Published on 2023-06-05 by GCH

Hype trains considered harmful

They come with a bang, they generate more FOMO than the last available room in, and when they leave it's your job to collect the wreck. In 2023, strange as it may seem, hype trains are still something to worry about. In the IT industry hype trains are particularly active. They build on the somewhat arbitrary nature of the technology selection process often found in small and large organizations. Of course, if the affected organization is a large player - say, part of a distribution oligopoly - the consequences might not be too serious, but if you own or manage a startup or an SME you should be concerned about protecting your business.

How can you tell a hype train from a solid change of paradigm? There's no definitive way to do so, but here are some empirical rules:

For instance, do cloud, agile and microservices allow for faster deliveries and infinite scalability? Or do they deliver undocumented, prone to breaking setups with a cost that scales faster than your revenue? Well, it depends. Unfortunately, in recent years mode-1 thinking and ideologies seem to have replaced the concept of it depends.

In order to change vague words into something we can assess, we need to ask further questions:

Anyone with answers to these questions will probably conclude that hype trains are easy to spot.

Now, you might be wondering if all IT related words are purposefully vague and part of a marketing-driven jargon. They're not. Is there a problem with the words Infrastructure as Code? Or with the sentence by investing effort in defining your infrastructure as code you allow for quick replication and reconstruction of sophisticated systems? There isn't. Fortunately, many things remain sound and objective.

So, where do hype trains come from? DHH strikes at an organized agenda fostered by the merchants of complexity. Baldur Bjarnason points to an organic process stemming from Pop Culture inside Tech Companies. They're probably both right to some extent. We have to insist on rational decision making.

Fun fact from another industry: it seems that car makers are coming back to buttons after the touch screen hype train has passed. What's next?