When ubiquitous language isn’t


ubiquitous = [Latin ubique everywhere; Latin ubi where] present, appearing, existing or being everywhere, especially at the same time; omnipresent; constantly encountered, widespread

For example, the passage of time is constantly encountered and occurring everywhere. We measure time in different increments, such as a year.

“What day is it? What year?” – Terminator Salvation movie

How do we define the term “year”?

1. Calendar year?
The Gregorian calendar is only one of many that have been used over time.
“There are only 14 different calendars when Easter Sunday is not involved. Each calendar is determined by the day of the week January 1 falls on and whether or not the year is a leap year. However, when Easter Sunday is included, there are 70 different calendars (two for each date of Easter).” – Wikipedia article

2. Fiscal year = financial year = budget year
This is a period used for calculating annual (“yearly”) financial statements in businesses and other organizations that “fixes each month at a specific number of weeks to facilitate comparisons from month to month and year to year” – Wikipedia article

3. Astronomical year numbering system = proleptic Gregorian calendar
This standard includes the year “0” and eliminates the need for any prefixes or suffixes by attributing the arithmetic sign to the date. This definition is used by MySQL, NASA, and non-Maya historians.

4. Billing year
Companies often expect you to sign a contract for service that may encompass the period of a year (e.g. signing a 2-year cell phone contract).

5. Year of your life/age
Count starts at zero and increments on your birthday.

6. Years of working for a company
Count starts at zero and increments on the anniversary of your hire date. This definition is often used to award benefits based on longevity (e.g. more vacation after “leveling up” having completed a given number of work years).

7. Religious year
For example, the Roman Catholic Church starts its liturgical year with the four weeks of Advent that precede Christmas. Other religious calendars include Julian, Revised Julian, Hebrew (a.k.a. Jewish), Islamic (a.k.a. Muslim, Hijri), Hindu, Buddhist, Bahá’í

8. National year
Some countries use nation-based calendars for internally organizing time (e.g. Chinese, Indian, Iranian/Persian, Ethiopian, Thai solar)

When we cannot even speak clearly about a familiar term like “year,” it should be no surprise that we have difficulty communicating on computing projects with cross-functional teams composed of individuals with different professional backgrounds. Each of us masters the jargon of our field as we encounter it, leaving us with gaping holes in our knowledge about domain-specific concepts that are essential when implementing a project.

Ubiquitous Language is “a language structured around the domain model and used by all team members to connect all the activities of the team with the software.”
Domain-Driven Design by Eric Evans

In order to succeed in designing and implementing good software, we must be willing to revisit our assumptions about terminology, avoiding the “inconceivable” situation in which two team members in a discussion are using the same word to represent different ideas. In practical terms, that means asking dumb questions like “What do you mean by that?” even when the answer appears to be obvious, or we risk replaying the old story of the blind men and an elephant.

Once we have a firm grounding in a context-specific set of words to use when speaking about the work, we can proceed with confidence that we will find ourselves in the same position of confusion later in the project, as we iterate through modeling parts of the system again and again. Thus, we must remain vigilant for statements with multiple interpretations. In addition, Evans reminds us that a domain expert must understand this ubiquitous language so that it guides us to design a result that ultimately satisfies a business need.

Testers must consciously use the agreed upon expressions in our test ideas, test plans, test cases, and any other record of testing, whether planned or executed. Consistent usage is key in both explaining the testing approach to a new recruit and in maintaining the history of the project, including the testing effort.

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