the reference list include all the things you mention?
We don't try to provide a comprehensive reference list, due to both time and space constraints. So we just include references to things that we think will be a little harder for people to track down, things that we find particularly compelling or those that present a different view.
Who has worked on the Radar in the past?
Anne J Simmons
This is so much stuff. How can I keep up?
Actually the purpose of the Radar is to help us keep up. It's an inevitability of our profession that there's constantly new stuff appearing, and we can't keep up with it all. You can look at the Radar as our opinion of how you should prioritize your investigations.
- Start by looking at the Adopt ring. Are you familiar (and using) all the blips here? If you're unfamiliar with a blip, look to see if it's relevant to what you do; if so you should be studying it now - and putting it into use as soon as you can. If an Adopt blip is relevant to your work and you're not using it, think hard about why.
- Pay careful attention to blips in the Hold Ring. We are pointing things that could be more harmful than helpful, depending on the context. If you are making use of it, you should reflect on why that is and whether it makes sense to start planning to move away from it. Educating others around you could be a good idea as well. You may find the BYOR (Build Your Own Radar) tool useful to get started on these discussions.
- Once you're familiar and starting to use everything in the Adopt ring, move to the Trial ring. Here, you want to look at each blip and consider which ones are relevant to you. Make sure you familiarize yourself with these topics - do some research on the web, get a couple of books, build a prototype with the more promising items. You could also start thinking about what it would take to trial them in your organization.
- The Assess ring is the last priority, which you can start investigating once you know about what's in the Trial ring. Because of your circumstances it may be more important to get to know something in this ring than something deeper in. Just because we haven't used it yet doesn't mean it's less important. But in terms of prioritizing your learning, the rings are a good way to go.
Of course this is just our opinion of your priorities. We don't expect everyone to agree with us, but at least it's a start.